Name of the project: ECOVE – Centre of Vocational Empowerment
Location: Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India
Size of the plot: 7335 sq. mts
Principal architects/designers of the firm: Seema Puri & Zarir Mullan
Design Team: Datta Nishandar, Paritosh Chawan, Baljit Singh
Design firm: SEZA
Photographer: Dinesh Mehta
For SEZA Architects & Interiors, designing the ECOVE – Centre of Vocational Empowerment in Aurangabad involved a lot more than the creation of a space. Meant to provide local villagers with opportunities for training in vocations and skills as varied as sewing, computers, dye making, electrical courses and basic English, the centre also had the potential to double as an empowering space for social interaction and improved community life. Home to the historic Ajanta and Ellora cave complexes, and marked by scorching heat and arid topography during summers, Aurangabad presented its own unique context, challenges and requirements to the firm.
In response, architect Seema Puri of SEZA sought to design a contemporary structure that is grounded with vernacular architectural elements and local materiality but capable of offering an elevated learning and social experience for the students. Puri says, “our goal was to create a ground floor structure, porous to the street and sky, biophilic in nature responding to its unique program and context, with a language of luminosity, and connection.” Built using local labour during the COVID-19 pandemic – thereby also creating local employment – the centre is designed to ensure optimal versatile spaces that are fluid or interconnected, ample ventilation and daylight, as well as natural greenery.
At the core of the space is an open courtyard, which the administration area at the entrance opens out to. “This wide and grassy space seeks to provide respite from the scorching and arid exteriors of the facility, and extends a cooling effect towards the whole space,” says Puri.
Taking cues from the ancient cave complexes, classrooms, technical rooms, the canteen and auditorium are designed as individual blocks that are arranged around the courtyard, and interconnected by small courts and a series of corridors.
Framing the central courtyard, these corridors are punctuated by angular brick jaali or lattice screens. Puri adds, “The perforations on the screen cuts down on the intensity of heat and direct sunlight entering the corridors, providing a cooling effect while also ensuring ventilation – which are much needed considering the local temperature ranges between 40-45 degree celsius during summers.” The classrooms each feature windows on either side, ensuring cross ventilation as well as reducing dependency on artificial lighting.
Reinforcing its larger goal of encouraging social interaction, the centre has several smaller multipurpose spaces suited for leisure. Benches strategically placed overlooking the grassy courtyard allows for additional recreational spaces that maximise interaction – among students, as well as between students and nature. Additionally, the classrooms are staggered and this arrangement makes the corridor wider in some areas, creating more open spaces that are multifunctional and enable dignified social exchanges. “Creating more social interaction areas in the form of these spillover areas and open to sky courts was our endeavour so that the centre became a welcome break from their otherwise meagre existence,” Puri explains.
Besides the courtyard, the centre is dotted by several other green spaces and flanked by a large vegetable garden. The result is a dynamic mix of indoor and outdoor spaces, achieving a sense of harmony with the local environment.
“Materiality of the structure was determined by local availability, and reflects a larger biophilic theme,” says Puri. Made using natural materials, such as concrete, brick, black basalt and stone, the centre was built with an objective of reducing carbon footprint. Additionally, the roof of the structure houses solar panels which powers the lighting.
With this design language, SEZA’s goal for the vocational centre was to create a community centre, one that not only served as an enjoyable environment for learning, but also as a pleasant space for interaction and social affairs, encouraging connection and community. “At its best, public architecture can function as a tangible expression of human dignity and possibility, thoughtful and beautiful design can alter the social dynamics of a community,” Puri states.
Story by Sridevi Nambiar, photographs by Dinesh Mehta