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Literacy Centre, Old Delhi, India

Part 2 Project 2002
Susan Martin
Robert White
Newcastle University, UK
“I do not want my house to be walled on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible”
Mahatma Gandhi.

India is a country of contrasts where there are millions of people living in extreme poverty, alongside some of the wealthiest people in the world. A major factor in sustaining this inequality is the high rate of illiteracy.

My aim for my thesis was to start to readdress the balance at this fundamental level by providing facilities for the people of Old Delhi which could improve their standards of education and literacy.

To design a building which is appropriate to this unique function, and to the culture and the climate within which it is set; it was important that the scheme presented a sympathetic form, to put the user at ease in what could easily be an intimidating situation.

To achieve this, the concepts driving the design are based within Indian tradition. Due to spiritual and climatic reasons, in India, external space is seen as being as important, if not more so, than internal. The development is therefore designed as a sequence of three external courtyards, around which the internal accommodation is arranged.

The centre is not about stuffy classrooms or encasing precious books in a grand building; but about providing a resource for the people, and a suitable place for them to explore it. It is a place for quiet contemplation, while also being a place of interaction. A place of intimacy, but also significance.

By researching the underlying roots of the society I aim to have avoided the pastiche and instead to have developed a modern building influenced by tradition, while also reflecting the aspirations of Indian society today.

Susan Martin
Robert White

Susan's scheme for a literacy centre in Old Delhi goes back to the roots of the region's architecture, and engages with fundamentals of the region's traditional architecture, rather than mimicking its surface appearance. For example, the climate and patterns of life in India, give as much importance to external space as to buildings' interiors, and the literacy centre is arranged as a carefully considered sequence of internal and external spaces. The scheme involves the refurbishment and re-use of some existing buildings, along with some new building work that makes use of high-mass construction, solar shading and natural ventilation with wind towers.

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