An Organic Approach

Project: BITS, Pilani, Rajasthan

Architect: Hafeez Contractor

The client had floated a design competition for the construction of the new academic block as a part of their overall expansion plan to double the capacity of their campus in terms of infrastructure and students. The architect participated in this design competition with other prestigious architects and was selected to design this project with his unique design. Scope of work carried out by the architect included architecture, interior design, acoustics, structural, building services, landscape and overall design services for all trades for the project along with periodic supervision. Set in a historic background, the institute built in the early 1900s is a centre for excellence and learning.

The institute desired the modernisation of its infrastructure and to increase its student intake from 3,500 to 5,000 students, while also modernising all its existing facilities. The first task was the construction of the new academic block which has been envisioned and designed as a visual link between the grand old clock tower that sits atop the existing academic block on the north end of the campus and the Saraswati Mandir that adorns the south end forming this important visual axis. In between these two important landmarks lay a recreational ground admeasuring an area of almost 50,000sq m; this was the only large parcel of land available for any significant construction of academic space.

The approach adopted was to deliberately place the building in a subterranean way so as not to disturb this important visual axis that has successfully existed between the clock tower and the mandir for more than 50 years. The form emerged organically from the ground and new interlocking spaces were created with a central winding pathway leading from the clock tower to the mandir. The terrace has large skylights at irregular intervals to provide natural sunlight as well as break the monotony at the ground level.

A grand rotunda (50m dia) was created, housing 1,500 students for gatherings and forms a fusion between the traditional architecture of the campus through a narrative of arches along the clock tower and contemporary seating with ramps along the new building. The only ‘above the ground’ structures are four grand archways having Rajasthani style arches which are symbolic with the existing architecture of the campus leading down to the new contemporary building.

The building is designed to LEED Gold standards and has a 65,000sq ft green roof with flora and fauna. The embankments created by excavation are greened with wadelia creepers requiring less water and maintenance. The building houses academic space for over 2,500 students and even today remains invisible above ground and needs to be discovered by a person visiting for the first time. Apart from the new academic block, we have also been tasked with the renovation of 3,500 student rooms, building of a 1,000 new ones; renovation and new construction of almost 250 faculty houses, student mess, infrastructure development, etc. All of the above work is being carried out keeping in mind the harsh Pilani climate which varies from 0-50 degrees in winter and summer, as well as keeping in mind the cultures, architecture and way of life there.

Fact File

Design team: Hafeez Contractor (Principal Architect), Karl Wadia (Senior Associate), Apoorva Sharma (Associate), Kalpesh Mevada (Architect/Project Co-ordinator), Krunal Pancholi, Rajendra Singh Gurjar (Architect)

Consultants: Cushman Wakefi eld (PMC), Mehro Consultants Pvt Ltd (Structural), Spectral & AECOM Sevices Consultants Pvt Ltd (Services), Suri & Suri (AV-IT, Acoustic), Green Space Alliance (Landscape), Dongre Project Management and Services (Quantity Surveyor), AECOM India Pvt Ltd (Environment)

Built-up area: 1,60,000sq ft

Year of completion: 2014 (New Academic Block)