2021: Beginning anew – a joyful reimagining of our schools!
Write-up and Concept Storyboards by Vaishali Shankar
The Design Director at SJK Architects that we all love and depend upon, has written in the wake of her dilemmas about her son starting school amid a pandemic.
Illustrations by Kinjal Vora
Our bright young fresher who jumped into the idea of illustrating this blog using parts of our buildings and populating them with spunky lively kids!
We were keen on an IB education for our child for the freedom in learning it oﬀers. But as we scouted for schools, we found that despite the openness of their curriculum, ironically, IB schools are synonymous with closed, boxy, air-conditioned buildings!
Our child was to start going to a ‘big’ school in August 2020. But instead, this year marked the start of virtual schooling for children across a locked down planet. While most parents were very happy to have schooling start even if on-line, most fret about the prolonged exposure to screens and the sense of isolation that the kids may feel.
But normalcy will return. And when it does, the favourite question is – what lessons will we take back from this strange period in our lives? How do we ensure thriving post-covid schools?
Two great needs stand out- To design buildings that do not encourage infections from spreading by providing really good cross ventilation and to design buildings with enough spaces for social interactions for strengthening human connections post this isolation that children have been through.
These design principles have been a part of our work at SJK Architects - some aspect or the other exists in several of our projects. We have taken the opportunity to look at past and present projects to discuss these.
One: Use screens to draw wind into the building:
Drawing from the use of ‘jalis’ in vernacular buildings, these sun-shading devices add a layer to the windows, ensuring that direct sun (and, therefore, heat) is blocked, while the gaps in the ‘jalis’ still allow wind in.
The screens move to open up completely in the winters and shut when the sun is scorching bright during the summers.
[Images 1, 2 and 3- Wooden ‘jalis’ protect the windows of a Family Home at Nagpur, allowing for natural ventilation, keeping the interiors cool and satisfying the need for privacy.]
Two: Open up the North for social spaces:
The north face of the building receives the best shade (in our hemisphere) and is, therefore, the coolest! So the north can be opened up to provide comfortable, well-shaded courtyards, balconies and terraces.
Often, courtyards at ground level take up precious space, so providing them at higher levels is a useful strategy.
Image 4, 5 and 6- A north facing, shaded and vibrant courtyard at the 4th ﬂoor of a Commercial Building at Nagpur with an amphi-theatre and overlooking public passages, staircases, projecting meeting rooms and terraces to create a design centered around social gathering spaces and green pockets at every level.]
Three : Tiny courtyards for social interactions and some fresh air:
In the quest to consume all available FSI, it may be impossible to provide large courtyards. But even an eight feet wide tiny courtyard can become the soul of a building by visually connecting diﬀerent ﬂoors and bringing in fresh air.
[Image 7- A tiny 8’ x 21’ atrium courtyard within a Family Home at Nagpur designed to create a sense of togetherness that binds a large joint family.]
Four: The Staircase as a courtyard:
Some projects are so hemmed in that even the tiniest courtyard is impossible. But making the staircase a conduit for sun and wind can convert it into an urban courtyard - a space for social connections and welcome breaks.
(Images 8 and 9- The core of this ‘out of the box’ oﬃce building at Bangalore is a staircase that slices through the building with a huge skylight above, suﬀusing it with sunlight and natural ventilation.
Five: Use the terraces to bring in nature and social interactions:
Carving into the building to provide small terraces at every level can allow for each classroom to have a small attached open space. But whether at one level or at many, greening up the terrace for the children to use is such a simple possibility! It can bring an additional beneﬁt - the joy of learning from nature!
[Images 10,11 and 12- The spaces within this Commercial oﬃce building at Chennai are naturally lit with coconut & mango trees visible at every turn. There are semi green terrace spaces for internal meetings, reﬂection and joy.]
Six: Balconies for well ventilated social interactions:
Balconies are wonderful transition spaces – for wind and play and they are mostly free of FSI too…….
[Image 13- Varied openings, balconies and sloping chajjas have been articulated for an Ayurvedic resort in Mumbai, that infuse the building with light and wind and double up as waiting spaces (free of FSI) for the OPDs.
The lockdown in the wake of Covid 19 has forced us to pause and reﬂect, and simple solutions like the ones described here and perhaps several more are available to design joyful post-covid city schools. These simple solutions that promote better physical-emotional health and happiness align beautifully with the spirit of sustainable development - Buildings and cities that work with climate will consume less energy and lower our carbon footprint. Likewise, buildings and cities that promote social interactions will help provide an emotionally stronger social fabric through better communication and understanding, one that, hopefully, will lead to a more inclusive, fair and tolerant society. So, in promoting our own health and happiness, we can simultaneously nurture the planet and it’s people - the wonderful i n t e r c o n n e c t e d n e s s of all fates! Sometimes it takes a pandemic to remind us.