Panyaden Secondary School in Thailand features pod-like mud and bamboo forms

Chiang Mai Life Architects employ a knowledge and technology-driven approach to craft an eco-friendly campus influenced by Buddhist principles and vernacular architecture.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Oct 18, 2022

Founded with a keen focus on sustainability, Panyaden International School is an educational institution on the outskirts of the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, which integrates Buddhist principles into its operations, with a campus that has gained widespread recognition for its eco-friendly institutional architecture. The initial design of the school’s campus was undertaken by the Netherlands-based 24H architecture, following which local practice Chiang Mai Life Architects (CLA) oversaw the realisation of the remaining campus. While undertaking the design and construction of the secondary school within the development, the Thai architecture firm led by Markus Roselieb sought to merge their naturalistic approach with an outlook that embraced the spirit of modern technology and engineering, pioneering a knowledge-driven vision that would harness both philosophies to put a new spin on educational architecture.

  • The school was founded with an emphasis on sustainability and Buddhist principles, with the new secondary school continuing the same tradition | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    The school was founded with an emphasis on sustainability and Buddhist principles, with the new secondary school continuing the same tradition Image: Markus Roselieb
  • Most of the structures have been realised primarily in adobe blocks, brick, and bamboo | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    Most of the structures have been realised primarily in adobe blocks, brick, and bamboo Image: Markus Roselieb

The combination of these two lines of thought has been channelled through a palette predominantly composed of locally sourced materials, particularly mud, brick, and bamboo, with concrete used sparingly, only in structural applications to reduce the project’s carbon footprint. Yielding a series of fluid, structurally expressive forms that feature abundant natural curves seamlessly flowing into the terrain, the buildings are firmly in tune with their context. The architects share in a statement, "Our design philosophy is based on organic free-flowing lines that are in touch with their surroundings and connect the buildings to the story of their environment. So like with nature, every creation had to be different, sometimes only in the finer details, but never exactly the same.” The new extension to the school is located in close proximity to the primary school, with the football field and gymnasium placed in the spaces between them. Arranged in village-like clusters, the assortment of structures constituting the secondary school campus boast pod-like forms, somewhat resembling a vernacular take on blobitecture. Intricate bamboo frames, arches, and elevated walkways exemplify the design language used throughout this section of the campus, which lies past an elaborate bamboo archway at the entrance.

  • View of the entrance | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    View of the entrance Image: Markus Roselieb
  • Limiting the campus’ carbon footprint was pivotal to the design, and the extensive use of bamboo serves to address this objective | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    Limiting the campus’ carbon footprint was pivotal to the design, and the extensive use of bamboo serves to address this objective Image: Markus Roselieb

With bamboo-framed roofs and plastered adobe block walls, the school’s primary classroom facilities have been grouped at the centre of the development, in a cluster that is surrounded by supplementary blocks which include the science labs, music centre, creative art centre, library, and the sports hall. The latter is situated towards the rear of the development, with administrative spaces such as the accounting block, director’s office, and administrative facilities placed towards the front to allow for easy accessibility. Sports facilities are located behind the administrative wing, comprising a football field, running track, and adjoining bathrooms. Finally, a large pavilion-like structure functions as both a canteen and conference centre, which is linked to the shared kitchen for both campuses.

Bamboo Sports Hall and Gymnasium

  • View of the Bamboo Sports Hall and Gymnasium | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    View of the Bamboo Sports Hall and Gymnasium Image: Markus Roselieb
  • The structure is crowned by a fluid shell-like roof | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    The structure is crowned by a fluid shell-like roof Image: Markus Roselieb

Capped by a layered flowy roof that rises in tiers, which is said to be based on the appearance of a lotus, the sports hall and gymnasium within the campus was built to accommodate over 300 users at a time. Occupying an area of 782 sqm, the hall's immense size is permitted through a structural design relying on a series of elaborate bamboo trusses that eschew the use of steel or any other form of reinforcement to attain impressive spans of up to 17 metres. The trusses themselves were prefabricated on site and lifted into place with the aid of a crane. Composed of triangular modules arranged to create arches that brace the vaulted ceiling of the hall’s interior, the structure’s openness allows for unhindered airflow by means of passive ventilation, and is also a visual and tactile feast, a spectacular achievement of exemplary craftsmanship that champions an innovative approach to sports architecture.

  • Layered bamboo trusses form arched supports that brace the building’s vaulted ceiling | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    Layered bamboo trusses form arched supports that brace the building’s vaulted ceiling Image: Alberto Cosi
  • The trusses can span as far as 17 metres, with the openness of the structure permitting unhindered passive ventilation | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    The trusses can span as far as 17 metres, with the openness of the structure permitting unhindered passive ventilation Image: Alberto Cosi

The bamboo used to craft this elaborate assembly was also treated with borax and is expected to endure for at least half a century according to Chiang Mai Life Architects. In order to withstand extreme natural phenomena in the area such as strong winds and seismic activity, the hall was designed in consultation with a team of two engineers who oversaw the resolution of concerns pertaining to loads, shear forces, and other safety considerations. With respect to the program areas inside its bounds, the hall contains volleyball, basketball, badminton, and futsal courts, as well as a moveable stage which has storage spaces behind it. Balconies running along the edges of the cavernous structure allow spectators to view the activities taking place within the hall from an elevated vantage point.

