Designing for the Local Context
Through architecture that is pragmatic and vernacular, sensitive to nature, and local materials, Shanmugam Associates designs Rane Vidyalaya, an educational institution in Theerampalayam, close to Tiruchirapalli, that has a positive social impact on the local community.
Rane Vidyalaya, is an educational campus for K12 and a CSR initiative by Rane Foundation India Pvt. Ltd, a leading industrial conglomerate in India. Theerampalayam, the rural region where the school is located, has no proper educational institutions that offer quality learning. The closest city, Tiruchirapalli which is a Tier-II city in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, is 20 km away. Neighbourhood districts are a mix of small rural villages whose occupation is agriculture and unskilled labour.
“The project was envisioned as a whole but executed in two phases. Presently Phase 1 is constructed for an area of 50,000 sq. ft. The intent, of the design of this school,” according to Santhosh Shanmugam, partner at Shanmugam Associates, “Was to create an infrastructure that would have a positive social impact on the local community and also showcase the core values of Rane.”
“Construction techniques followed the regional context with structured pedagogy of the Indian educational system and construction cost of $20 / sq. ft forming the underlying basis for the design development. The inspiration came in from the 6th century built Thiruvellarai temple’s walls and the layered cross-sections of 50-year-old houses in the region. Construction methodology, that was followed consistently in these walls, layering starting from huge random rubble and stone at the bottom, to finer solid brickwork, mud and slate on top. Alternating wall layers of red wire cut bricks from a local kiln and grey fly ash brick recycled from industrial cement waste were used,” explains Santhosh.
The kindergarten classrooms are designed to have individual gardens that encourage seamless outdoor and indoor integration of space. With every increase in grade, classes become more functional to induce structured learning. The overall design approach was to avoid sharp edges in walls, columns, slab edges, and in every detail possible to ensure safety.
Located in the tropical belt of interior Tamil Nadu, the architect’s envisioned the space to be ventilated naturally with sufficient lighting. “All walls are stopped at lintel height and have openable windows above, to allow hot air to dissipate and increase cross ventilation. Terracotta jalli has been used as a secondary shading device. Major openings along the predominant SE & NW wind direction and minor wind tunnels in an east-west direction between classrooms are created to have a comfortable micro-climate,” says Santhosh.
Taking inspiration from temple mandapams where huge gatherings took place, there is an enclosed central courtyard planned with perforated light wells in the roof. The courtyard serves as a multi-functional place of congregation for lunch breaks, school assembly, exhibition space, co-curricular training, and small gatherings. The courtyard is placed in such a way that it is visually connected at all levels.
All these architectural features: incorporating the use of red solid bricks, baked earth tiles, terracotta jalli, and grey fly ash bricks, help address the microclimate, create interesting light and shade experiences through roof perforations, provide safe green courtyards and sufficient ventilation. At the same time, they also speak the design language of the local region through materials sourced from the surrounding area, and finally creating a fun-educational environment, in a wholesome cost-effective solution.
But the firm does not believe in being categorised as a vernacular firm, each of their projects are in response to surroundings and the clients need.“Shanmugam Associates has been sensitive to practicing architecture that is minimal, functional yet timeless. As a firm, we are open to experiment with all practices and methodologies and not stick to any particular style. We have however been conscious to always deploy locally available material, use regional architectural practices that are sensitive to the local climate, and integrate the building design with its immediate context,” says Santhosh.
In the methodology used to design this public institution, the firm tried to minimize using mechanical equipment but rather design the building to achieve the necessary micro-climate by planning design parameters. “We realised that it would be easier to maintain the building as it ages,” says Raja Krishnan, another partner of the firm.
“On the design front, the façade walls were experimented with, as this had not been tried before by us. Huge cost savings was done by using a combination of exposed red wire cut bricks, jalli, and fly ash bricks from local quarries, therefore minimising costs on cement plastering. After multiple mock-up iterations at the site, this cost-effective yet uncompromised solution was worked out,” says Raja.
“Skilled labour was required to carry out this work as the walls were exposed. Labour was identified from an existing pool of masons from Trichy. Unskilled labor was sourced from the neighboring villages and Trichy.”
Before the commencement of design, understanding the local context has been the key to ideating the concept for the firm. “Another project where we have used locally available material is at North Star International School that is located in the dry belt of Rajkot, Gujarat. ‘Bella’ is a naturally hardened limestone that turned out to be locally available and exhibits aesthetic qualities. The colours of the stone red, white, and beige, reflect the city’s culture and architecture and also help in blending the built form with the immediate surroundings. Bella has been used for the North Star’s facades and forms a design language in itself,” says Santhosh about the projects completed.
Architects: Shanmugam Associates
Project Location: Trichy, India
Area: 50000 sqft
Principal designers: Shanmugam A, Raja Krishnan D, Santhosh Shanmugam.
Design Team: Srinivasan, Satish Kumar, Balasubramaniam, Mohammed Ismail, Rukmani Thangam, Praveen Kumar
Photo Credits: LINK Studio, Bangalore
Structural Design: Ramkumar, Rays Consultants
Engineering: Hitec Construction, Trichy
PHE Consultants: D&D Consultants