Text by: Architect Suneela Ahmed, Photos: Kohi Marri
The building projects at the Karachi University Campus include Master planning, the designing of a Library, Administration Block, Auditorium, Academic Block, Centre for Entrepreneurship and Incubation Centre, Student Centre, New Academic Block, Multipurpose building, Visiting Faculty Residence at Staff Colony and Boys Hostel expansion and renovation. The projects at the City Campus include the refurbishment of the existing Academic Block, Faculty of Computer Sciences (FCS)Building, Specialized Computer Labs, Seminar rooms, uplifting of the existing courtyard, renovation of the library and Master Planning with the primary intent of making provision of additional physical space for various facilities without compromising the open spaces and old trees in campus.
To date the construction of the Academic Block, Auditorium and the Boys Hostel at the university campus have been completed. Other buildings are either under construction or in the final stages of finishing.
Conceptual undertakings by ICON were disabilities access, respect for the existing trees/ landscape, easy to maintain materials, economical construction, easy flow of internal and external spaces, and visual linkage with centralized green space, simple forms, bold massing, clear expression and linkage with predeceasing architectural vocabulary. Along with it they also developed the design brief, space allocations, conceptual design and costing for all the assigned buildings. The IBA management duly approved all the projects.
The new master plan for the university campus retained the central green area; proposed renovation of the old structures designed and introduced new buildings in empty plot which lay on the northern end of the campus. The master plan identified the location of the student center, new academic block and entrepreneurship center for the future. The master planning strategy retained the openness of the central green space which continues to act as a spill over space used by students for interaction and socializing.
Master plan of IBA university campus was developed with the intent to create a variety of dynamic outdoor spaces, which lead to an inviting threshold of enclosed functions. The entire planning strived to achieve distinct segregation between vehicular and pedestrian movement, linkages, transition, creation of view and vistas, binding of indoor and outdoor space and sensitive and consistent use of ramps. The edges of the site were defined and demarcated through landscape elements. The vehicular corridor was lined with trees that ran on the periphery feeding the campus at various nodes.
The city campus of IBA being an urban campus site posed several inherent constraints to the rapidly increasing requirement of the facilities and infrastructure of the institution. The existing layout of the buildings at the site created two very distinct open spaces. The academic block, administration block, auditorium, and library surrounded one of the open space which was partially landscaped. The other open space was dotted with number of old trees and was used as on grade parking area. After careful study and analysis of the IBA city campus’s current and future requirements the proposal submitted by ICON suggested that vertical development was the most viable option for this site. This solution allowed the retention of the open spaces of the campus, which was essential for a large population of students and at the same time met the requirement of the institute.
The master planproposal for the city campus suggested that in place of theexisting auditorium and library, which due to their structural constraints couldnot be expanded, a fifteen story building with parking facilities and provision for auditorium, library, board room, faculty offices and class rooms should be built.
The main entrance was proposed from the southeast side of the campus having 200 feet wide road for the ease of accessibility, whereas the existing entrances were retained as alternative entry and exit routes.
The open space between Academic Block and FCS building was to be retained and be used as a landscaped open space with soft and hard landscape flanked with low-lying structures for student lounge and cafeteria. The proposal also suggested the expansion of existing administration block at the backside of the building.
The future plan envisaged the expansion of the existing ground plus three FCS (CCS) building on the internal side facing the open space to accommodate its faculty offices and specialized computer labs. This building is proposed to have one lift and upliftment of its façade and infrastructure. The existing academic block will also undergo complete revamping of its façade and infrastructure. The classrooms,seminar andaudio-visual rooms of Academic Block and FCS buildinghave been upgraded and are in use. The open space on the ground floor of the academic block has been re-designed to increase the number of classrooms. Expansion of existing first level passage way to the classrooms of academic block was part of the scheme to meet the growing number of student population.
External Finishes of IBA Buildings
While reviewing the various options of external finishes for the buildings at IBA campuses ICON had clear considerations in mind which included; natural-permanent finish, no use of color or pigment, use of local materials and craft, easy to maintain finishes, durability, aging effect with time, uniqueness interms of being identified as IBA building and last but not the least to understand and consider the fact that a large number of existing structures are to be renovated where external shells are largely to be retained along with new additions. Therefore a certain kind of finish was required which could be executed easily on the old and new facilities. The finish was also to have the potential of absorbing and mitigating the damage caused to the existing structures due to adhoc applications and alterations made over the years.
After careful in depth study ICON initially proposedwashed, polished and hackedterrazzo finish. The buildings, which have these finishes, still maintain their inherent look and finish. Secondly, it allows developing one’s own vocabulary. Thirdly, it is durable as it requires least maintenance and most importantly its configuration is based on natural materials which can sustain weathering effects and maintain color over a long period of time. Lastly, it is a local material / application which is contextual and has the potential to provide the required uniqueness, contemporary feel & distinct identity to the IBA buildings. The IBA management approved the washed terrazzo finish.
The designing of the (existing) academic block aimed to increase the overall covered area of the building to address the additional space requirements, which could accommodate increased intake of students. Only the structure of the building was retained with major physical intervention. The classrooms sizes were increased and additional classrooms, seminar rooms, student and faculty loungeswere added to the building along with ancillary spaces like toilets, UPS & Battery rooms.
