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Can architecture create a new vocabulary for pre-primary education?
Celebrated around the world for its unique approach to enriching young minds by establishing a connection to nature, the Indian traditional educational system occupies a significant place in the identity of the country’s rich cultural history. However, the colonial influence and the advent of globalisation shapeshifted not only the country's cultural outlook but modernised the educational system. From the traditional Gurukul system, the educational scene has leapt to the western ideologies of teaching. Though the transformation from pious learning to a more globalised perspective opened up new possibilities for the communities of the country, it took with it the very close-knit connection that the system shared with the environment around. From informal spaces under the shades of lush trees and the serenity of the blue skies, the learning spaces have been constrained to the formality of four walls. While the revolutionary attempts to reconnect with traditional practices and limit the influences of western philosophies are gaining momentum around the world, India too has been making attempts to bring back the familiarity of the past and imbibe them in the generations to come. The architectural niche of this approach seems to reflect in the rather radical designs that prioritise vernacular architecture and environment-conscious designs. Addressing this, Pune-based Studio Infinity has made an attempt to explore a new design vocabulary for pre-primary schools in their project, The Out School.
Nestled in the residential parcel of Pune, Maharashtra, the 232 sqm pre-primary school took shape from an old dilapidated house on the site. Addressing the clients' need to expand their endeavours, the architects designed a space that responds to the constraints of the context. Encompassing 464 sqm of outdoor space into the built structure, the design ebbs and flows between the indoors and outdoors. While expressing their thought process of designing for a young user group, the architects share, "Considering the fact that the end users belonged to the age group of 2-5 years, the overall outlook for design thinking was governed by the child anthropometry, playfulness and easy movement. Thus was the furniture designed, the levels were managed and the indoor-outdoor connection was established. Immense detailing went into creating and customising elements that would act as an aid for teaching and learning."
Maximising the potential of the site, the setback areas were landscaped and separated into levels that act as a gathering space and play area. While the larger front yards are designated for school assemblies, the narrow open spaces open up the possibility for learning outside the four walls. In a column grid pattern, the central corridor separates the classrooms and the common activity hall. Reflecting on the unique connection that the kids have with circles, curves, and colours, the design adapts arches, curved seating, and bright colours. In response to the spatial constraints associated with the structural challenges of the existing structure, the architects planned the interiors to act as multifunctional spaces. Within the rear setback of the plot, they envisioned an outdoor classroom with curved step seating, mosaic floors and green pockets.
Through the flexible design of the spaces, The Out School explores the non-conventional ways of teaching and grooming young minds. In an interesting attempt from the architects to retrofit the existing structure and use upcycled materials, they transformed a dead wall into a music wall by introducing a few old utensils on its surface. Furthermore, in the design intervention of uplifting the visual aesthetics, the outdoor flooring adorns the old tipri-pani game with a little twist. While completely adopting a new outlook on educational architecture, The Out School exhibits a unique marriage of the traditional educational system that encouraged the relation to nature and the western perceptions of indoor learning.
While establishing an indigenous perspective to the design vocabulary of pre-primary school, the material palette follows an earthy tone comprising cement floors, ceramic mosaics, wooden furniture and bamboo pergolas. In an array of bold colours and natural textures, the playful art interventions and subtle overlay of graphics add to the child-friendly setting. "All these elements together define 'The Out School' where an attempt is made to design spaces that will trigger teaching, learning and growth outside the confinement of typical classrooms," the architects add.
Name: The Out School
Location: Pune, India
Area: Indoors: 232 sq.m; Outdoors: 464 sq.m.
Client: Vaishali Banthia & Sapna Shah, Little Monarchs.
Architect: Studio Infinity
Lead Architects: Ar. Tushar Kothawade and Chiranjivi Lunkad
Design Team: Yashashree Patil & Komal Mourya>
Project Head: Sagar Kulkarni
Contractors: Manav Group Execution Team
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