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For the children born in the rural areas of India, life does not seem to present many options. High incidence of child labor, low quality of education, and public disinterest create unsupportive conditions. A residential primary school offers these young minds a quality education and a refuge from child labor, while seeking to maintain in them a passion for their local identity rather than spurring them to participate in urban migration. The 17,200-square-foot campus enables the education of 200 children between the ages of 6 and 12 each year. The school houses students in 10 dormitories and serves daily meals for the duration of the academic year. In addition, the program includes a playground, residences for administration, and a vegetable garden for on-site food production. Spread over two acres along the Bay of Bengal and surrounded on all sides by upscale resort community development, the design aims to respond sensitively to the tropical climate and regional culture by curating local building practices and expanding upon them. In this way, the design seeks to set an example for both local villagers and incoming resort residents, acting as a point of pivot for these divided demographics.
DESIGN AND INNOVATION
Sustainable measures such as deep overhangs, natural ventilation, outdoor living, and locally sourced materials have been used in rural environments for centuries. Therefore, the main goal of this rural school campus was the curation of, and expansion upon, these techniques. By creating a village of smaller, pavilion-like buildings rather than large, enclosed masses, the site is treated as gently as possible, maintaining open space per local custom and preserving food-generating flora for cultivation. Interiors are passively cooled via ocean breezes, inspiring narrow building forms, perforated wall construction, and deep overhangs, while taking advantage of the interplay between light and shade to create delight. Locally made building materials and construction methods uphold the design and ensure its relevance and constructability, not only reducing the campus’s footprint, but demonstrating how local building practices can produce both more sustainable and more modern architecture. These same construction methods increase the longevity of the campus and the safety of its occupants by combating annual damage from monsoons and cyclones. Additionally, the design introduces rainwater catchment as a new technology in the region, which is unaccustomed to increasing frequency of drought during the dry season.
REGIONAL AND COMMUNITY DESIGN
The rural coastal communities north of the city of Visakhapatnam are full of rich culture and breathtaking scenery, but want for educational opportunities. In the surrounding region, 64% of primary schools have less than four classrooms and 71% do not have electricity. Coincidentally, 69% of children in the region cannot read a 1st standard text by their 5th standard. Meanwhile, the Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region to the south is aggressively expanding in all directions, bringing luxurious resorts and high-end residences right up to the site’s doorstep. The primary school seeks to preserve the essence of village culture while acting as a point of pivot for the two demographics. Color, texture, materiality, and spatial variety are rich in India, and the design aims to celebrate these aspects of the context. The design’s spatial flexibility embraces an Eastern way of thinking and lends itself remarkably well to the campus’s overall sustainability. The organization of space throughout India is refreshingly flexible, unbound by the Western custom of classification. Every square inch of earth is considered viable living space, used for gathering, lingering, and playing. The customary functions of a home spill out of doorways and into the streets. Interiors, likewise, contain little or no fixed furniture and feature no architecturally fixed room functions. The campus celebrates this idea, offering a variety of spaces for neverending functions and learning methods. Rooftops, expansive verandas, narrow alleyways, and large courtyards are all considered a part of the classroom, and the designated classrooms themselves are heavily perforated, both offering spatial connection and creating a vehicle for natural ventilation. Roof planes are made accessible, as is common in concrete residences in south India, for learning opportunities enhanced by a higher vantage point, while verandas transcend circulation space by becoming “activity porches,” offering a breakout space clear of traditional desks.
LAND USE AND SITE ECOLOGY
The project’s prevailing ecological strategy revolves around the preservation of food-generating flora, such as coconut, cashew, and palm fruit. Coconut water provides crucial hydration through dry summer months, while coconut meat and cashew nuts are healthy fats that are needed in the diet of a growing child. Programmatic spaces are divided and scattered organically around these existing landscape elements. While the buildings may seem randomly placed, their locations and orientations have been carefully tailored for each space’s unique ventilation and shading needs, bringing the site and its buildings into harmony. The classrooms, for example, are placed at the highest elevations in order to catch ocean breezes and offer the best views, as these spaces are the most occupied program element during the students’ waking hours. The assembly hall, likewise, is placed to the west of the site’s largest grove of trees in order to provide maximum shade during morning assemblies. At the base of the site, dorm outcroppings create student villages, removed from the campus core enough to foster a sense of separation for the schoolchildren and provide them with a familiar environment that challenges the boarding school archetype. The cluster arrangement of buildings facilitates the movement of light, air, water, and wildlife through the site, maintaining its porosity.
