Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School in Rajasthan is an architectural marvel. This school is made of sandstone, which is located right in the middle of a desert. The design tackles various elements of challenges like temperatures rising up to 50 degrees Celsius Sandstorms and heatwaves. The school is located just a six-minute drive away from Jaisalmer’s famous Sam Dunes, which have taken shape in Kanoi village, with an aim to educate girls and empower them. The school serves more than 400 girls, from kindergarten to class 10. This helps the families that live below the poverty line in the region where female literacy barely touches 36 percent.
Case study of Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School
- Location: Jaisalmer, India
- Architects: Diana Kellogg Architects
- Year: 2021
- Client: CITTA Foundation
- Number of students: 400 (April 2020)
- School type: Independent school
The school is based in the heart of the Thar Desert in the Indian state of Rajasthan. A Newyork based firm, Diana Kellogg Architect designed this sandstone marvel. The school is situated in the rural area of Jaisalmer, near the village of Kanoi.
Space and Form
Rajkumari Ratnavati school has an ellipse structure. It blends seamlessly into the planes of sand dunes in the region of Jaisalmer. The structure has striking curved walls reminiscent of Rajasthan’s famous forts. The oval-shaped building has a paved central courtyard. The newly-completed structure is part of a larger complex called the GYAAN Center, which will include an exhibition space called the Medha and the Women’s Cooperative building, where local artisans will teach women traditional handcraft techniques.
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Design of Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School
This fine structure also paves the way for great and efficient spaces for the children to study and grow. Kellogg’s design shows the building simultaneously blends and grows out of the natural landscape. It is much like the Jaisalmer sandstone. For concepts, the architect observed the fluid characteristics of dunes. She also incorporates many symbols of womanhood. Similarly, the ellipse structure reduces the distance between the different sections in the building. Also, having a courtyard for the building was familiar to Indian culture. The circulation of the design denotes children playing in circles or the women working in a community.
Inside the school, visitors are greeted by a sweeping staircase and a wall decorated with diya’s, small stone flower medallions signifying each classroom and the donors for the project. Winding corridors lead you to classrooms, a computer center, and a sprawling terrace, all donned with furniture made locally out of rosewood with classic Charpai woven seating. A parapet wall is also featured as a reinvention of the Jallis, screen walls traditionally used to hide women for privacy.
The building is a modern blend between minimalism and sleek design, unlike the typical girls’ school image that is built up. It has been constructed with locally cut sandstone.
Construction and Craftsmen ship
The school was constructed by local craftsmen. In that many were of the girls’ fathers. Works were done with hand-carved Jaisalmer sandstone sourced from the area. Moreover, to make the school aesthetically pleasing it took the work of stone cut art by the local workers. in fact, the architect describes the craftsman as magicians for their stonework. It reduces the carbon footprint from transportation and logistics.
Sustainable Designing in Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School
Water Harvesting System
The design is efficient enough as it follows the local ancient water harvesting techniques to maximize the rainwater and recycle gray water in the school. Therefore, the courtyard in the complex can harvest 3.5 lakh liters of water and store it in its belly.
The building orientation maximizes the prevailing wind and keeps maximum sunlight out. The design also inputs solar panels for the lighting and fans in the building.
Vernacular design process
The use of local materials to create the infrastructure helped reduce carbon emissions. The skilled craftsman working on sandstone made the construction process economic. The material protection from extreme heat during the day, and warmth during evening hours. However, to allow enough room for ventilation, drawings were revised to make the classrooms and other offices bigger in size.
The solar panels on the top level of the structure work act as a canopy. It provides shade while simultaneously powering the building. The cooling system uses geothermal energy during the night to cool the building during the day. Moreover, a solar canopy on the roof with a metal framework doubles as a jungle gym with seesaws, swings, and monkey bars for the girls.
Usage of Jaalis
Jaalis help in keeping the heat out and the elliptical shape of the building also helps bring aspects of sustainability. Therefore, this creates a cooling panel of airflow, in addition to passive solar cooling where temperatures peak close to 120 degrees.
Material Palette for Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School
The local sandstone is the main component of construction. This provides protection from extreme heat during the day, and warmth during evening hours. The inner walls of the building have plastered with lime, which insulates the building.
Sabyasachi Mukherjee designed uniforms for the students using the material Ajrak. It is a form of block printing native to the region in the desert. Ajrakh is distinctly Indian and has a powerful style. It sensitizes children to the importance of local heritage. Above all, it helps to give them a better understanding of our culture and helps in sustaining the crafts of the region.
This innovative school is the first part of the GYAAN center, CITTA’s three-phase project to provide a girl’s school, a women’s cooperative, and a performance and art exhibition space. Rajasthan reportedly accounts for some of the country’s worst female literacy rates at 53 percent. Therefore it is even lower in its rural population at 32 percent. Given that 80 percent of the state’s population is rural, the number of girls that go uneducated is alarmingly high. Hence this project tackles the whole situation. The school will provide a midday-meal program to ensure proper nutrition for the students as well as lessen families’ financial burden.
The project funds are from a non-profit organization. Hence the architect had to be very careful with the budget. “The hardest part was to make every dollar spent on it worth the cause,” says Diana, who worked pro bono on the project. She also adds that blending the varying cultural aspects, and languages and being critical proves challenging too. Also taking in the record of the harsh climate was quite challenging for the design to come up with and be a hostage to the girls studying. The architect also mentions that It took time to convince the royals, politicians, celebrities, and stakeholders to be a part of the cause.
Moreover, to gain community support, the idea of tourism, culture, craftsmanship, and other unique aspects of Jaisalmer. This is incorporating measures in order to represent womanhood and their heritage. Besides being an education center, the architect wanted the school to attract tourists and serve as a global platform to host events for women empowerment and global programmers like Ted talks.
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