‘I am not here to build a showpiece’https://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/i-am-not-here-to-build-a-showpiece/

‘I am not here to build a showpiece’

Pune-based American architect Christopher Benninger is arrogant.

Pune-based American architect Christopher Benninger is arrogant. Clients must know that,just like a cardiac surgeon will not take orders from a patient,he is his own man. His designs include housing for Ahmedabad’s poor,United World College in Pune,the new IIM campus in Kolkata,the new IIT in Hyderabad and the new capital complex of Bhutan in Thimpu. The 68-year-old is the chosen architect for the Azim Premji University campus.

Benninger,alumnus of Massachussetts Institute of Technology’s urban planning school and Harvard University architecture school,came to India in 1968 as a Fulbright Scholar. And never left.

His new project is a ‘magnum opus’,Benninger describes,a set of buildings and spaces on the cutting edge that will interface with India’s humungous problems.

The architect is currently working on the plans. It is not a large canvas,not even as big as the 500-acre IIT Hyderabad campus he is now designing. But it is an exciting project,he says,one that will break away from India’s 19th Century architecture mould of compartmentalised,hierarchical learning centres—where,for instance,graduate and post-graduate programmes are separated,student and teacher housing is divided,and girls and boys are segregated. He wants this campus to be a pluralistic environment.


Benninger says Premji’s brief for the design was explicit—build something that can touch thousands of people and not a few hundred. Great architecture comes out of great patrons and their great vision,says Benninger.

The 100-acre campus will be pedestrians-and-cyclists-only,in line with Wipro’s headquarters and its chairman Premji’s obsession for walking,hiking and the outdoors. Automobiles will be confined to the periphery. It will be a compact design,about 25 lakh square feet of buildings,with potential for vertical as well as horizontal growth over the next century. The project will take five years to complete.

Benninger is certain he will not build a showpiece. “I am not here to create a screaming,yelling,attention-seeking baby in the name of architecture,” he says. The structure will not be an elitist,iconic university but an institutional space that will make a difference to the real India. The campus will be a learning centre where everybody—teachers included—will be learners. “The campus will engender the kind of intense involvement where students graduate with education and not merely a qualification.”