The Cultural Education Centre or the then General Education Centre (GEC) was envisioned as a powerful cultural & literary connection point to contributes towards the development of an integrated university community and an all sided growth of the personalities of the students through its co- curricular programmes. The University Education Commission, which was the brain child of Maula Abul Kalam Azad, the first education minister of the independent India had envisaged the need to introduce the principles and practice of General Education. Its aim was to correct the extreme specializatioin which, still now is common in our 10+2 and degree programmes. Hence ministry of Education had appointed a commission in 1948-49, to give this concept of a visionary leader in to a practical reality.
The then Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, Col. Basheer Husain Zaidi had said, “The Aligarh University is residential in character. The majority of the students live in the University area. It is, therefore, all the more necessary that students be given sufficient opportunities to spend their spare time in healthy pursuits inside the campus.
The General Education Centre will provide such opportunities. The students will fruitfully visit its museums, art gallery, exhibition gallery and planetarium in the evenings. Music programs will be organized in the concert hall and the music garden. The auditorium will be devoted to film shows, theatrical performances and extension lectures. The hobbies workshops will provide opportunities to students to develop their technical and artistic talents. Today The state of things to which the craze for specialization is leading in the industrially advanced countries the lack of general education in the individual and the one sided development of his mind and the disintegration of society into functional groups living in watertight compartments is a great danger for our modern industrial society. Without the cultural background, which general education alone can provide, people will not acquire the intellectual awareness and the social sensibility necessary for members of a democratic society and citizens of a democratic state. They will not be able to discharge their social duties with intelligence and responsibility and the whole democratic system will collapse. Similarly, moving and thinking in isolated narrow grooves, they will lose sight of the unity and integrity of life and will be unable to take the total view of things to which philosophy and religion have been trying to turn their minds, and the very basis of spiritual life will be destroyed.
General Education is intended as a corrective against these unhealthy trends in the sphere of education. Its object is to provide every young man and woman (as a necessary complement to the special study of one or more disciplines) with a general course of study of man and his physical, cultural and social environments for the development of right attitudes, the cultivation of right habits of thought, feeling and action and the building up of an integrated personality.”
In 1960 the Aligarh Muslim University had made its modet contribution towards educational reform in this direction by setting up its Centre of General Education with the help of a generous donation from the Ford Foundation of rupees 22 lakhs.
One of the best architect of that time; Padma Shri Joseph Alien Stein was hired to design the project. He had come up with some unique architectural marvel akin to his reputation and signature of exposed brciks and motor structure. Prof Monis Reza, the best brain of Aligarh Muslim Ubiversity, who was instrumental to rope in the Ford Foundation for the funding of this Centre had also been appointed as the Coordinator of General Education Center and the pointsman from university in this project.
Architect Joseph Alien Stein had earlier made some beauitiful buildings of India Habitate Centre, India International Centre, Ford Foundation Buildings, Escorts, JNU of New Delhi among many others. Stein & Co selected a land in the heart of the university to build this complex. The site selected for the General Education Center extends from that portion of the campus given over to academic buildings, to the section where the majority of the residential buildings are concentrated. The advantages of this central location have enhanced the planning of the centre considerably, and it has taken shape as a complex of buildings and facilities, extending from the music hall, general education library and museums, planetarium, classrooms, lecture-halls and exhibition gallery, through the auditorium and open-air theatre (capable of seating the entire student body) to the hobby rooms, and facilities for sports and for intra-mural, extra-curricular student activities these latter areas being only a few steps away from students’ hostels.
He also wrote a beautiful preamble on the concept of his design.
“It has been the endeavor of the architects to design and inter-relate the buildings of the General Education Centre so that an integrated attitude toward culture will be encouraged and facilitated in the individual student, as well as to provide a workable background for carrying on the academic requirements of the Centre’s program.
- Reinforcement of classroom impressions through surroundings that illustrate that culture is within the scope of one’s immediate day-to-day surroundings and society, and
- Encouragement to transpose classroom impressions to deeper levels of awareness through stimulating interchange of ideas in informal discussions (non-academic, student staff student contacts) and comparisons (exhibitions).
The Centre may be said to face toward a new kind of University orientation away from passive learning, toward personal participation and personal accomplishment and accountability a situation more akin to the ancient ideals of unity of mind, body and environment.
On 8th Nov 1960, The than Chairman University Grant Commission Mr. C.D Deshmukh had laid the foundation stone of General Education Centre. The construction works had begun on the same day. Toshi Bhalla & Associate of Delhi, & Pen Workers of Mumbai were awarded the contract to execute the brilliant designs of Stein. The favorite forman of Joseph Stein, Munne Khan of Delhi had fabricted the huge iron grids of the auditorium, including the bend girdle underneath the balcony.
Although the construction work had completed in 1962. The following buildings were made.
The Kennedy Auditorium Complex
Entrance to the Centre was through a series of arches roofed over by thin shells of concrete, and then, into a great court, carefully. However, this entrance couldn’t be made due to paucity of funds in later stage.
To encourage cultured social relationships, two minor courts were planned as extensions on each side of the great court. One of these students’ courts was intended to afford place for informal conversations in an amicable, sheltered setting, or for solitary reading, with refreshment of a cup of tea available close at hand (canteen). The other court, for the faculty and staff was planned for intimate and informal contacts or meetings between individual students and their teachers.