The design of Academic Block deftly handles the linear footprint of the existing structure and old trees around it. The outer dimensions of the building have been delicately adjusted to accommodate existing trees. This adjustment is however, hardly noticeable unless pointed out. ICON has worked on the design philosophy of incorporating existing features of the site and working within the parameters defined by the site features.
The elevation of the block towards the central green area is dominated by a ramp for handicap access and column hugging circular stair, which breaks the horizontality of the academic block and adds a modernist vocabulary to the overall composition. This juxtaposition of ramp and stair with the colonnade and enveloping massing gives the architecture of academic block an interesting and defining character.
The building layout corresponds to the overall master plan guidelines of creating an inviting threshold to indoors activities. The ground floor of the academic block has been designed as an extended entrance portal with wide corridors for circulation. The block on the ground level houses the entry to the campus in the future via a courtyard. The circulation space on the first floor is framed by concrete ribs which form interesting shadows during the day and provide pleasant student community interaction spaces.
Although precedence of Ecochard’s and William Perry’s designs celebrates the usage of deep windows and brisole but ICON has attempted to achieve climate and noise control through provision of insulation and double glazing in deep set windows.The Karachi University complex was designed by foreign consultant by the name of Ecochard. The Karachi University “complex uses yellow stone, cement, sand and aggregate native to this region. These simple materials are exploited to advantage in the rugged design of the buildings.” ICON has based their philosophy on the same principal i.e. using the local materials and construction methodology. However, their approach is minimalist and modern using washed terrazzo and granite bands in variety of combinations.
The interior spaces have been designed in the same manner. The Seminar rooms have been cladded with oak wood and carpet to provide an aesthetic solution for controlling the acoustics of the seminar halls. The flooring in the interior and exteriorhas been neatly designed with a combination of granite and porcelain tiles. The flooring of the ramp has been finished in torched granite and the railing is made out of stainless steel both of which are durable and easy to maintain finishes. Initially ICON had proposed the ramp to stand over a water body but that idea was shelved and could not go through. The facility is equipped with state of the art communication systems, fire alarm and climate control systems.
Overall Academic Block reflects strong contextual sensitivity in terms of scale, massing, spatial layout and finishing.
The design of the Auditorium at the University Campus of IBA entails conservation of the original shell provision for Handicap access, reception Lobby, enhancement of back stage facilities, storage, state of the art communication system, sound system, fire alarm system and most importantly to create a facility which could cater to academic and extra-curricular activities.
The challenge that the designers faced in the design of the auditorium was its central location in the master plani.e. all the four facades had to be treated as the front façade. This was dealt strategically and sensitively by developing a symmetrical volumetric form.The sculptural interlocking geometrical combination was derived from the inherent function of the facility. Although its design and scale is substantially contrasting to the overall vocabulary but it does conforms to the minimalist and modern approach.The external finish of the building is washed terrazzo with granite bands.
The entry into the auditorium is via an elevated portal. It has a capacity of 300 people. The entrance lobby has been finished in off-white glazed porcelain tile and houses the pantry, spill over spaces and a staircase leading to the upper gallery. The previously existing walls have been retained in the interior but the external massing has been completely re done. The height of the auditorium has been enhanced to give a feeling of grandeur by intelligently design the lighting, false ceiling and overall interior detailing / finishing. The wall paneling and the false ceiling have been designed and detailedto ensure good acoustics in the interior. The seating has been equipped with power sockets to facilitate lap top usage. Carpet tiles have been used in the flooring to ensure easy maintenance and noise absorption.
The Auditorium is one of the key buildings in the university campus due to two reasons i.e. location and its functional aspect. The ICON team has successfully reinforced this fact through their sensitive and intelligent design approach.
The renovation, up gradation and extension of the Boys Hostel at the university campus was aimed towards improving the quality of life of the students living on the campus. The additions included a gym, recreation room, laundry, prayer area, computer lab, TV rooms, tuck shop, offices and staff residence block. The dining and kitchen facilities were to be upgraded as well. The courtyard had to be redesigned along with refurbishment of parking area, paving and boundary wall.
The overall plan has been done around a courtyard having a raised concrete platform that floats over a pool of water and has water channels running on the periphery, which seems to be taking precedence from the Islamic garden’s concept of Char Bagh. The raised platform houses the Student Lounge and TV room. The articulation of hard and soft landscape in the courtyard gives a desired sense of scale and ambience to be used as an extension of enclosed spaces for the students to congregate for variety of activities. The entrance to the building is through a double height lobby flanked by the office and waiting area leading to the colonnaded walkway connecting the rooms around the courtyard.
The hostel rooms open onto a colonnaded walkway, which is expressed through double height columns to give a holistic façade. The depth of the windows in the rooms have been worked out according to the sun paths which provide maximum protection from the sun and possibility of using natural ventilation has been encouraged.
Simple to maintain materials have been used once again ranging from pigmented plaster for the walls, porcelain tiles with granite for the colonnaded walkways and concrete pavers for the courtyards. Cement / Sand (Pigmented) Texture was applied to the exterior of the Boys Hostel. This application was developed as a requirement given by the client. They wanted a monolithic, rusticated (like stone) permanent finish, which related to the old local stone building (preferably Pink Stone) yet was a modern and contemporary finish. The change in external finish in Boys hostel was possible due to the fact that it is located away from the academic campus. The overall architecture is simple and subtle with the conscious intent to provide a peaceful and quiet environment for the students where they can relax and enjoy after the day in and day out of hectic academic activities. ICON was also entrusted with the furniture design of the hostel.