The Art of Living
Prof Christopher Benninger’s presentation underlined the fact that CCBA’s designs are sustainable to the core. A Ramprasad Naidu, MD of the firm, tells us how.
We have begun to understand the fact that natural resources are precious and it is our responsibility to relook at the irreversible damage we have caused to the entire ecology, climate and well-being of the Earth.
It is not just about buildings being sustainable. Cultural sustainability, economic sustainability and ecological sustainability are equally important. We have to take ten steps back to move two steps forward. In the name of competition and so-called ‘development’, we have done enough damage to the point that some of it is now irreversible.
With the morphing of rural economies to urban, migration to economic hubs in the last century was inevitable. But as architects, we have not provided solutions to house these millions of migrants adequately. In the rush, a lot has been built haphazardly and led to sub-standard habitation for human living. Today, our earth is sick and we have to heal her. A healthy, self-sustaining environment is what keeps the planet alive.
As architects, we can bring in more than just utilitarian aspects with our design. We can create new ways of living and new cultures, especially when we are trained to understand the mother of all arts: architecture, the only connection between the past and the future.
As an internationally-known design firm, CCBA believes in living out its philosophy of architecture that is regional and sustainable. While we do believe that good design is good business, we also believe that good business must also mean responsible business.
Christopher Benninger and his team of architects have designed several projects that embrace the philosophy of sustainable design. Every project looks at design as a tool not only to bring in novelty, but to involve local traditions and craftsmanship.
Adopting new technology has never been difficult, as it has been adopted for better expression of the buildings.
With a 90-metre-long solar wall on the workshop of the award-wining Samundra Institute of Maritime Studies at Lonavala, Benninger has put into practice the idea of a building generating its own power while aesthetically employing the otherwise mundane solar panels on to the wall.
Imitating nature while designing the YMCA campsite with unassuming rugged structures tucked into the contours of the site, has not only protected the pristine landscape of the site around Andhra Lake near Pune – but has also given a welcome respite to visitors from the nearby metropolis of Mumbai.
The Mahindra United World College is a truly a design that adheres to the principles of critical regionalism by adopting the local building materials
and design influences to transform a barren hilltop near Mulshi into a
world-class baccalaureate college in the Sahyadri ranges.
The more recent designs of the firm, such as India House – the architect’s house and studio – is an answer to what a modern city house could be. It reinvents a salubrious assemblage with courtyards and water bodies, as ideas borrowed from wadas or havelis.
Suzlon One Earth is a modern expression of what a corporate campus housing 3000 people can be. It’s a counter blast to the hideous ‘glass box’ invented by the half-baked architects designing IT buildings with their only experience of seeing glass in glossy magazines.
A campus that has brought back the louvers as sun shades, or what one would call a second skin, was prevalent from the times of sandstone jaalis or wooden louvers of Kerala adorning the facades.
This Platinum LEED and TERI-GRIHA 5-star-rated corporate campus houses many novelties – such as glass cylinders to naturally ventilate the basement, sloping roof to shade the underneath, and a campus that is almost incidental in this garden called One Earth.
Architect of the Decade
Born in America in 1942, Prof Christopher Benninger has lived and worked in India for the past 40 years. He studied City Planning at MIT and Architecture at Harvard University.
As an institution builder, he founded the School of Urban Planning at CEPT, Ahmedabad (1971) with Balkrishna Doshi, and thereafter the Centre for Development Studies and Activities in Pune, India (1976). He has prepared city and urban plans for Thane and Kalyan in India, besides other towns in Asia.
In 1994, he set up Christopher Charles Benninger Architects (CCBA), an internationally-known design house that creates products ranging from capital cities and new towns; educational campuses and corporate headquarters; housing estates and complexes; hotels, resorts and hospitals; down to the design of individual chairs and art works.
Prof Benninger is on the editorial board of CITIES (UK); on the Board of Governors of SPA, New Delhi and is a distinguished professor at CEPT, Ahmedabad.
He has won the Designer of the Year award (1999) and American Institute of Architects/ Architectural Record Award 2000 for his design of the Mahindra United World College of India. The firm’s projects have been finalists in the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (2001) and the World Architecture Awards UK (2002, 2009).
Last month, he was conferred the ArchiDesign Architect of the Decade award.