Coastal Andhra Pradesh is characterized as a tropical savanna, experiencing distinct wet and dry seasons, high temperatures, and high humidity. The site receives relatively extreme sun angles throughout the year due to its proximity to the equator - this coupled with heavy monsoon rains from June to November requires that all openings be protected, regardless of their orientation. When appropriate, overhangs are extended into verandas, following local tradition and doubling useable program area. Extending these varandas between buildings protects schoolchildren preserves the campus’s functions during the rainy season and provides shaded extensions of the classrooms. By dissolving separations between indoor and outdoor spaces via large openings and minimal glazing, the design facilitates the flow of cooling ocean breezes throughout all the campus’s functions. Elevated building pads in the style of local construction protect interiors from monsoon floods while suggesting separation of space throughout the largely open campus. The bioclimatic goal of the design as a whole is to celebrate, rather than lament, the site’s climate identity. As a result of these passive strategies and the expanded range of thermal comfort found among villagers, occupants will be comfortable virtually year-round.
LIGHT AND AIR
In humid climates, shade and natural ventilation present themselves as optimal options for passive cooling. Thus, they are major drivers for the design. The modularity of concrete block and clay brick are manipulated to lend themselves to porous, breathing buildings despite their associations with weight and mass. In fact, most of the buildings seem to qualify more as pavilion than buildings. Shade is a precious commodity in southern India and is crucial for interior comfort. However, the design seeks to reach beyond this basic necessity for shade and play with, rather than solely block, sunlight. This exploration resulted in an entirely different wall type that uses local materials and cultural traditions of color, but also twists materials into an assembly that transforms sunlight into bursts of color. Stacked courses of brick are slightly pivoted, causing light to reflect off of colored front faces onto white back faces directly opposite them, creating a dynamic, softly lit interior while also allowing breezes to pass through the space. The design seeks to prove that brick, concrete block, and paint can be used in interesting ways in order to achieve compelling shadows while maintaining interior comfort. As a result of the porosity achieved by these materials, 62% of the campus’s total floor area has a view of the outdoors and 58% of the campus’s total floor area can be entirely lit during occupied hours.
ENERGY FLOWS AND ENERGY FUTURE
Due to the project’s rural setting, its approach to energy primarily aims at using the least amount of energy possible by employing passive strategies, ultimately achieving an EUI of 23 kBTU/sf/yr. In many ways, this approach was relatively easy to implement. Mechanical cooling systems are costly and largely unused in the surrounding area and throughout India. As a result, the thermal comfort threshold of the general population is far more tolerant than its Western counterpart and is easily achieved with intelligent shading strategies and natural ventilation. Meanwhile, narrow building forms and plentiful fenestrations allow the campus to be largely daylit, confining electricity use to office and computer lab technologies and after-dark illumination. This remaining consumption is offset by PV arrays, which can be easily installed on the campus’s collection of flat roofs as funds become available.
MATERIALS AND CONSTRUCTION
Sourcing materials directly from the surrounding villages ensures cost-effectiveness and availability, generates income for parents of prospective students, and proves the most durable measure against cyclones, which damage the area an average of 5 times a year. Clay bricks and concrete block are made by hand in nearby villages and constitute the bulk of local building materials, while cast-in-place concrete and rebar are available in the nearby town of Bhogapuram. Reinforced concrete buildings resist cyclonic winds effectively, extending the building’s lifespan and eliminating the cost of yearly renovations due to damages. In addition to material choices, the site layout is also engineered to prevent damage. Simple rectangular forms prevent pockets of wind pressure and resist structural failure. Similarly, cluster arrangements prevent wind tunnels and weaken wind forces far more than row arrangements. These strategies are already used in the vernacular, which most accurately represents appropriate building techniques for the social, climatic, and economic factors specific to the region.
LONG LIFE, LOOSE FIT
Though not necessarily designed for disassembly due to the importance of its structural integrity, the campus seeks to be adaptable in its spatial flexibility. Room for expansion can be found in the design’s simplicity of space and finishes. The local culture of loosely defining space lends itself to changing functions, and the resulting flexible spaces accommodate improving and evolving education models, new programs, and a variety of teaching methods. Additionally, the campus is ideally placed to serve public functions as well. Located in the center of new development within a large cluster of rural villages, the school’s spaces are easily converted for meetings, seminars, cultural celebrations, and other unifying functions.
COLLECTIVE WISDOM AND FEEDBACK LOOPS
Architects and designers far too often create based on general assumption or scientific research rather than on a first-hand understanding of the client. This site and program forced the designer to rethink almost every convention found in the Western world. A single week spent immersed in the target group guided the design process far more than three months spent in intense academic research. This short visit revealed cultural nuances and subtle programmatic needs which produced a more rounded, practical project. This same lesson could be applied far more often in Western cultures, which tend to design based on society’s averages rather than on the individual’s unique situation. Likewise, the project offered freedom in design due to the target group’s generous thermal comfort threshold, making possible experimentation with light, air, and the delight those concepts can produce. This process led to a full-scale hands-on exploration in the form of a mock-up. Rather than designing in the belief that a new system should work, the designer proved the hypothesis and improved the design by determining at which angles to pivot the brick and how far apart to space color elements in order to generate a wall that will actually stand. The quantity of hands-on investment put into this project resulted in a project that is not state of the art, but that artfully re-crafts the existing state of things as they are.