Ahmedabad: What if you told your family you’re off to your university and ended up jogging? Or playing futsal? Or maybe binging on some hummus rolls? All, while discussing the effects of sensory tools on autism, or even the possibility of manipulating traffic signals to iron out congestion in the city. If you were part of Ahmedabad University, you wouldn’t be wrong at all.
Keeping students at the heart of learning, Ahmedabad University’s sprawling new University Centre is all set to challenge everything we thought a university building could possibly be. Arguably the first of its kind in Gujarat and pan India, the University Centre inaugurated on the 13th Foundation Day, competes with the best internationally. It is a colossal 2.25 lakh square feet of space spread over two basement parking levels, a multipurpose ground floor and four storeys of varied facilities, with the proverbial cherry being a rooftop jogging facility!
Ahmedabad University roped in Delhi-based architecture design consultancy SPA Design, headed by Stephane Paumier, once more for raising this structure which is the heart of the campus. SPA Design has been the name behind the University’s elegant School of Arts and Science building.
The execution of the University Centre kicked off just as the pandemic set in. Two years later, when students got on-campus in full force by the last semester of 2021-22, they had a breathtaking surprise in store. A University Centre that spells panache, a hub built for them to enjoy. According to Stephane, the Centre is designed to be the default position for everyone on the campus. “You have a free lecture, you get there; you have free time between classes, you get there. That is the whole point of its existence, and there is just a 60-metre garden to dash across to reach it. And it’s multipurpose, with at least seven different types of usages. It really is a hybrid building,” he says.
The thoughtfully included two-level basement parking has been created for the numerous vehicles, largely two-wheelers, that students ride to the University, hence freeing up the green spaces around the Centre. The structure has a single access point from the main street while the rest of the ground floor opens to the central park. The exterior of the University Centre, modestly, does not reveal much of what lies within! You do need to discover it by yourself, and what a discovery it is! Inspired by Ahmedabad’s famed stepwells, the cascading staircases lend the interiors unparalleled magnificence. The idea is to keep everything visually connected. Nothing really is segregated and kept apart.
The first floor speaks for the flexibility which the University Centre really is about with sports facilities effortlessly transmogrifying into multipurpose halls for performances or conferences. Large outdoor verandahs at the same level have been designed to be used as a town hall balcony to address a gathering seated in the central park. The meeting rooms on the second floor face the outdoors as well. For the faculty, an exclusive space, Gulmohar, has been created, earmarking the entire east wing of the third level, with a club and a cafe surrounded by a covered verandah. A quiet reading space and the career development cell greet you on the fourth level leading to a very lively rooftop thanks to a jogging track and a futsal space.
This architectural beauty is awe-inspiring and has gravitas. It blends seamlessly with the interdisciplinary intent of the University, as a nucleus of not just plain good fun but also crucial engagement between faculty and students, as well as between students across disciplines, a potent blend of visionaries and thinkers. Professor Pankaj Chandra, Vice Chancellor, Ahmedabad University, and the thought-architect behind the University Centre, says that over time the Centre became top priority for the management, and other structures were, in fact, kept on the backburner to expedite this one. “All great institutions around the world are built around spaces that provide services to students, spaces that students can own. We prioritised the University Centre since we felt that with this the student culture, student engagement and student appreciation of what is around them will come together. Our big picture with our University through our campus, our programmes and our facilities, is, of course, to influence our graduates to create similar experiences for others when they step out in the world. Besides, we would really like other institutions to come in and get influenced to build similar centres for their students. That way, we will be able to impact the lives of students across universities globally.”
Student engagement is the leitmotif at the University Centre. Whether it is the choice of merchandise and books at the bookstore or the multiple sports facilities or the cafeteria. Speaking of the latter, you can finally push out the idea of old boring canteen food served in a dingy room. This snazzy cafeteria is where you can whet your appetite with a choice of four multi-cuisine outlets. With the University on-boarding an F&B manager, Chef Ganapathy Mallya, to handle this smorgasbord of culinary choices, you can get your hands on anything from chic Italian coffee to an organic palate, from delectable vegetarian to exotic global!
But the food story doesn’t really stop at, well, the food. Ahmedabad University has proactively worked on a farm-to-fork experience for its patrons in line with the University’s ethos — of voluntarism and actionable change. Among other initiatives, all ingredients are directly sourced from farmers to support them. Additionally, the cafeteria has also employed differently-abled persons on the floor.
And if you think that the University Centre could raise environmental concerns, with its gargantuan structure and enormous energy consumption, you might want to look at the solar rooftop. Besides harnessing solar energy, the Centre has a sewage treatment plant and a water recycling plant for the entire campus which can be used as the cooling tower water, for flushing of toilets and for horticulture irrigation, making it a sustainable green structure. Ahmedabad University has already applied for the Leadership in Environment and Energy Design (LEED) certification for it.