South View School: Integrating Contemporary Design

Situated in Remraam, Dubai, the South View School ( SVS) is an institutional project undertaken by R+D Studio that integrates contemporary design with a focus on local context. Emphasising a blend of engineering and architecture, the school embodies a pragmatic approach to educational infrastructure. Its significance lies in its ability to seamlessly incorporate thoughtful planning into a cohesive design that caters to the specific needs of the local community. 

We ask the architects about the challenges faced while designing an educational complex in the Middle East.

“One of the biggest challenges of designing in the Middle East is the lack of context. The expanse of sand dunes and lack of vegetation can sometimes disorient you. Biggest mistake that designers tend to make is to spread the buildings to the site extent. As a designer, the process is pretty much the same. We take a lot of references to provide us with cues – landscape; history, vegetation, architecture, without being literal and overlap it with the program of the project and work out iterations,” says Shridhar Rao, Founding partner at R+D Studio.

The construction of the South View School creates a euphonious blend of contemporary and traditional architecture, as the building flaunts a modern precast structure, constructed in just a matter of six months, wrapped in the ancestral Saudi stone. The planning exhibits a more conventional approach, mainly by the use of its courtyard, that helps in the formation of a suitable microclimate allows for the use of Mashrabias, a type of screening device ornamented with latticework, that enclose the windows and bring in filtered air and daylight.

“We evaluate each iteration with its strengths and pick the one that is most effective. Our office follows this process as a design approach and we have implemented it on various projects across scales and contexts,”hecontinues.“We are conscientious in our choices of materials when designing in the Middle East Region. UAE today produces a lot of materials that are man-made, like cement, ceramics, paints, appliances etc. They have abundant silica which is also heavily used in construction; so we get a lot of material that is locally produced. Besides that we look at materials sourced from within the Gulf region – for eg. We used Saudi Sandstone for the cladding of the MpH in South View School. The choice of materials is an important aspect while designing schools, in the case of SVS the material pallet was based on a budget as the school fees are mid-range, whereas the school is perceived a higher quality,” Rao further explains.With an intention of building a sanctum for the kids, South View School exhibits statuesque, fortified walls that are punctured by a narrow alley that reflect the fort city streetscape meeting at intersections which are the lungs of the settlement.

As one enters through the slender pathway, we are met with a voluminous premise, where the building introduces an illustrious courtyard, symbolic to a city square. Integrated with recreational and interactive zones, this expansive courtyard then paves way into the various functionalities of the school but also acts as the heart and soul of the kid’s alma mater. Keeping up with the standard functionality of an institutional space, the studio took a call to romanticise the building’s central core and to amplify its individuality by highlighting its form. Standing tall with its mighty facade and its majestic courtyard, the building proffers a nod to UAE Fort’s emblematic architecture.The design of the school is fundamentally governed by a perceptive, utilitarian way of planning, tailored as per the needs of a K12 institute. Various functions of the school are separated into different levels, to create a programmatic and zonal division. These levels are then connected through an array of open to sky courts, so as to promote spatial and visual interaction between the kids, an essential part of the school.

The kindergarten is placed at the base level, next to a recreation zone complete with an amphitheater and a play area, to make the most of the vast landscape for the younger children.

The upper floors provide a sanctuary for the older students, further diverging into two wings that are reminiscent of a sapling branching its way out. These branches at the topmost floor are connected by a strategically placed library, suggestive of the importance of a centrally placed, soaring temple that houses endless knowledge. Worthy of note, this programmatic way of planning is also exhibited through the facade, where each scholarly function displays a different design of fenestration, and ends up creating a truly compelling facade.

“The entire school was initially designed as a cast-in situ concrete structure. During the course of the design process, the client decided to go for a pre-cast structure in order to save time. We worked with the local company to work understand the parameters within a precast panel and adjusted our design in such a way that when you see it, one can’t make out that this is a precast building. This not only helped the building look customised but also built 150,000 of built-up space in five months. That gave us six months to finish interior fit-outs which was more than ample time,” explains Rao.

A striking envelope is created over the structure, through the use of pergolas and tensile canopies that cover its multiple layers. These canopies, flaming yellow in color, along with the building’s carefully carved massing, bring in rays of natural light that makes the space come alive through a dynamic play of sunshine and shadow. Lined with the many courts and canopies at the terrace, the architecture creates its first line of defense against the dusty winds of Remraam.

In line with the studio’s philosophy of creating impactful interventions that initiate the betterment of our environment, South View School is a study in the concept of ‘contextual awareness’. Contrary to the belief of using a modern material palette for a contemporary building, the design provides a mindful balance between the old and the new, and does not alienate the experience of its local environment.