RIAI Women in Architecture -  Valerie Mulvin and Ruth O’Herlihy in interview with Carole Pollard on Thapar University, India
  • 09 Jun 2021

RIAI Women in Architecture - Valerie Mulvin and Ruth O’Herlihy in interview with Carole Pollard on Thapar University, India

Thapar University, India - The Learning Laboratory. Photo by Christian Richters.
Thapar University, India - The Learning Laboratory. Photo by Christian Richters.
Thapar University, India - The Learning Laboratory. Photo by Christian Richters.

The RIAI Women in Architecture event took place via Zoom on 24 June 2021.

This year we celebrated two Irish architects – Valerie Mulvin and Ruth O’Herlihy from McCullough Mulvin – who have delivered an acclaimed learning landscape for 10,000 students in Patiala, northern India.  The project on a 102-hectare site has been nominated for several awards and earlier this year received the prestigious DETAIL magazine Reader’s Prize.  The judges wrote: “certain parallels to Le Corbusier’s work in nearby Chandigarh are unmistakable, both cases being concerned with ‘constructing landscape’ and the organisation of space on a large scale”. 

Women in Irish Architecture is curated by Carole Pollard FRIAI and the RIAI and the online event included an engaging mix of live interviews, short films and breakout rooms for networking.  RIAI CEO Kathryn Meghen welcomed the guests and the online format allowed us to connect also with Sonali Nandi of Design Plus Architects in Delhi, who talked about their collaboration with McCullough Mulvin. 

About Thapar University

McCullough Mulvin won the project in 2015 through competition and have been working over a six-year period (2015-2021) on modernising the campus which was established in 1956.

Thapar University invited McCullough Mulvin to unify a disparate campus by providing innovative buildings to deliver new types of learning spaces. Together with DesignPlus Associates Delhi, they developed a masterplan to draw the campus together and designed a number of buildings within it. The 1million sqft design completes the campus grid with two ‘bookend’ hubs – the Student Residences and the Learning Laboratory. These are linked by a shaded 1.5km pergola walkway which will become the central spine of the campus along which further new facilities will be constructed over the next 10 years. These will include a Sports Centre, Venture Lab and University Guesthouse.

McCullough Mulvin try to understand place and what is special about it. The populous cities of India are alternately crammed with busy people in tight spaces, and islands of calm and reflection - generally inside walled gardens, courtyards and buildings. Thapar University is a microcosm of the city outside its gates, generating a series of places alternately buzzing and calm. India is alive with energy and ambition - the requirement for education is like a torrent.

This is a contemporary concept founded on a sense of place, sensible to the traditions of Indian architecture. It is founded on strong sustainability and environmental concerns in a monsoon climate; it is built simply, using local labour and materials.

The Learning Laboratory 

The Learning Laboratory is a new type of meeting space, an engine for education, a city for students; it mediates timeless form and offers complex spatial adventures. The design comprises a library, lecture theatres and science faculty, each in a tall red Agra stone volumes with white marble detail, the facades mediated using louvred stone screens like traditional Jaali screens. A podium structure runs between giant ramps at either end, a natural extension of the pedestrian route. Below, everything is inhabited within a forked plan; students congregate in the heat of the day around fountains, in the cool shade of a tall concrete structure. The architecture is of solid geometric forms, evocative of natural geography. The provision of cooling and shade limit solar gain, the podium with pools makes a local microclimate. Nature runs through the design, from the existing trees retained, to the trees on the roofs.

Student Residences 

The Student Residence One consists of seven ‘L’ shaped towers rising from the ground to provide 2000 student rooms and common room spaces; they make their own geometry, facing different directions of the compass within a rectangular walled garden - a planted paradise - questing, exploring the horizon like handsome chess pieces on a board - linked by the podium which shields reception, gym and dining spaces below.

The site for Student Residence Two completes a small quad with three existing accommodation buildings. Considering these as a square, and connecting the four buildings with a cruciform rose garden, the new block is formed around an internal courtyard, with social spaces pulled forward of the plane of the walls to generate stacked glazed rooms in alternating positions which facilitate visual communication across the blocks and create a strong dynamic at the heart of the scheme.


Valerie Mulvin

Valerie Mulvin is the co-founder of McCullough Mulvin Architects and a member of Aosdána. Based in Dublin, Ireland, the focus of the practice is on the design of sustainable cultural, educational and civic buildings, with a dynamic synergy of interest in innovative contemporary architecture, place, and history. Valerie is currently working in Ireland on a series of radical conservation / intervention projects and in third level education projects, while in India she is creating new spaces for learning and living at Thapar University in the Punjab. Her work is extended by publications, teaching and research, and has been exhibited in the UK, USA, Germany, Spain, Poland, Czech Republic, Portugal, Venice Biennale. Her upcoming book Approximate Formality – Morphology of Irish Towns discusses the origin, originality and potential of towns and town plans in Ireland.



Ruth O’Herlihy

Ruth O’Herlihy studied architecture in UCD, graduating in 1997. She joined McCullough Mulvin Architects in 1999 and became a Director in 2006. Along with the team, Ruth has worked on numerous award-winning buildings in Ireland in the education, housing, health and arts sectors, as well as leading the team with Valerie Mulvin on Thapar University in India. Recently Ruth has lead the Butler Gallery project which was opened in August 2020 – the first new gallery in Ireland in many years. She is currently working on a series of schools, new housing under construction, as well as hotel and civic projects. Ruth has lectured internationally on the work of the practice. She is currently a Design Fellow at UCD, working in final year, and examines on the Professional Practice Diploma course. Ruth lives with her family in a modernist house designed by her grandparents.  






Sonali Nandi

Sonali Nandi is an Associate with Design Plus Architects (DPA) in Delhi, India. DPA is an integrated design consultancy firm having decades of experience in campus, building and interior design. They are motivated by the desire to create holistic design solutions and to develop a harmonious client - designer relationship. The firm’s philosophy is efficient integration of design with engineering services. DPA’s core strength of innovative design and ensuring buildability of the same is reflected and recognized in many award winning projects.

Event Curator 

Carole Pollard DipArch, BArchSc, MA, FRIAI

Carole is a graduate of Dublin School of Architecture at TU Dublin and holder of MA in History of Design from NCAD.  She is a Fellow of the RIAI and served as President for the term 2016/2017.  Her practice includes research, writing and lecturing on architectural history and practice and teaching at the Dublin School of Architecture, TU Dublin. She is the recipient of an Irish Research Council EPS Postgrad Award undertaking a PhD at UCD on the life and work of Irish C20th architect, Andrew Devane. Carole is a champion of equal opportunity and fair employment. As RIAI President, Carole introduced a suite of RIAI Employment Contracts and established the annual RIAI Women in Architecture event which books out every year. She is Irish contributing editor for the upcoming Bloomsbury Encyclopaedia of Women in Architecture due for publication in 2022.