Indian Architect – Christopher Charles Benninger

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  5. Christopher Charles Benninger

Christopher-Charles-Benninger

  • Birth : 

Christopher Charles Benninger is an Indian architect and planner born in America 1942. He studied urban planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, where he was later a Professor of Architecture (1969-72).

  • Early Life :

Benninger studied under Josep Lluis Sert and worked in his studio. He was a protege of the economist Barbara Ward and a member of the Delos Symposium group, contributing many articles to the journal Ekistics. He was influenced by the group’s leader, Constantinos Doxiadis who was founder of the Ekistics movement. This brought him into close association with Buckminister Fuller, Arnold Toynbee, Margaret Mead and Jaquline Tyrwhitt.

Upon the invitation of B. V. Doshi in 1971 he resigned from his tenured post at Harvard and shifted to Ahmedabad, India as a Ford Foundation Advisor to the Ahmedabad Educational Society, where he founded the School of Planning. In 1976 he shifted to Pune, India, where he founded the Center for Development Studies and Activities involving him in rural development and poverty alleviation work.. In 1983 Benninger wrote the Theme Paper around which the United Nations Commission on Human Settlements was held in 1984. In 1986 he was engaged by the Asian Development Bank to author their Position Paper to the board, arguing successfully the case for extending loans in the urban development sector. Benninger has been on the Board of Editors of CITIES journal (U.K.) and on the Board of the United States Educational Foundation (Fulbright Foundation) in India. He is a distinguished professor at the Centre for Environmental and Planning Technology University, Ahmedabad, and on the board of the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi.

He has prepared plans for the Governments of Bhutan, Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India. He has designed institutions, residential schools, business and luxury hotels, corporate headquarters and large scale housing projects.

  • Awards :

Benninger was selected for the Designer of the Year Award (1999), and for the American Institute of Architects Award (2000) for his design of the Mahindra United World College of India.

  • Works:
  1. The Mahindra United World College of India, Pune

The Mahindra United World College of India is one of ten campuses worldwide under the United World Colleges banner that offer an International Baccalaureate two-year diploma, which is accepted for admission into universities around the globe. The college houses about two hundred students and twenty-five faculty members on a residential campus for a nine-month academic year. It is a self-sufficient campus, located 40 kilometers to the west of Pune, a city which in turn is about 100 kilometers southeast of Mumbai, the commercial capital of India. The campus plan is divided into an academic area and a residential ‘village’. The whole campus is totally pedestrianized. All the college buildings are constructed of local stone, with integrated gardens and courtyards to give the feeling of a village. Student and faculty residences are based on traditional Indian design. Each cottage, which has its own verandah and courtyard, accommodates eight students.

Christopher- Charles- Benninger

The Mahindra United World College of India, Pune

The layout is divided into an academic area and a residential ‘village’, with a solely pedestrianized system within the entire campus. The learning area is centered on the academic quadrangle that is composed of classrooms, faculty rooms and thoroughfares. One enters the campus through an entrance gate, the Mahadwara, which acts as a ‘guard’ and frames an ancient wooden door and delineates a thoroughfare along the auspicious north-south axis, which intersects the east-west axis. Once inside the entrance there is a world of meandering stone walkways which move through the reception area and along the cardinal axis, along which administration, the science center, the amphitheatre and the multi-purpose hall are laid out. The catering center, library and art centre are located on the east-west axis, welcoming the sunrise, framing sunsets and catching the daily progress of shadows. A number of connecting devices such as ramps, stone-box seats, referred to locally as ottas, and steps, also referred to as kund, are drawn from the traditional Indian repertoire and encourage informal meetings and interaction.

Christopher- Charles- Benninger

The Mahindra United World College of India, Pune

Within the residential clusters, each student has his or her own small domain – an individual sleeping and study area. Four such areas occupied by students from four different countries comprise a room and two such rooms form a house. Eight students have to manage a small cottage composed of an entrance, verandah, boxroom, wet core and two sleep-work rooms, all surrounding an enclosed courtyard, like the small wadas or traditional courtyard houses of the region. The courtyard with its verandah is the social and spatial focus of each house.

The Mahindra United World College of India, Pune

The building fabric uses local materials, and traditional motifs, yet avant-garde plan patterns and forms. It rejects ‘machine centred’ construction techniques in favour of labour intensive methods, which enhance income amongst the local population. Construction of the college employed more than one thousand masons, who camped on the site. These traditional craftspeople are devoted to their work and the artefacts they create. The English Headmaster of the college at one point during the construction rightly commented that the campus construction was the “last great medieval site”.

All materials are energy efficient and techniques demand nurture and respect the skills of craftsmen. The fabric of the buildings is also low maintenance and climate friendly, giving insulation from extreme heat and shade from the sun.

