‘The project-The Nalanda International School, Vadodara is one close to our heart. It was commissioned by a client for whom we have done a variety of work over the years. This project was part of his charitable work and the valuable result of his vision to create an educational facility for children that was functional, practical and that reflected a strong Indian ethos and tradition while still offering spaces of peace and tranquility suitable for learning’, says Dr. Brinda Somaya, Somaya and Kalappa Consultants.
A 20-acre piece of flat land in Vadodara had to accommodate the primary and secondary sections of the school along with residential facilities. The client’s brief required the primary school of approximately 40,000-sq.ft. consisting of classrooms, from pre-primary to fifth standards, with three divisions each. Ancillary facilities such as audiovisual rooms, art and music rooms etc were also provided. Phase I of the project comprised of the above mentioned areas and administration buildings. Phases II, III and IV would include the secondary school and the residential and sports facilities.
The relationship between architecture and environment has historically been and continues to be a complex interaction of technology, climate and other natural forces, building materials and the human presence. It was on the basis of the vernacular architecture of the area combined with the various factors listed above that the building forms evolved. Our architectural vocabulary through the past three decades have always contained elements of sustainability – the usage of elements of vernacular architecture that encourages the introduction of courtyards for natural ventilation and the use of local building materials and techniques. In addition, using the research and analysis of the site conditions and climatic conditions of the region have naturally resulted in our architecture being sensitive to the environment.
The technology that makes the building operative and the materials used in construction have been carefully selected keeping the principles we have developed through the decades, in mind. The source of inspiration for the design was derived from the original Nalanda – India’s first university founded in the fifth century. Wide open courtyards, corridor spaces, shaded classrooms, jalis and pergolas offering a seamless harmony between buildings, its environment and the learning facility within. This resulted in a plan containing a central courtyard with four smaller internal courtyards, each containing a cluster of four classrooms. The classrooms opening up to internal courtyards encouraged students to partake in outdoor activities such as growing vegetables and nurturing plants. The children have been encouraged to maintain their own immediate environment which fosters a sense of responsibility. The courtyards have also minimized the use of artificial lighting and ventilation, thereby substantially conserving energy.
Articulated spaces within the building form enable natural ventilation. The natural stone floors are cool visually and by touch. To highlight smaller areas patterned cement flooring has also been used.
The use of brick as a primary building material and resurrecting the age old architectural feature of vaulted ceilings that facilitates air circulation. Brick piers and the vaulting was carried out by local craftsmen. The brick is not only used as decorative cladding but also as a structural element. In the hot dry climate of Baroda, the red brick building with its terracotta tiled roof has been designed to stay as cool as possible. This is managed without the assistance of any air conditioning or use of expensive materials such as glass and aluminum.
Even during the hottest months, the internal classrooms stays cool due to the corridors that acts as buffer spaces preventing the sunlight from directly entering the classrooms and increasing the temperature. In addition, cavity walls in the classrooms keep out the summer heat and the winter cold.
Each school has been designed keeping the progression of the children in mind. For example the 20,000-sq.ft ‘infant’ school has a dichotomy in its design – the façade ties in with the other schools in its use of brick piers and so on, but as one moves through the building a sense of playfulness emerges ending with china mosaic sculptural railings, floor patterns and a fish pond! The middle & senior schools are much larger, but still retain a sense of continuity with the infant & junior school buildings.
We believe that while architecture has to fulfill certain requirements, it finally has to uplift the visitors beyond the boundaries of the brick and stone that surround them and raise their spirit to a higher plane through the spatial experience. That is perhaps the difference between a ‘building’ and ‘architecture’.
The Nalanda International School is our interpretation of this belief.