Green courtyards encircle learning zones in Shanmugam Associates' Northstar School

The Chennai-based firm integrates open-ended corridors, large gardens, and intimate courtyards to the built fabric of The Northstar School in Rajkot, Gujarat, India.

by STIRworld Published on : Nov 09, 2020

Shanmugam Associates’ design for The Northstar School in Rajkot, in India’s western state of Gujarat, boasts of entwining landscapes and rustic structures, staying true to the vision of the academic institution: “School is an enjoyable and enriching part of life where students can safely explore their true North”. The green design ensures that the children’s experience at the Northstar is intimately shaped by architecture and the quality of spaces.

The first-floor classrooms have creepers as secondary skin to allow for the harsh sunlight to get filtered into the rooms | The Northstar School by Shanmugam Associates | STIRworld
The first-floor classrooms have creepers as secondary skin to allow for the harsh sunlight to get filtered into the rooms Image: Courtesy of Shanmugam Associates

The Northstar School is a reformist institution established to remodel the educational ecosystem. Located on the south-eastern corner of a 17.8-acre barren site in Rajkot, the semi-arid climate was a major influence on the design. The short monsoons and the supply of STP (sewage treatment plant) water from the neighbouring RK University on Rajkot-Bhavnagar highway also had their effects of the resultant campus.

Juxtaposition of the Bella stone on the ground floor with the green creepers on the first floor | The Northstar School by Shanmugam Associates | STIRworld
Juxtaposition of the Bella stone on the ground floor with the green creepers on the first floor Image: Courtesy of Shanmugam Associates

The masterplan integrates three phases of development, out of which only Phase-1 has been constructed. The plan accounts for future growth that maintains the original building orientation, strategically arrived at after climatic considerations.

 The main courtyard that provides circulation, a gathering space, and also a green relief in all the phases | The Northstar School by Shanmugam Associates | STIRworld
The main courtyard that provides circulation, a gathering space, and also a green relief in all the phases Image: Courtesy of Shanmugam Associates

The Chennai-based Shanmugam Associates’ priority of finding ways for the students to learn in the presence of nature resulted in a built form that coalesces with the surrounding landscape. The design process began with developing a single modular unit of a classroom, each equipped with a private garden and an open-to-sky-courtyard. The modules were then iterated and combined to form the entire building.

  • Design development and climatic analysis of the design | The Northstar School by Shanmugam Associates | STIRworld
    Design development and climatic analysis of the design Image: Courtesy of Shanmugam Associates
  • Isometric view of the classroom modules | The Northstar School by Shanmugam Associates | STIRworld
    Isometric view of the classroom modules Image: Courtesy of Shanmugam Associates

Throughout the campus, open-ended corridors weave through the classrooms. A larger garden is positioned between two classrooms for performance spaces and to conduct classes in. Key functions are arranged on the ground and first floors to keep the space child-friendly.

  • A virtual class session in progress in the courtyard | The Northstar School by Shanmugam Associates | STIRworld
    A virtual class session in progress in the courtyard Image: Courtesy of Shanmugam Associates
  • Lush climbers entangle themselves around the open-ended corridors | The Northstar School by Shanmugam Associates  | STIRworld
    Lush climbers entangle themselves around the open-ended corridors Image: Courtesy of Shanmugam Associates

Central courtyards - a homage to the stepped wells of Gujarat - unite the spaces within each module and are replicated in all phases. The courtyard allows for circulation and hosts space for larger gatherings and events. A stage for performances occupies the courtyard, with vines, creepers and green patches complementing the backdrop.

Classrooms have their own garden pockets which are used also for learning | The Northstar School by Shanmugam Associates | STIRworld
Classrooms have their own garden pockets which are used also for learning Image: Courtesy of Shanmugam Associates

The second floor containing a 250-person capacity multipurpose hall gently rests on the ground floor, a structural feat in the design. As one walks along the heavily canopied entry walkway, the structure visually makes its presence felt.

The skin of the building has been planned to bring in plenty of natural light, shield dust and provide security - utilising a combination of jaali walls and creeper screens. The locally available and economical façade material provides an earthy quality that mimics the character of educational institutions. Bella, a natural hard limestone in a terracotta shade, has been employed to blend the built form with existing surroundings.

Basic shapes and forms are introduced as a part of the architecture | The Northstar School by Shanmugam Associates | STIRworld
Basic shapes and forms are introduced as a part of the architecture Image: Courtesy of Shanmugam Associates

As the building ages, the landscape is anticipated to gradually take ownership of the space, entangling itself into the crevices and surfaces of the school. Northstar conducts a horticulture programme that demonstrates the significance of flora and fauna. Visitors to the campus are greeted by Gulmohar trees at the main pedestrian entry and may occasionally spot an Indian owl that resides in an unused truncated duct.

Private gardens have been provided for all spaces as seen here in the library area | The Northstar School by Shanmugam Associates | STIRworld
Private gardens have been provided for all spaces as seen here in the library area Image: Courtesy of Shanmugam Associates

The Northstar School explores contemporary architecture with locally sourced materials, inculcating regional references in the built form. The spatial quality of the campus is palpable and down-to-earth, surely enticing the inhabitants of the space. The simplistic solutions for complex design problems yield an enjoyable experience amongst nature for eager young learners.

Project Details

Name: The Northstar School
Architect: Shanmugam Associates
Completion Year: 2017
Gross Built Area: 33,000 sqft
Location: Rajkot, Gujarat, India
Lead Architects: Raja Krishnan, Santhosh Shanmugam, Shanmugam A
Design Team: Raja Krishnan, Santhosh Shanmugam, Balasubramanian, Manish Bokdia, Vimala
Clients: Mohit Patel
Engineering: Jayant Laklani, Laklani Associates,
Landscape: Sandip Patil, Tapan Modi, Earthscapes Consultancy Private Ltd
Collaborators: Gudgudee- Playground Design

(Text by Ankitha Gattupalli, intern at stirworld.com)

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