Christopher- Charles- Benninger

The Mahindra United World College of India, Pune

The design clearly seeks to explore and find a “regional architecture.” It attempts to use traditional idioms. It is bound into local crafts and materials. But the project does not attempt these objectives by reverting to trivial ‘ethnic architecture.’ It uses is a bold spatial and formal venture equal to any ‘hi-tech’ statement. In this sense the project is a good example of what Frampton, Tzonis and Le Faivre have called critical regionalism.

Christopher- Charles- Benninger

The Mahindra United World College of India, Pune

  1. Center for Development Studies and Activities, Pune

Designed as his own work space, institute and library the Center for Development Studies and Activities at Pune (CDSA) uses the same language as his previous work, while exploring new patterns based on the play and juxta-positioning of parallel walls. While the pattern appears simplistic it uses a number of devices to address functional and design problems. The connecting beams over the verandahs extend between various structures joining them into a complete fabric.

Center- for- Development- Studies- and- Activities,- Pune

Center for Development Studies and Activities, Pune

The “hip roofs” face the strong westerly monsoon winds at 45 degree slopes, while they taper off gently to the east at a 30 degree slopes! Glass, transparent panels facing east and west, set back in the verandah allow views into the vast landscape and vision through the buildings. A system of outdoor courtyards and terraces cluster around a central podium. While the language remains as in earlier works, extensive ceiling relief cast in concrete add a new dimension. The open patterns of parallel walls draw in exterior spaces, integrating the structures with the landscape. This sensitivity to nature draws on American traditions as diverse as Wright’s Taliesin West, and Jeffersonian vistas at Monlecello.

Center- for- Development- Studies- and- Activities,- Pune

Center for Development Studies and Activities, Pune

Center- for- Development- Studies- and- Activities,- Pune

Center for Development Studies and Activities, Pune

        3. The Kochi Refineries Limited Headquarters, Kochi

The Kochi Refineries Limited Headquarters building is an enclosed container protected from the sun by a surrounding ‘jali’ of horizontal aluminum fins. The ground floor faces a “back water” river and garden through shear structural glass walls set in from the sun. An interior atrium links the floors vertically together. Each floor is a balcony looking into this generous space, with a free standing sculptural stair demarcating its limits.

Deep piles with broad caps provide a resting-place for the columns, which ring the structure along its exterior wall, connecting into an RCC vertical shaft which houses elevators, vertical services and the ‘wet core’. The system allows the structure to absorb lateral forces in the event of an earthquake.

The louvered wall is designed to cut the heat gain from sunlight, resulting in significant savings in power costs. The structure is a model for other projects which attempt to protect the environment, while economizing on operational costs.

The- Kochi- Refineries- Limited- Headquarters,- Kochi

The Kochi Refineries Limited Headquarters, Kochi

The- Kochi- Refineries- Limited- Headquarters,- Kochi

The Kochi Refineries Limited Headquarters, Kochi

     4. YMCA International Camp Site, Pune

The YMCA International Camp is located at Village Nilshi, in the Western Ghats (mountains), between Mumbai and Pune, India.

This wilderness retreat is used by social workers for informal education of under-priviledged children, for environmental education and adventure sports, and for corporate executive training. This organic complex was completed in 2003 and has won national awards, including the 2006 Indian Institute of Architect’s award for the best Public Building of the year, because of its sustainable environment and unique relationship to the landscape.

A small plateau at the top became the center of the design, which integrates cabins, tent sites, a manager’s bungalow and catering facilities into the landscape. Meandering paved walkway, or lineal spine, small descending ramps, and stairs link all of the components of this organic plan.

Most of the habitable areas are underground, tucked into the hillside, reducing the need for energy driven air conditioning, while maintaining the original green ground coverage.

YMCA- International- Camp -Site,- Pune

YMCA International Camp Site, Pune

This unique pattern results in structures being posited under earth mounds and within the hill slopes.  The human eye first perceives it it’s in an open garden with only a walled dining court covered by tensile parasol. Moving through the tent plot forms the forest thickens and views to the lake is through thick foliage. The descending ramps and stairs tempt one to explore what appears as entries to underground caves. Yet on further exploration these lead to foyers and only into generous rooms with large glass walls opening out to the vast lake fingers and forest. A sit at verandah and small lawn invite one to pause and meditate.

YMCA- International- Camp -Site,- Pune

YMCA International Camp Site, Pune

Wind scopes provide natural ventilation and lighting deep within the habitable areas. Ventilators and skylights appear as sculptors on the earth mound roof. The composition thus emerges as a large organic garden integrated into a natural setting.
Earth insulation reduces energy consumption and stabilizes cyclical temperature variations. The complex is one of India’s best examples of energy efficient and sustainable architecture. It is also known for the use of a light weight tensile structure over the multi-purpose hall providing soft, energy free light.

YMCA- International- Camp -Site,- Pune

YMCA International Camp Site, Pune

 

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