When the teenage Christopher Benninger was gifted The Natural House — a book by Frank Lloyd Wright — by his aunt, who would have thought it would set in motion a cosmic chain reaction that would eventually lead him to the hot and dusty lanes of Bangladesh and, finally, India. “I opened the first page, and I did not put down the book until I completed the last page. Having read Wright’s Credo, and accepting it as my own, I began the practice of architecture then and there,” says the seasoned architect and a Harvard graduate. By practice, he means the practice of “truth-seeking” — a quest for truth in the things around you and in the things people say and do.
Benninger sees architecture as merely one of the many tools, or path, through or along which one can explore and seek knowledge, and in the process discover more about oneself. “I was keen on finding my reality — my truth — through building things, and I immediately designed a house for my parents that they never built!” he shares. Not giving up on that initial enthusiasm, his inherent need for truth-seeking got him to India where his first project — the Alliance Française de Ahmedabad — was built in 1973. “In that design, I practised the honest expression of materials, human scale, integration with the context, finding order through construction modules, and I practised my duty to create public domains and meeting places,” recalls Benninger.
What an eventful journey it has been since, for the architect — now also an author — ended up making India his home and establishing Christopher Charles Benninger Architects in Pune. Today, it’s a practice known not just for building award-winning projects, but structures that are at home in the local context and culture in the most remarkable ways. Look closer and a common thread stands out in his projects, as Benninger eleborates, “Be it the Centre for Development Studies and Activities, or (a project) as small as India House, or as large as Suzlon One Earth, all have major public domains or gathering spaces, that are central to the designs. People meeting [each other] is what civilisation is all about, and it is through architecture that the civil society evolves through ‘meeting’ and debating what truth is, and discussing the truth! It is architecture that triumphs over barbarism, and nurtures civility and intelligence!”

Looking Back

The Centre for Development Studies and Activities “lives” all of the firm’s principles, like human scale, honest expression of materials, following a proportionate modular system, integration with nature, employment of local materials and crafts, harmony with the site, and meeting places one within the other.

Looking forward

The architect identifies The Bajaj Institute of Technology as his most important current work. “This project is highly significant because it expresses the ‘truth’ of my patron, Rahul Bajaj. He has a vision of a new India, realised through educated youth who are armed with technological knowledge and a love of truth!”

 

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