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The Fourth IIT—The Saga Of IIT Kanpur (1960-2010): Edited by Surya Pratap Mehrotra and Prajapati Prasad Sah, Penguin Books India, 429 pages, `699.
The Fourth IIT—The Saga Of IIT Kanpur (1960-2010): Edited by Surya Pratap Mehrotra and Prajapati Prasad Sah, Penguin Books India, 429 pages, `699.

Book Extract | The Fourth IIT

IIT Kanpur's open plan and how architect Achyut Kanvinde gave primacy to ideas over matter

In August 1960, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur began its first academic session with just seven faculty members. The Fourth IIT: The Saga Of IIT Kanpur (1960-2010), edited by Prof. Surya Pratap Mehrotra and Prajapati Prasad Sah, talks about how the school came up after the first three IITs at Kharagpur, Mumbai and Chennai, as well as laying out the present-day developments at the institute.

Prof. Mehrotra is an alumnus of IIT Kanpur (IIT-K) and superannuated as a professor there in 2012.

Sah is a linguist, and taught English language at the institute till his retirement in 2001.

A chapter in the book, “The Formative Years (1963-70)", gives details about how the late architect Achyut Kanvinde built in modern elements like an open plan into its design. Edited excerpts:

The concept of space is said to be one of the most striking contributions of modern architecture—the one that has most affected our daily lives. Modern architecture describes space by its generic properties of which the most evident and commonly cited ones are (1) the open plan, (2) the flow of space that visually integrates interior and exterior spaces, and (3) the categorical differentiation of classes of space into functional zones.

The first two are related to the expansion of visual fields and consequent spatial continuity. The last one establishes in what circumstances people may move within space and interact. Kanvinde exploited all three properties in a very effective manner in the planning of the IITK campus and the design of its buildings.

Open plan is a generic term used in the context of interior design for any floor plan, which makes use of large, open spaces and minimizes the use of small, enclosed rooms such as private offices; however, it can also refer to landscaping of housing estates, business parks, etc., in which there are no defined property boundaries such as hedges, fences or walls.

In Section 2.6.2, we have noted how, unconstrained by the issue of space availability, this feature was used by the architect (Achyut Kanvinde) in planning the IITK campus to create an ambience of freedom and sociability and also mitigate the oppressive heat of the northern plains in the summer months. Use of open plan in the interior was constrained by the functional need for peace and privacy for the faculty to carry out their work in their offices and labs but openness was achieved by locating these along corridors and connecting separate buildings by all-weather covered walkways.

The second feature, the flow of space that visually integrates interior and exterior spaces, was part of the Brutalist influence but its specific interpretation was Kanvinde’s own. As he tried to reveal the internal functions of a building (e.g., office block, lecture hall, lab) as separate masses, he arranged them in ways ‘that were functional from inside and elegant from outside’.

Commenting on this feature of IITK architecture, (Himanshu) Burte (2010) says: Here he clearly separates parts of buildings according to their material, and also achieves a delicacy of effect. The library, for instance, is an RCC (reinforced cement concrete) frame with infill walls in exposed brick. By inserting gaps and shadows between the concrete and brick components, Kanvinde was able to make rough and heavy material look light. At this level, ‘humaneness is about size and scale . . . Kanvinde tries to bring buildings down to a human scale’. Also, ‘[T]he slenderness of concrete members and the lightness of brick forms’ increases this impression of lightness. And this lightness speaks of ‘the primacy of ideas over matter, of logic over contingency’, an approach that distinguishes Kanvinde’s approach very subtly from the more heavily technological and industrial expressions of functionalist architecture. This theme also finds expression in other ways in Kanvinde’s architecture. For example, [T]he elevated walkways speak of a desire to float above the irregularity of the ground condition. On the other hand, they speak of efficient movement almost like on a conveyor belt. Either way, it is possible to detect a persistent reluctance to embrace a site or a context wholeheartedly in much of Kanvinde’s work . . .

The same concept of space management was extended hierarchically to the design of the entire campus where residential, shopping and academic areas were divided into clusters and interconnected by roads and pathways.

Excerpted from The Fourth IIT with permission from Penguin Books India

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