Open schools

Open schools

Galaxy International School, Rajkot

The Galaxy International School near Rajkot, in Gujarat, has 400 students and eight units. Each unit has a pair of classrooms arranged in facing rows flanking a long central open space. This is about a metre higher than the small courts partially enclosed by each classroom.

The level difference provides optimal seclusion to each classroom while also maintaining a sense of connection with the larger campus.

Buildings and trees

Kakani’s architecture defers to the trees and at the same time quietly assimilates vegetation and landscape into the basic palette of architecture. He believes that the design will only be complete when the trees reach full maturity; that is, when the banyan (deliberately planted in the amphitheatre) for instance, casts a parental net of shade over part of the central open space.

Reduce and recycle

The engagement with the natural environment extends beyond the visual and psychological in Kakani’s work. The Rajkot school embodies another important sustainability principle, that of recycling. Most of the building materials here are recycled waste and the others—such as bamboo—are renewable.

The walls are made of cementitious (a material capable of setting like cement) blocks made from post-earthquake rubble thrown outside the city. The blocks are made by incorporating gypsum (waste from the sanitaryware industry in nearby Than) and lime (waste from the Tata’s salt works at Mithapur) along with a little bit of cement into the mass of rubble in each mould.

The trusses for the roof are made from steel pipes brought from the ship-breaking works at Alang, and the roofing itself incorporates renewable matting of date-palm leaves on the underside and thatch above with a synthetic waterproofing sheet sandwiched in between.

Lessons for life

As with the temples, mosques and churches of olden times that educated people through stories written on stone and glass, the school performs an important educational function. It embodies in its physical fabric the very love of nature that it enables through the experience of dwelling in it. By practising what it preaches—respect and love for nature—it also exemplifies another important value: integrity.

CN Vidyalaya Balmandir, Ahmedabad

The kindergarten block of the CN Vidyalaya Balmandir at Ahmedabad was completed in 1999. The building is on the large CN Vidyalaya campus and was designed in collaboration with architect Neelkanth Chhaya.

A green roof

The brief was to add four classrooms to the existing kindergarten. The easy thing would have been to place them on a clear patch of land near the old one. However, Kakani (in discussion with wife Jaai, a graphic designer and organic farmer, closely involved in the conceptual brainstorming on most design issues in the office) chose to deploy the new block around a spread of trees, a little away from the existing kindergarten. Further, he decided to spread the four rooms (each designed for 25-30 children) out to create a network of courtyards between them with a large one at the centre of the arrangement. For the children, the experience of the kindergarten is tied inextricably to that of the open courts, terraces and the trees.

Design elements

A clear-sighted and imaginative empathy for the child informs the design all through. “We thought of the kindergarten as a home away from home along with all the fun, activity and play," says Kakani, “so, for instance, we decided to attach a toilet to each classroom rather than make a central toilet block. Now the children do not need the teacher’s permission to go to the toilet since she has no anxiety about sending them out of the class."

The kindergarten is approached from its older building by climbing a shallow mound, which also takes you almost up to the low roof of the corridors. The ease with which the ground becomes the roof, and the casual overhang of the tree branches, all in the course of a few fun steps, suggests the delicious possibility that ground and roof are not necessarily distinct places.

The classrooms are themselves like deep verandas, being open on one side completely to their own court. Their windows are low—just at the right height for the children—with the adults having to bend to look out. This fact, incidentally, also makes the building more child-friendly from outside too, giving the child something to look at (and through) even from outside at her own height.

Also see: Photographs

Galaxy International School, Rajkot. Lowered courts give privacy to the classroom cottages, while providing a connection with the campus

Kakani and Jaai

The raised pavilion of the multi-purpose assembly hall on axis with the central open space

The kindergarten block of the CN Vidyalaya Balmandir in Ahmedabad—a series of open courtyards leading into each other

Children at play

An open terrace

(Photographs by Himanshu Burte)

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