Music Centre and Science Labs

  • The science labs are contained within an L-shaped building crowned by a roof that appears to take the form of a heart when viewed from above | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    The science labs are contained within an L-shaped building crowned by a roof that appears to take the form of a heart when viewed from above Image: Markus Roselieb
  • Arched bamboo supports prop up the roof’s large overhangs | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    Arched bamboo supports prop up the roof’s large overhangs Image: Markus Roselieb
  • View of the science lab’s interior | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    View of the science lab’s interior Image: Alberto Cosi

Configured in an L-shaped layout, which produces a roof form resembling a heart when viewed from above, the Science Labs in the secondary school also adhere to the theme of low-tech sustainable architecture that is integral to the campus on every level. Adobe block walls with hexagonal motifs rest beneath a fluid bamboo roof assembly, propped up on arched supports that enclose verandahs lining the structure’s perimeter. Equipped with cutting edge equipment in the form of fume hoods, fresh air systems, emergency showers, and other implements, the labs have dedicated spaces for the study of physics, chemistry, and biology, illuminated by lighting design filaments that drop down from layered bamboo ceilings. The architects note, "This building captures a user's imagination through a contrasting yet unexpectedly smooth marriage between its exposed bamboo structure and earthen walls alongside cutting-edge technology on display in the lab space." Lab materials are stored inside the building’s central compartment, for easy distribution between program areas.

  • A curved roof structure unites the two buildings of the music centre | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    A curved roof structure unites the two buildings of the music centre Image: Markus Roselieb
  • Bamboo arches frame the interior of the performance hall | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    Bamboo arches frame the interior of the performance hall Image: Alberto Cosi

Right next to this zone is the music centre, made up of a pair of buildings - one hosting four practice rooms, and the other acting as a performance hall. Vaulted bamboo ceilings have been used throughout both buildings at varying scales, the largest among them seen in the performance hall. The interior design palette here conforms with that of surrounding structures, complementing the layered bamboo structure with earth block walls. In terms of the measures undertaken to ensure optimum acoustic conditions, the building envelope inherently provides a good degree of protection against echoes on its own due to the non-reflective properties of the materials used to construct it. A controlled space within this part of the campus is used to store instruments, safeguarding them from humidity fluctuations seen in northern Thailand. The elaborate roof structure, supported by angled bamboo poles also unites the two buildings underneath its span, in a protective gesture whose undulating form is intended as a reference to musical flow. 

Secondary School Library

  • A conical roof dresses the top of the secondary school library | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    A conical roof dresses the top of the secondary school library Image: Markus Roselieb
  • The tiered roof assembly culminates in a cupola with an oculus | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    The tiered roof assembly culminates in a cupola with an oculus Image: Markus Roselieb

Laid out in a concentric arrangement focused on an oculus, the library’s design features a tiered conical roof that is almost reminiscent of a local farmer’s hat, with wide eaves drooping down to shade the adobe walls. The upper level of the roof has been designed as a reciprocal structure with bamboo culms that handle loads in the absence of pillars. At the peak of the roof’s slope, a cupola hosting the oculus furnishes daylight to the interior. The ordering of the plan takes its main cue from the roof structure itself, featuring concentric rings of sunken seats for readings and discussions, followed by small built in working tables, and then bookshelves beneath bamboo archways. Radially oriented, with breaks between them for aisles and study spaces, the archways have also been aligned with the library’s lighting grid. "This library was designed to create an inspiring, peaceful and comfortable atmosphere for teenage students to read and study. It provides traditional spaces with tables but also lounge-like areas with a more relaxed setting decorated with bean bags and pillows," relays the design team. A pair of noise insulated study rooms have been provided under the library’s program, in addition to a small office for the librarian. As part of the climatic design measures within this part of the campus, the structure has been fitted with a state-of-the-art central cooling system that regulates the volume of chilled airflow to eliminate any discomfort caused by air currents. Furthermore, an air filtration system has also been installed in tandem, to ensure high indoor air quality during the region’s annual crop burning season, providing optimum conditions for academic pursuits.

  • The library features a concentric layout with sunken seating at its centre | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    The library features a concentric layout with sunken seating at its centre Image: Alberto Cosi
  • Detail of the oculus  | Panyaden Secondary School | Chiangmai Life Architects | STIRworld
    Detail of the oculus Image: Alberto Cosi

In this vein, the school’s architecture strives for a “return to nature” while simultaneously providing pupils with an environment that is in touch with the advancements of today. According to the architects, the campus' cumulative carbon footprint is negative, due to their apt use of sustainable, locally sourced materials in an immensely astute design intervention that peacefully coexists with its local ecosystem. Hence, by enhancing the efficacy of traditional architectural ingenuity with a contemporary design outlook, Chiang Mai Life Architects' work on Panyaden Secondary School should be seen as a paradigmatic example for how contextual design can create educational institutions that could inspire new generations to rethink the harmful cycles of unsustainable consumption that pervade society today. On this note, making such an approach a norm within the typology of school architecture may potentially yield far-ranging benefits for both the environment and humankind at large.

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