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Lilavati Lalbhai Library: New CEPT Library in the making

August 18, 2015
Update (second edit 03.09.2015): on Rahul Mehrotra’s presentation about his proposal for the new library

It is a very subjective design. Or it was presented subjectively. The link to the recording is now gone, and the debate continues…

The architect, a star and never really considered to be a person who cared for others’ opinion, is now subject to intense scrutiny from a small group of people who care. Funny how the lens has changed. He is the same person whose first design in Ahmedabad (Bandhej showroom), based on Old City street experience, was hailed as a big achievement – a tribute to Ahmedabad’s culture and context. The design that simultaneously offered an exclusive experience with introduction of new materials (actually, textures).

So, at least he was considered good at removing a theme from it’s historic context to create a rarefied design out of it, while still leaving behind a sense of the original.

IIM’s new campus is a lesson in conformity and in deft avoidance of scrutiny by Ahmedabad’s architectural community. I expected the same to happen when a new building is proposed in CEPT. But through the hands of a person who could have taken a stand against the old-crumbling-difficult to maintain and even if great but expensive past, but who chose to conform, it is rather a surprise project to have gone to a non conformist. Most architects seem to have accepted the need to have a library building. Many architects designing universities around India are going ballistic with the symbolic or formal aspects of a library… It is surprising that no critic is asking basic questions: How many students today read? And how will they read in future?

A little nostalgia, a library with no identity

Recently visited the campus with an alumni who came after many years, and we went to every space, corner and floor, and (together) realised that a lot of what past users remember about the campus is mere nostalgia, when in reality a whole new life is happening there…

A memory of past floats up: A dingy space on the first floor of the awkwardly operating administration block… To recall, the original library was accessed by a stair that was a really poor solution – almost everyone was uncomfortable climbing up or down it, no one enjoyed standing anywhere close to it. There was hardly any space at the entrance. Inside was dark, small, without requisite reading spaces. So when the library moved to a new location in the middle of the long flank of L block – variously an open space, a studio, a lab – many users welcomed it. It is a glamourless attachment, always above something, or below something – It shakes when people walk, echoes, and is still overcrowded; rainwater once damaged books that librarians ran to save but couldn’t accomplish. It was, and is, a sorry sight.

A lot of nostalgia

The campus wasn’t always like this: It was young and vibrant, with some 300 souls or less for many years. Small but green. Scale just right for a pint sized, close knit community; part of it literally lived there. The studios were no doubt beautiful. Simplicity of parallel walls, great. North light was a delight to all users; the terrace ideal to sleep or party on. That building and its corners were owned by users in so many ways – Personalised tack boards, painted stools, dog shelters. The red bricks – hugged, felt, drawn, photographed – loved in all aspects.

But getting the short end of the stick was that the beauty was not uniform. There were not enough toilets. Not enough plug points, and people were hanging aluminum reflectors in single height spaces just to be able to see. The campus gradually started changing… There was frequent theft, and even occasional assault. Wars for display space, storage, and persistent, universally hated problems like leaky loos, or that echoing, claustrophobic auditorium.

Fast forward to 15 years ago: After a long and rather sluggish period in which CEPT campus mainly dealt with siting of new buildings and site development issues when the inside spaces where mostly ignored. A lot of spaces subverted the dictum ‘form follows function’ that the academia and students lovingly espoused. So when small, functional additions occurred, users breathed relief. Generally an intervention was so delayed that people didn’t have the strength to question what came about. Right, the little changes during this phase were sensitive. Because matching was easier than making a drastic statement. Those making it were also the last modernist bunch who could relate to the language and the structures in any deep and meaningful sense.

Then came up the unwanted but celebrated gift: Gufa. Sitting right next to campus, the land under it is donated to campus, its price paid by CEPT by renaming the campus. Without contributing even a little bit to the form, structure or activities of the campus. Although the beautiful Herwitz gallery tries to make up for Gufa’s non-functionality, in terms of language and their relation with surrounding context, both buildings are aliens.

This phase of changes was followed by all the divisions and marking of turfs that spawned more ugliness in form of boundaries and completely random structures popping up without any scrutiny that this proposal will face. There are those who are lamenting the loss of ‘natural’ identity: The campus already has a lot of edges and is formalised at so many places. And then those who feel that South Lawns’ importance is diminished by the boxy library building. Well, South Lawn already is a doormat.

Do not cry murder upon seeing a new proposal, the mauling started long ago.

Original post:

Celebrate!

From the mishmash of random buildings and sub-divisions that the CEPT campus now is, one is going to go, for good:

NBO Hall, arguably the hottest (literally) building on the campus, is making way for the new library. From the time when we heard of it being designed (https://architectureindeed.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/coming-soon-new-library-at-cept/), to when the first images surfaced, to now, when Rahul Mehrotra is going to present it to everyone.

Tomorrow, at CEPT auditorium – ironically under the existing library – or rather purposely so.

New CEPT Library Rahul Mehrotra

Can’t resist comparing it to other library buildings (@ https://architectureindeed.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/in-memoriam-henri-labrouste/). But also with all the buildings crumbling on the campus at present… (Will those who are against changes please deposit a penny for every good thought they have in the fund for making this library. May be then the practice of attaching ghastly person-al names to new buildings will stop.

Poster – Presentation on the new CEPT Library by Rahul Mehrotra – 19th August

Reference, verbatim from CEPT’s message:

Dear All,

You are invited to a presentation by Rahul Mehrotra on the design of the new Lilavati Lalbhai Library at CEPT University.

Please see enclosed poster for the event.​
​Rahul Mehrotra
Lilavati Lalbhai Library at CEPT University

19 Aug at 5.30 pm
At Auditorium, CEPT University

The new Lilavati Lalbhai Library at CEPT University will address the growing needs of the University. Centrally located, in place of the exiting NBO block, it will act as an academic hub for the campus. Apart from creating space for larger collections, the new technologically proficient library will have specialized reading areas, exhibition and presentation spaces.

The new building is being designed by prominent architect & CEPT alumnus, Rahul Mehrotra. The design for the library has evolved over several meetings with a team of people including director of library services, senior library staff, campus office staff, and senior administration and  faculty members. The location and bulk of the building was first designed by Christopher Benninger, CCBA, who is responsible for the overall master plan of the University. Construction is expected to begin soon and the building is expected to be completed by Jan 2017.

Rahul Mehrotra is a professor of urban design and planning and former chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). His practice, RMA Architects, is based in Mumbai and Boston.

​Look forward to seeing you at the event.​​

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