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A 21st century plan for ancient Nalanda University

15 May 2012

An artist's impression of the 21st century Nalanda University by the NUS architecture students

Site map and plan of Nalanda University proposed by the team

An ancient Buddhist centre of study in India founded in the fifth century is looking forward to a new lease of life.

The Nalanda University near Patna, the capital of Bihar state, was hailed "one of the first great universities in recorded history". It provided training in fine arts, science, medicine and other disciplines during its heyday before it was destroyed in 1197.

NUS is part of an international consortium headed by Singapore to revive the university. A group of architecture undergraduates have drafted a masterplan for the old learning centre earmarked for rebuilding in the next few years.

The team met with researchers, academics and diplomats at the Nalanda-Siriwijaya Centre in NUS recently to present and discuss "The Nalanda University: A Mother Plan for the 21st Century Campus". Their design concept of the 180-hectare site is a balance between the old and the new, based on self-sustainability. It focuses on farming for food while embracing the contribution of the neighbouring community, as what existed in the old campus.

The project group comprises 14 participants in their second and fourth year, including two exchange students from the Nanjing Southeast University of China. Their mentor, Adjunct Professor Tay Kheng Soon, is an internationally renowned Singapore architect involved in educational and community projects throughout Southeast Asia.

Team representative Quek See Hong said they joined the Nalanda studio because the brief stood out as "an unprecedented opportunity to study, debate and design for many of the real and current issues that challenge Asia and the world today."

The project is being driven by concerted efforts from the Indian and global community, which injected the students with a sense of purpose to uncover Nalanda University's ancient wisdom and shape new perspectives for its restoration. They went on a study trip to India early this year before starting their assignment. (See video clip.)

"We met the planning committee members of the Nalanda University in Bihar, various scholars and academics in Santiniketan and Kolkata, as well as interested Indian students and professionals that came forward to be a part of the process," said See Hong. With the regular exchange, the students are opened up to fresh perspectives and contemporary concerns of the new Nalanda that they incorporated into their design.

The team hope they will be able to participate in the eventual planning of the university.