Middle Path to Sustainable Architecture

Winner of multiple prestigious awards such as Innovation in Institutional Architecture (India) and Best Eco-friendly Indian Institutional Project, BUILD 2016, the Gautam Buddha University in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh was born out of a need to infuse educational innovation with heritage and ancient wisdom. Spread across 511 acres, the establishment is an academic and research institution that is yet another success story attributed to C.P. Kukreja Architects.

The Gautam Buddha University is a fine example of a contemporary, 21st-century interpretation of conventional Buddhist architecture in an institutional context. Adhering to the GRIHA guidelines set as standards for green buildings in India, the university sets a pioneering example for successful green campus design. It is a testimony to the conscious balance between the natural and the man-made amongst habitats in the modern world.

The design by C.P. Kukreja Architects re-envisions an initially tree-less, dry patch of land as a thriving biodiverse campus in harmony with nature. Further, the use of passive design techniques, renewable energy resources, ecologically and socially sustainable design and construction methods, and water and waste management systems make the campus ecologically sensitive. Many campus buildings are also open for the use of the general public to ensure that the students can interact and engage with people from all walks of life. The university, therefore, is also an essential part of the socio-cultural fabric of the region.

Founded in 1969 in Delhi by Late C.K Kukreja, the practice is currently led by the Managing Principal Dikshu Kukreja and is said to be one of India’s leading multidisciplinary architecture and urban planning practices.

“The master plan is based on Buddhist philosophies that teach humans the virtues of ‘simple living and high thinking’ and is deeply mindful of its impact on the environment,”  Kukreja says, explaining the ideology behind the architectural design for the institute.

“The iconic image of Gautam Buddha in his meditative posture is the primary design inspiration for the master planning of the university. At the ‘head’ of Lord Buddha sits the meditation centre and library, the sanctum for inner peace and the ocean of all knowledge. The eight faculties are located at the ‘body,’ forming the backbone of the university. Finally, the administrative office, which supports the university’s day-to-day functioning, is located at the ‘feet.’ A paved avenue connects the three zones and stands for the Buddhist concept of the ‘Middle Path’ that encourages one to find a sense of balance between life’s extremes or ‘binaries’.” explains the architect, breaking down for us the thought process and deep philosophy behind the design.

He further adds, “As one enters the campus through a majestic main gateway, one is greeted by a forest that acts as a buffer from its high-traffic access along the Yamuna Expressway. The forest creates a tranquil environment depicting the threshold between the chaotic worldly life of hectic frenzies and an orderly environment of peace and discipline. It also helps regulate the local microclimate. Visible from afar, the magnificent statue of Gautam Buddha is located centrally within the academic zone. At the foot of the statue is a striking lake, formed at the natural depression of the site. The lake is a part of the site’s more extensive water conservation system and doubles as a vibrant meeting place for students and faculty members. The faculty blocks are strung around this lake, connected by a colonnade interspersed with 18-feet-long hanging jaalis (traditional perforated screens).”

The academic zone houses eight faculty academic blocks that comprises faculty rooms, classrooms, and lecture rooms assembled around a core green space, bringing faculty and students together to strive for knowledge sharing and leisure.

“The campus comprises a meditation hall with a subterranean research facility. The building echoes the architectural symbolism of the Stupa (a dome-shaped building erected as a Buddhist shrine), designed to tie the earth with the sky when viewed on the horizon. The dome of the meditation hall is amongst the largest column-free domes in India. In addition to the meditation hall, spaces such as a 2000-seater convention centre, a Buddhist museum, an indoor stadium and an international guest house can be accessed by both the university and the neighbouring residents. These functions are located closer to the site periphery, thus ensuring minimal interference with the internal academic and residential functions.” explains the team.

The campus also houses sports facilities and hostels for 5,000 students and 500 faculty members. Developed as a mixed-use complex, the university is able to invite community participation of up to 8000 people at a time and enable them to coexist with nature harmoniously.

The meditation hall is designed with one of the largest column-free domes in India. Further, the earth dug out to create an underground research facility is used as a thermal buffer to reduce heat gain. The research facility receives light from skylights installed on the circumambulation path around the meditation centre above.The stone jaalis screening the academic blocks are suspended from the ceiling and span 18 feet. These function as ‘curtains’ diffusing the natural light entering the buildings and acting as thermal barriers. Adding to the list of innovative technology being used, we also found the usage of Phytorid water treatment, a self-sustainable technology that uses plants to absorb the toxicity from water, used on the campus to recycle stormwater.

 Kukreja explains the focus on sustainable architecture, “With over 20,000 trees, the campus reduces the urban heat island effect and purifies its surrounding areas. The site’s natural depression is converted into an eco-lake that enables thermal comfort through evaporative cooling. All wastewater and stormwater is recycled at the site. Water bodies help recharge the city’s dwindling groundwater reserves. While grass pavers are used to support water percolation.”

Jaalis and chhajjas (projections for shading) shade the building and, thus, reduce consumption of electrical energy.Skylights and appropriately sized windows maximise natural lighting while minimising heat gain. Recessed windows on the building facades reduce glare. Building floor plates are kept narrow to allow for maximum light penetration.  Double-glazed units have been installed in most of the buildings to allow light inside without the heat gain.The academic blocks have colonnades with jaalis and cavity walls in building facades to reduce the heat gain.Central courtyards within the academic buildings act as light wells, aid passive ventilation and increase vegetation cover.The buildings are oriented along the prominent direction of wind flow (east-west), to allow ample wind circulation while minimising wind traps. Roof-top solar panels of 500KW and a solar water heater of 1,00,000 litres reduce the load on non-renewable energy sources.To enable efficient energy-use, the selection of equipment, fixtures and fittings is based on the environmental standards laid down by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, India. Use of local materials like sandstone reduces emissions due to transportation.The earth excavated while creating water bodies and building foundations is reused as embankments and thermal buffers.The campus has an efficient waste management system and all organic waste is composted on site.Cycling lanes have been planned along internal roads throughout the campus to promote the use of non-motorised transport,” he goes on to add.

A convention centre with 2,000 seating capacity, a meditation hall, a Buddhist museum, an indoor stadium and the international guest house on the campus are used as common facilities by the university students and the neighbouring residents. Thus, the university is an integral part of the day-to-day lives of the local residents. Separate accesses for both the user groups help ease circulation on site. Certain design features incorporated in the campus’ planning have set it apart as a model for ecologically sensitive, sustainable development.

Skilled local artisans have created jaalis for the campus with designs derived from Buddhist texts. Local craftspersons were also engaged to create murals and sculptures for the institution.Local sandstone has been used in the building facade. Further, 400 local construction agencies were engaged to build the campus, offering employment opportunities for a duration of three years. Over 90 species of trees have been used to add to the local biodiversity and provide habitat for insects, birds and other fauna. Organic food is cultivated on-site in community-based kitchen gardens, and all the organic waste produced is also composted on site.

All Images Courtesy the Architects