Dear Christopher,

Someone forwarded me the link to the recent presentation you made at CEPT on the “Academic Hub” you are designing as part of the larger master plan you are also responsible for. Knowing you and your often, professed love and great respect for your guru – Doshi, I decided to open the link and see the presentation.

Christopher, having gone through the presentation once I forced myself to go through it a second time! Considering your position in the profession, the great respect you enjoy in academia and the avowed high esteem you hold your guru, I could not believe what I saw! I have not had the heart to share your presentation with Doshi. To say that I was appalled would be an understatement!

In fact I was hesitant to even write this letter as it may be misconstrued that I am writing on Doshi’s behalf. But not only have I had the privilege of having taught at CEPT for over 25 years and enjoying and imbibing the campus, I have had the privilege of hearing Doshi speak often about ways of learning and CEPT is a unique embodiment of that philosophy.

I thus feel it is important that as the office where the original School of Architecture building as well as the campus was seeded, nurtured and progressively germinated I should perhaps take the liberty of restating some of the basic principles that are embodied in the CEPT campus physically and the academic ethos that has been nurtured due to this.

I believe that what has always distinguished CEPT from other schools has been its openness and participatory environment. In the School of Architecture (SOA), studios overlook studios, the outside space weaves into the inside spaces, you really don’t know if you are in a classroom or part of the continuum of a large verandah, people overhear others and run into others unexpectedly and learning happens not so much in the confines of named spaces or fixed curriculum but anywhere and everywhere. The building removes divisions, it does not matter whether you are in first year or the final year, you feel that you are part of a large family and you have many relationships. You will be allowed to find your own temporary territory and solitude if you so desire but you are implicitly part of a larger whole. The wonderful section of the School, obviously has much to do with this and I assumed that the spirit of it would be reflected in your intervention rather than matching heights of the floor plates alone.

Yes, the world is becoming warmer and air conditioning cheaper! But should we blindly adopt air conditioning and forget the basics of orientation to control the Ahmedabad climate and intense light? This the SOA has done quite effectively over the years by its judicious use of limited openings and north facing skylights, in addition it was planned in a manner where plantation and trees became as important as the buildings to generate a comfortable micro climate. The use of hard paving was minimal and the coverage of trees increased over the years. Your design obviously believes otherwise.

In fact the site you have chosen for your building is the most densely planted part of the site and not only provides the benefits of improving the micro climate of the campus but also is the place for the monsoon water run off to recharge the aquifer. Do you really want to destroy this very significant natural habitat and replace it with a heat island generated by the many tons of air conditioning you will be using to cool your glass box hiding behind the jali screens.

You do mention something about achieving a water balance by rainwater harvesting in the kund but I suspect that those are mere words to garnish the presentation. The kund you show is the complete antithesis of what that site is about or any serious contemplation of achieving a water balance.

One of the most important messages of the SOA is the way building and ground meet, whether we consider the Piraji Sagara basement and its relationship to the two open spaces at both its ends but at different levels or the ending of the mounds in the north or the forested area of your building site. Incidentally, it is the run-off from the mounds that goes into that recharge area covered by trees. Knowing you and your concern about the environment I’m sure you will reconsider these subtler but equally important relationships.

Of course the unsaid message you perhaps do not intend but are giving anyways by your design is that there should be an unambiguous boundary between the inside and the outside, between one class and the other, between the safe “comfortable” inside and the hot “uncomfortable” outside, between teacher and student so that eventually generosity, tolerance and sense of civic responsibility perhaps are no more in the lexicon of SOA.

I am sure Christopher that is not what you stand for and you will rise above all the disillusionment and I dare say anger that your present design has generated in rethinking and redesigning with greater sensitivity to what we all in the fraternity consider an iconic campus.

Rajeev Kathpalia