Burying aesthetics to raise buildings, not done! ( Panjab University Campus Chandigarh)

For the past many years, Panjab University vice-chancellors (VCs) have been complaining of shortage of working space and demanding that the situation be remedied. A few months ago, it was reported that the present VC had expressed his keenness for a new office. Obligingly, the budgetary committee has sanctioned the construction of a two-storeyed extension building, according to a plan that was prepared a few years ago. By way of explanation, it has been recorded that there is a need for a new annexe because a lot of staff are working in the basement of the present VC office building, facing inconvenience. According to a present estimate, the proposed construction will cost more than Rs 4 crore. If past experience is any guide, the final cost will be substantially higher.

The proposal has met with opposition from faculty members and others who have rightly pointed out that under the present resource crunch, such an extravagance couldn’t be justified.

Conscious of the adverse public opinion, constrained by the realities of numbers in the Syndicate, and hoping to start the second year of his tenure on a pleasant note, the VC has flatly denied that there was any plan of this sort. This means that the plan would be taken up again when the time is opportune.

There are aspects of the plan, which have not received attention. Even if funding were not a problem, even if the university were overflowing with money, an additional building as envisaged should not be built on historical and aesthetic grounds.

People have been talking of the present VC office as if it were an independent building. VC’s office itself is an annexe to the main chemical engineering building! The small building was meant to accommodate the offices of the department head. The chemical engineering building stands apart from other academic blocks. It is a long imposing edifice. To soften its forbidding effect and break the monotony, a small, one-storeyed building was constructed at its front. If another building is raised adjoining the present VC office, it will be violence to the aesthetics of the whole structure.

Chemical engineering department building was the first one to be completed on the new campus. When Amar Chand Joshi, the first VC to function from Chandigarh, set up his office, there was no other space for him except the present one. He in fact shared space with the chemical engineering head. Right into the 1960s, VC and the department head sat under the same roof. In the course of time, the department head was moved out.

If the VC is the usurper of chemical engineering space, the senate hall is an unauthorised construction in the main administrative building. In its original plan, open space is left in the middle of the building to bring light and air to the rooms. This space was converted into a meeting place for senators and syndics.

It is obvious that the original architects of Panjab University campus would not have planned for VC to operate from a teaching department. Old plans should be dug up to see what arrangements were envisaged for VC and other high functionaries as well as for Senate meetings.

VC’s office in the chemical engineering block was a stop-gap arrangement even though it has continued for 60 years. This stop-gap arrangement must be brought to an end and the aesthetics of the whole structure respected.

Already enough slummification of Sector 14 has taken place. Mathematics department building co-houses psychology department. If more space was needed for mathematics, psychology should have been shifted to new premises and mathematics department given the vacated space. This was not done. Instead a new building was constructed behind its building. Teaching blocks in the university are rectangular and run parallel. This new building is a square one and is the only building for teaching on the campus, which has a courtyard. Original architects of the university would not have approved of it.

The university, in its wisdom, decided to affix the name Gandhi Bhawan on the building itself. This building must rank among the most beautiful buildings in India constructed in the modern era. The ugly sign board has disfigured the building forever. The first principle of renovation is that it should be reversible.

Old buildings should be left strictly alone as far as outward appearance is concerned. There should be a moratorium on new buildings in Sector 14 unless a provision exists in the master plan. Keeping the long-term interests of the university in mind, the authorities should prepare a plan for a suitable structure for the VC’s office with provision for other related activities, even if it takes many years to fructify. More specifically, the chemical engineering buildings, according to the original plan, should be left strictly alone even if a VC feels cramped in the space available to him.


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