The Bajaj Science Education Center, in Wardha district of Maharashtra, offers the perfect breeding ground for thinkers of all hues.
This center has the genteel aura of a place confident of attracting only the most intellectually-inclined souls. The Bajaj Science Education Center, in Wardha district of Maharashtra, has been lovingly designed by Pune-based Christopher Charles Benninger Architects.
The look of the place is defined by the use of simple, local materials and exposed brick, staying true to the location’s solid Gandhian era legacy. The center is inspired by the two paths that Wardha has trodden – playing a central role in the Indian Independence Movement and solidifying its status as an education hot spot in the more recent decades. The result is a building that is divided in disciplined sections, is clothed in humble colours, and keeps even its interiors homely and approachable.
The center occupies 3,065 sq mt of the overall 9 acres of the allotted site. The building has a courtyard-style setting, with the floor spread divided into an exhibition space; an auditorium; laboratories for Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Applied Science; a classroom; a darkroom; and offices. The structure mixes the enclosed spaces with open-to-the-skies meeting and ideation spots. An old bungalow within the site, belonging to the Jamnalal Bajaj family, has been refurbished into a public library.
At a time when most educational institutions are breaking new ground in look and substance, The Bajaj Science Education Center’s aim seems to be to go back to the archetypical Indian architectural style of warmth and functionality. The way it has been designed, the center resembles a sprawling home, rather than a place where intense academic dialogue would foster.
Tender touches have been added to the interiors and the campus, making working/studying out of this space a delightful prospect. The complex has eschewed plaster and paint completely, instead relying on a burnt brick and concrete look. Shahabad and Kota stone fill in the gaps and the arches; solid vaults cap the different structures; while the natural greenery of the place dutifully enhances the rustic ambience of the center.
The entry point lends itself to a mascot of modernist expression. A convex, elongated bowl made of exposed concrete pays obeisance to the sky here. It is supported by a column of four pillars. It is a simple structure, but like what lies ahead from this point on, every unassuming gesture packs many meanings, and careful symbolism.
A towering water tank at one end keeps up the geometric correctness. Wedged between the exhibition area and the administration blocks is a long water pool with some dainty vegetation peeping out.
Beside it is a curtain of bamboo plants.This detailing splits the rooms and corridors with a lively play of sunlight, shadows and breezy encounters.
The ceilings of the courtyards sport slanting concrete mural works. But the most endearing aspect is of course the bare brick walling. These lovely walls are peppered with little surreal surprises, like a window that looks into a window. Pergolas made of metal assist in the shadow play at the courtyards, with circular tree boundaries bringing in shape shifts.
The center, established in 2008, reaches out to 26 schools in the vicinity. 500 voluntary students come to the center to learn science from afternoon till well into the night. The center has a generous fee waiver policy, which can be requested for, and allows most of the students to pay according to financial ability.
The purpose of this endeavour is to spread the cause of science, and equip the teachers around with better know-how and application abilities. The organisation’s building, therefore, is not just representative of the design team’s ambition, but of the mission as a whole. “The culture is one of simplicity, natural and honest expressions and empiricism, which are expressed in the architecture,” states the team led by Christopher Benninger. Looked through that prism, every aspect of this center is endearing.
Text By Shruti Nambiar
Photographs A. Ramprasad Naidu