The façade project for a school in Kolkata came to Abin Design Studio at a stage when the construction of the two academic blocks was already underway. Principal architect Abin Chaudhuri explains the design program that addressed circulation, ventilation and other concerns with a panache.
The client, Savitri Educational Foundation’s brief was to work within the existing parameters to give the school a distinct façade. Keeping in mind the location of the school in the Newtown Area of Kolkata and its simple surroundings, this school needed to make an impact and establish a distinct identity. The locality is planned in a radial grid and the site for the school is curved along the longer edges. One approaches the site along the inner curve and the blocks are placed at a slight angle facing each other very slightly. The blocks were rather generic, with six floors of classrooms, labs and other facilities arranged towards the periphery around matching central courtyards. They are separated by an active play area. The school also has a swimming pool on its grounds. Of the two-acre plot, the school occupies approximately 1, 60,000sqft of floor space.
The first step was to create an identity for the school. Our approach was to create a screen that wraps around the buildings and unifies them visually. Also, we intended for the central courtyards of the buildings to merge with the play area creating a seamless connection between junior and senior school. Due to a restriction in program, this ground level connection was not possible. However, the screen was created with a strong character so that its continuous application across the buildings by itself would prove to be a unifying element.
Graphical representations of symbols, alphabets and numbers became an inspiration for the screen. Younger children relate to simple lines as letters of the alphabet and as they grow, abstractions of the same would start to look more like alpha, gamma and pi. Thus, familiar shapes and symbols were used to create a bespoke stencil screen around the existing unremarkable building mass. The facade not only provides shade to the classrooms from the harsh sun but also lends the school a distinct identity.
488 panels, made of Fibre- Reinforced Plastic (FRP), measuring 3.2×3.2 meters envelop each of the two academic blocks. 13 different panels were designed with a combination of small and large alphabets, numbers and symbols. These have been placed in various orientations to achieve a randomized effect on the façade. They are wrapped around the school blocks, an area of 27,000sqft each, creating a visually unified facade.
Structural slabs were projected beyond the building surface all around in a way such that an exact number of panels would fit on all surfaces on the symmetrical cuboids. This also enabled simpler servicing of the panels from the back and ensured a better light quality for the building.
A small scale study model was created in-house to understand the same and make a decision on treatment of the panels, the walls and the windows behind the screen.
A mild steel frame work was devised in a grid like manner on the projected slabs to align with the FRP panels. A fixing detail using steel Z-profiles embedded into the FRP panels was developed to fix these 70kg panels to this MS support structure.
The grey walls and windows background bring out the white FRP screen in all its glory. Starting with a sample of the module and fixing detail to manufacturing, shipping, complete installation, painting and cleaning, the façade system took four months to get completed on site. The effect is exactly what the client asked for with its dramatic expression and unmistakable identity.
Having dealt with the two structures elaborately, there was a third small service block on the far side of the site which would stick out as a sore thumb if not properly handled and would be overbearing if over-designed. This block was thus treated in the same projected slabs and MS framework manner but with simple vertical aluminium fins. The contrast was eliminated and the walls, windows and fins were all treated with the same shade of grey along with rolling shutters, doors, etc. This block is neither eye-catching nor bold, but a subtly and aesthetically disappearing mass that helps to clearly demarcate the public zone from the back-end areas.