Now what stands across the great court, opposite the entrance, is the multi-purpose lecture museum building. It contains four lecture halls of approximately 100 seats, a large conference room and numerous auxiliary museum display spaces where exhibits paralleling the material covered in the general education course may be installed.
These specialized exhibition spaces open onto a large museum hall, which in turn opens onto a large gallery. This arrangement affords exceptional flexibility and part can be separated and locked off, or when desired, the entire space is available as a single area for large exhibits or special occasions.
Flanking the gallery museum building is the library block on the south. This building was elevated on piers permitting passage underneath to the student court. On the north is a block containing 10 classrooms and 20 teachers’ cubicles. Beyond these classrooms is a tree shaded open-air court containing several outdoor classrooms while contained within the ‘U’ shape of the lock is a small courtyard onto which the teachers cubicles open. At present these beautiful buildings were occupied by the Department of Museology and Centre for professional courses.
To the west of the lecture museum building lays the auditorium with a seating capacity of approximately 1375 persons, which also happens to be the largest auditorium in any Central University in India at the time it was built. The area of the sitting hall is 9350 sq. feet, with a gigantic stage of 3500 sq.feet, and foyer area is of 1860 sq. feet. The height of auditorium ceiling is 47 feet. The total area of the auditorium comprises of 14,710 sq. feet.
The auditorium is equipped with ‘state of the art-stage’ most suitable for theatrical and musical performances, and also has distinction of only auditorium of country to possess two revolving stages or turntables. The auditorium is designed to provide an unusually high level of visual and aural activity. The hexagonal form and steeply dished floor, the shallow under balcony space are all devices for providing a maximum number of good seats. The stage has a large 35’ x 60’ proscenium and there is space for scenery; both at the wings and in a stage loft. Dressing rooms, two green rooms, rehearsal room both open air and enclosed and work rooms complete the auditorium facilities”.
The two revolving stages of Kennedy Auditorium were dysfunctional till October 2016, when they were restored to its past glory after five decades. The auditorium’s projector room is fitted with two RCA 35MM Film Projectors, along with a giant 800 sq ft. movable Cinema Scope screen installed at the stage. They were the first and only functional solid-state projector and movable cinema screen of India.
These two buildings are connected by a covered walk and foyer, which serves as an entry in common to both the buildings. By this means, the secondary portion of the auditorium is limited to an unusually small area. It was planned in such a way that during clement weather, the connecting entryway and adjoining paved garden will serve as foyer and during rains or for special occasions it would be convenient to use the gallery hall of the lecture museum as a grand foyer and entrance to the auditorium. This museum and foyer are now converted in to Musa Dakri Museum, a central museum facility of the University.
To the north of the classroom block is the old geology museum, which will become a picture gallery and music court in the centre. Although this building has an ungainly exterior of a type of colonial plaster Neo-Greek style the interior has a certain grace and amplitude. It is proposed to retain this building after stripping off the crude exterior ornaments and plastering and to surround the building with vine-covered trellis and verandah. This was not materialized at that time and now this building had been converted in to University Canteen and then Moinuddin Art gallery.
A small planetarium was planned to the east of the picture gallery and a curved creeper covered wall to be constructed to line the buildings and embrace a sizeable tree shaded area, for the students to listen informally to the recorded or performed music, while coming and going, as desired with a minimum of disturbance to one another.
To the south of the auditorium it was proposed to construct an open air theater of 6000 seating capacity laid out so that the facilities of the auditorium are equally convenient to the stage of the open air theater. Under the highest tiers of the open-air theater will be space for a hobby workshop where the students can be constructively occupied. This wonderful plan also not came up due to some reasons, and now that space is used as foot ball ground.
The Aligarh Muslim University is one of the first universities of India to introduce General Education courses for its students. At that time, courses in General Education were obligatory for all students of the Pre-University and the first two years of the Degree classes. The main aim of these courses was to build up an integrated and cultured personality as far as that is possible through the imparting of knowledge. An integrated and cultured personality is really the one that is aware of its natural social and cultural environment. So the first requisite for the development of such a personality is the knowledge of this threefold environment.
A Centre of General Education might have lost much of its utility and attractiveness if it was not have a good library in it. Keeping this in view, ample library facilities had been provided in the Centre.
The spacious and airy library hall has 125 seats. The library was designed as an open shelf one, where a student can walk in, pick up the books he wishes to read and browse to his heart’s content amid pleasant surroundings. It was proposed to eliminate all the red tape associated with the borrowing of books in libraries. Easy chairs and divans were provided to create an informal and intimate atmosphere.
The library of the Centre has about 5,000 books in its open shelves. These books kept were of general interest pertaining to all areas of knowledge. The stock of books was changed at frequent intervals with the help of the main library of the University.
Now as half of the portion was given to the Department of Museology, the present CEC Library with its relatively small space has been renovated into a very unique ambience and décor with a digital section.
These facilities for the extra-curricular and creative development of students have provided an important venue for the outlet of creative activities under informal yet directed circumstances. Thus desirable personality-building activities have been encouraged and convenient place been at hand to stimulate their development. Among activities immediately contemplated are cultural clubs or circles for amateur discussion and cultivation of such subjects as may interest an individual or a group of students.
In this way, General Education Centre, physically as well as organizationally has become a pivotal place in the University and in the life of the students.