"A very important part of every child's experience at school should be shaped by architecture." This was the starting thought for the blueprint of this school. As you take in the wide open corridors, spacious classrooms with jali courtyards—all interspersed with luscious greenery—you're reminded that childhood memories are made of spaces like these. The school in question is The Northstar School, spread over 33,000-square-feet in Rajkot and has been designed by Raja Krishnan, Santhosh Shanmugam and Shanmugam A of Shanmugam Associates.
Building for Learning
“School is an enjoyable and enriching part of life where students can safely explore their True North" reads the vision of The Northstar School, an institution established to take a new approach to teaching—and learning. This was applied to the most fundamental space in a school—the classroom. Each class was envisioned as a space with cross-ventilation, a private garden and an open-to-sky, jali courtyard. These in turn were connected to other classrooms via a larger garden, effectively forming a part of a whole. The school also features a library with an outdoor chess board, a central stepped and vegetated courtyard and corridors with zones specially earmarked for students' artwork.
A Structural Feat
The school was conceptualised in three phases of development—future expansion has been planned through the open-ended corridors and building orientation. The second floor that houses a 250 person capacity hall almost seems suspended in mid-air and is striking. The entire school was imagined with a secondary skin—jali on the ground floor and a creeper screen on the first floor—to allow natural light, shield from dust and also provide privacy.
Local for Vocal
Drawing inspiration from the vernacular architecture of the region, the school has a central courtyard, which ties all the spaces within each module—a structure reminiscent of the famed stepped wells of Gujarat. Much like the courtyards around the stepped wells, the large courtyard is an ideal space for gatherings and conducting outdoor sessions. The space also facilitates air circulation—a boon in the arid region. Amidst the green pockets—again featuring indigenous plants, there's also a stage for kids to perform. The courtyard seems like a slice of the past—the days of yore, when children would gather around grandparents and elders for storytelling sessions. "When exploring material for the façade, the criteria was for it to be locally available, have an earthy tone, reflect an institutional character and be economical. Bella, a natural hard limestone in terracotta colour has been used to blend the built form with existing surroundings," explains the team.