Site Area: 120 acres
The Mahindra United World College of India is one of the ten campuses world wide under the United World College banner, lead by Nelson Mandela and Queen Noor of Jordan. The College, which offers an International Bacheloriate two-year Diploma, houses about two hundred students and twenty-five faculty members, on a residential campus for the nine month academic year.
The self-sufficient campus is located in the Sahayadri Mountains, about one hundred kilometers southeast of Bombay on a plateau three hundred feet above the Mula river basin. It is surrounded by mountains above it, composing part of the Western Ghats range. It is a rugged landscape historically known for its mountain top forts and stone houses. The campus infrastructure includes a two kilometer long access road up the mountain side; tube wells and water lift system from the river; a water purification plant; a rural electrification grid, backed by transformers and generators, internal distribution cables; a sewage treatment plant; and an independent satellite link for communications. Thus, the campus is a self- sufficient residential community. In addition to a liberal arts and science education, the college focuses on issues of environment, poverty and inequality. Village social work and environment rehabilitation form aspects of project activities.
The theme of the college is global unity and understanding, while respecting the uniqueness and contributions of various communities. The student body and faculty are represented by about fifty countries and from various communities. The campus plan is divided into an academic area and a residential "village". Movement within the entire campus is totally pedestrian.
The learning area is centered around the Academic Quadrangle which is composed of classrooms, faculty rooms and movement areas. One enters the campus through an entrance gate, or 'Mahadwara', which frames an ancient wooden door, and delineates a movement corridor along the auspicious north-south axis, which intersects the solar east-west axis. Along these cardinal lines the Administration, the Science centre, the Amphitheater and the Multipurpose Hall are laid out. The Catering Centre, Library and the Art Centre fall on the east-west axis, welcoming sunrises, framing sunsets and catching the daily clock of shadow movement. A number of connecting devices like ramps, seating 'ottas', 'Kund' like steps are drawn from traditional Indian settings and encourage informal meetings and interaction.
The residential village centers on a student centre, medical facility and a walking mall. Four hamlets, having their own gates and entrance areas divide the college into four smaller communities focused on a community courtyard and mini-amphitheater. Within each hamlet there is a faculty garden and student garden. Six cottages house eight students each, are clustered on contours around the student gardens. Each cottage has a private courtyard, verandah, box-room, "wet core" and two dormitories for four students each. Adjacent to the Community Centre in each hamlet or "Wada" is the faculty garden with five faculty cottages clustered along the contours. Thus, a social hierarchy structures the campus plan.
The material system is one used in the local region over the past five hundred or more years. But these old systems are used in new, innovative ways to focus on hills; sun sets and capture views. A major visual concern of the project was the integration of the geometric "construction" ensemble into vast angular geometry of the overpowering mountainous landscape. Thus, silhouettes of the stone walls were inspired by the angles of the surrounding mountains. Stone bearing walls and concrete slabs, insulated and waterproofed with tiles, were formed in a plastic manner to provide a variety of interior rooms and also to merge with the landscape. The concept of one point perspective was utilized to resolve the scale resolution of the mountains and structures. In this Renaissance framework "distant" things appear small, and the things "near" appear large. By mimicking the shapes and forms of mountains, the two scenarios were integrated into one template. The use of local stone and traditional materials aided the integration of these two systems. Another material, glass, was used as an "enclosing element."
Sliding glass panels and pivoted doors provide transparency between the interior and exterior spaces. Floor to ceiling panels of fixed glass create atria in the Library and Administration Building which bring light and greenery into the centre of the masonry spaces. Large structural glass walls are restricted to the north, northeast and northwest facing studios in the Art Centre.
Finally, it is the use of stone to support, to enclose, to shelter and to define spaces, which adds unique colour, texture and depth to the composition. No other material could have achieved this, making the campus a uniquely 'Stone Composition'.
The physical plan of the campus encourages personal development and small group interactions. Various hang out spaces have been created. Links between structures are activity areas themselves, like the Amphitheater steps linking the Academic Quadrangle with the Multipurpose-Hall, or the sunset lawn which allows a view over Mulshi Lake in the evenings, framed by the Art Centre and the Library. These spaces transform into urban beaches for young people to enjoy the sun and the view.
The climate of Mulshi ranges from 'hot-dry' in the Spring to cool-rainy in the Fall, and chilly-dry in the Winter. In such a climate one can use door spaces and areas year round. The school is closed during the heavy rains from June to August. This temperate context is exploited in the design. All classrooms have verandahs and extend into courtyards, allowing activities to spill out into the open areas. Low-covered walkways in the teaching areas provide hangout areas. Covered porches in many buildings act as pavilions for discussions, project meetings and contemplation.
A system of lawns, walkways and gardens enrich the milieu.
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.
The architect caste numerous "relief" murals into the ceilings of the form finished slabs. Thus, materials, structure and various visual intentions were used holistically to bring art and technology within the same framework of design. An interesting feature of the composition is the manner in which murals are cast in the concrete ceiling slabs. Using plywood cut-outs, the architects have exploited the potential of their building system creating the Yin and Yan over the Board room, Birds in a Flight in the Art Centre ceiling, a Mystical River which makes a full circle around the Academic Quadrangle and Primordial Reptiles and Snakes in the verandah ceiling of the Student Centre.
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.
When one builds out of stone in India, one places himself at the mercy of his masons. Though uneducated in the arts, they have a sixth sense about the meaning of their work-good or bad. When they leave the site in the evening, they always turn back in a pause to contemplate what they have done. If they smile in satisfaction, it sends a bolt of joy through an architect's heart. This project has been widely published in Indian and international journals and the design of the College has won many awards.