A School Shaped by its Architecture
The design foundations at Northstar School lie on ideologies of exploring contemporary design with local materials, using regional references to define built form, and finding simplistic solutions for complex design problems, emphasise Shanmugam Architects.
“Schools are an enjoyable and enriching part of life where students can safely explore their True North” – reads the vision of The Northstar School, a progressive institution established to transform the educational ecosystem.
The client’s initial brief was that every child’s experience in Northstar has to be shaped by architecture. And this was the brief that guided the architects in creating a space for learning that nurtures and stimulates curiosity.
The project sits on the southeastern corner of a 17.8-acre barren site located adjoining the RK University campus on Rajkot- Bhavnagar highway, reveal the architects.
“The semi-arid climate of north-west India, dusty yet windy site conditions, 20- 30 days of monsoons in Rajkot, and supply of STP water from RK University were influential contextual pointers. Overall master planning was conceived integrating three phases of development of which only Phase -1 is built. Open-ended corridors, building orientation, and future development were factored into the overall planning. Key functions are accommodated in the ground and first floors to keep the built space child friendly,” says Santhosh Shanmugam, the Principal architect.
“The fundamental unit of schools are classrooms. So, the design process started in programming a single classroom module with cross ventilation, its own private garden, and an open to sky jallied courtyard. This module was iterated to arrive from a part to a whole. Between two classrooms is a larger garden that is easily monitored, has a performance space and provisions for conducting classes.”
Drawing inspiration from stepped wells of Gujarat, a central courtyard is used to tie all the spaces within each module and is replicated in all phases. This central stepped and vegetated courtyard serves for larger gatherings as a multi-purpose space and for circulation. Integrated within the courtyard amidst the green pockets, creepers and vines is a stage, that is used by children or staff to perform.
“With due credits to the structural engineer, the massing on the second floor sits lightly on the floor below and houses a 250-persons capacity multipurpose hall. The structure visually creates a presence as one walks along the heavily canopied main entry walkway,” says Shanmugam.
A secondary skin or the Jalli on the ground floor and an ambitious creeper screen on the first floor, has all been so planned in all floors to allow natural light, to shield the indoors from dust, and to provide security.
“When exploring materials 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,” explain the architects.
Architecture at The Northstar School has been planned such that as the building ages, the landscape adds more life into the space therefore taking ownership over the space.
“Presently, an Indian owl resides in an unused truncated duct, the Gulmohar trees lay a red carpet for the main pedestrian entry and Northstar’s horticulture programme engages the learners on the importance of flora and fauna,” says the architects.
Project Name: The Northstar School
Architecture Firm: Shanmugam Associates
Completion Year: 2017
Gross Built Area: 33,000 sqft
Project location: Rajkot, Gujarat
Lead Architects: Raja Krishnan, Santhosh Shanmugam, Shanmugam A
Photo credits: Ishita Sitwala
Photographer’s website: www.thefishyproject.com
Design Team: Raja Krishnan, , Balasubramanian, Manish Bokdia, Vimala