Christopher Benninger is an American-Indian Designer, Planner, Educator, and the Founder of School of Planning in Ahmedabad (CEPT), Center of Development Studies and Activities (CDSA) in Pune and his company Christopher Charles Benninger Architects (CCBA). Born in Hamilton, Ohio, Benninger is an alumnus of both Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He left his post at Harvard to shift to Ahmedabad on being invited by B.V Doshi to become a Ford Foundation consultant to the Ahmedabad Educational Society and went on to help Doshi create the School of Planning. He wrote several papers and books on the importance of Human Settlements and Urban Development and was responsible for planning the new capital of Bhutan. Benninger’s work ranges from private residences to large scale city and urban planning. He has worked on multiple Housing, Institutional, Hospitality, Commercial, and Mixed-Use projects across the country. Known as the “Great Master Architect” after being awarded the title in 2007 for his outstanding work and contribution to the industry, Christopher Benninger still continues to garner accolades following more than two decades of starting his practice. He was known as one of the top 10 architects in India for several years. Apart from receiving the Golden Architect Award for his Lifetime Achievement, his projects were often among the most praised and awarded structures. Mahindra United World College was named as one of the top ten superstructures in the world in the year 2000, by a leading U.S magazine. His design house in Pune and Thimphu continues to produce structures that promote his principles as they endeavor to create environments that enrich their user’s lives.
Christopher Benninger stresses on the importance of user experience as the ultimate goal to create a successful building. The use of materials to enhance the beauty while exploring solutions and experimenting to create an ideal structure that can combine sustainability, functionality, affordability, and aesthetics must be the priority for every architect. The diagram that depicts Benninger’s Principles of Intelligent Urban Planning was formulated while he was planning the city of Thimphu. It is now used as a model to fulfill criteria that must be considered while designing. The chart reminds the designer to integrate nature and tradition into their designs sustainably while using the appropriate technology available in the vicinity to increase efficiency. Consideration of human scale, Institutional integrity, regional influence, and conviviality helps create a connection between the built environment and its users. Balanced movement is achieved when circulation is planned out carefully to avoid chaos and confusion and is incorporated with nodes and regions for interactive spaces or an opportunity matrix. Benninger’s designs display the benefits of incorporating these principles and how they invoke a positive response from their users.
Mahindra United World College, Pune
Located on a plateau 100m above the Mula River Basin, among the Sahyadri Hills of the Western Ghats, Mahindra United World College is an internationally known institution under the banner of the United World College with 12 campuses around the world. The campus in Pune includes administrative and academic buildings, residential quarters for students and faculty, a catering center, multiple studios and lawns, a swimming pool, and a medical center all constructed with exposed concrete and local materials like Basalt stone and terracotta tiles. The walls and roofs are punctures with square cut-outs for ventilation. The buildings reflect its surroundings with its jagged walls and size that seem to be in the same proportion as the hills when seen in perspective. The campus was planned using the North-South axis around the Mandala concept, with the academic quadrangle in the center and stone pathways that radiate from it leading to separate zones, each having its own private garden. The massive entrance called the ‘Mahadwara’ welcomes the visitors to the reception area while the meandering walls, steps, and ramps help them navigate through the campus. The residences on the campus were inspired by the ‘Wada’ concept used in traditional homes of the area. The UWC Mahindra College integrates all the principles of Intelligent Urban Planning to create a modern yet unique campus that becomes a home for students and teachers at a global level.
Suzlon One Earth Global Headquarters, Pune
Suzlon Energy, a company with its motto of ‘Powering a greater tomorrow’, pledged to build the most eco-friendly office complex in the country. This pledge, fulfilled by Christopher Benninger’s design, is a LEED platinum certified building with a 5-star Griha rating. The campus generates 8% of its annual energy with the help of photovoltaic cells and windmills located onsite. All sewerage, garbage, and wastewater are recycled within the campus itself. Known as a ‘Zero Energy Project’, it deviates from the trend of glass skyscrapers and stands as an inspiration to architects who prioritizes sustainability. The campus itself is inspired by the historical complexes of Fathepur Sikri and Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. This Hi-tech Global campus is planned around an open-air gathering space or Brahmasthan that provides a view of the expansive lawns. The building employs the concept of indoor-outdoor spaces that interlinks the various gardens and water bodies with the interiors. The stone pillar traditionally used to light oil lamps or the Deepstambh is the focal point of the campus and stands at the center of a crescent-shaped pool. The campus promotes interaction, communication, and innovation among the co-workers and presents them with excellent visuals to invoke creativity.
Criticism Faced on The New Building Proposed In Cept
The design of the Foundation center proposed for the CEPT Campus in Ahmedabad was met with several objections and concerns from the members of the alumni. The plan proposed by the architect displays a two-level portico that acts as an entrance to the building and a gathering space for the students. It consists of several administrative and faculty areas, 6 studios, and classrooms that can accommodate 300 students and a lecture hall that can support up to 450 visitors. The structure is divided into 3 portions and is provided with pockets to preserve the existing trees and the west facade consists of movable fenestration that overlooks a waterbody. The first floor consists of a veranda that connects it to the existing upper lawns and the canteen would be connected to the building by an elevated bridge. The building was designed to promote student interaction and movement but was critiqued for its large concrete walls and columns which may be a hindrance to the very movement that the structure promised.