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Lessons in sustainability

Lessons in sustainability
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First Published: Wed, Dec 03 2008. 10 54 PM IST

Updated: Sun, Dec 21 2008. 11 06 PM IST
The relationship between architecture and the environment has historically been, and continues to be, a complex interaction of site, technology, building materials, human presence, climate and other natural forces,” says Brinda Chinnappa Somaya. The 60,000 sq. ft site for the school was an open field, with no buildings or views. The brief from the client, Mayur Patel, was “to design a school building that would not only reflect the Indian ethos and heritage, but also offer a tranquil space, perfectly suited for learning”.
These specific requirements, together with some budget restrictions, made Somaya design the school building predominantly with brick; a material well-suited for the hot, dry climate. Researching brickwork techniques and craftsmanship took her back to the rich legacy of Nalanda, ancient India’s first university, founded in the 5th century.
The complex is divided into four parts—kindergarten, junior, middle and senior schools. Beyond the exposed red brick exteriors are expansive classrooms, arched corridors and open courtyards. These are interspersed with jaali screen walls, pergolas, ventilators at high levels, windowsills at low levels and lots of greenery. All this, to attain maximum levels of natural ventilation. Tiled roofs and cavity walls help keep the summer heat and winter cold at bay. Natural stones, Kota and Jaisalmer, combined in patterns, make up the flooring almost everywhere; air conditioning and the use of expensive materials such as glass and aluminium has been kept to a minimum. Provisions for rainwater harvesting as well as solar power utilization for outdoor lights and heating water have been included to conserve energy.
The junior school has a central courtyard that extends to four smaller internal courtyards, each containing a cluster of four classrooms. The courtyards and corridors are “shared spaces”, forming ideal centres for parents and children to assemble. Somaya says, “Shared spaces inspire a sense of belonging and ownership; and from that stems the will to preserve and protect one’s territory.”
The kindergarten layout has a different ambience. It has C-shaped courtyards and a predominant use of colourful china mosaic on some external surfaces. Indian patent stone (IPS), mixed with vibrant colours, makes up the classroom flooring.
This project won the Leaf Award from the Leading European Architects Forum in 2006 for the use of traditional methods of environmental control.
Photos
1. Vaulted corridors provide both light and diffused shade. Flooring in Jaisalmer and Kota stone.
2. The main courtyard, with the bell tower.
3. Outdoor seating alongside jaali walls.
4. Indian patent stone, mixed with bright colours, enlivens classroom floors.
5. Brick pillars fence the corridors.
6. The kindergarten building is both protective and friendly.
7. The entrance to the junior school is covered by a pergola.
Photographs by Mayur Patel and Noshir Gobhai, courtesy the architect.
Text by Priya Madhavdas
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First Published: Wed, Dec 03 2008. 10 54 PM IST