Location: Jharsuguda [India]
Client: Aparna Foundation, Jharsuguda
Size: Site – 6 acres / Built – 120,000sft (all phases)
The Aparna World school is located in Jharsuguda in north-western Odisha. It is a place that could be almost anywhere, caught somewhere on the road between the village and the city. It is an in-betweenness where any sense of the local is unstable through migration and transience. Some may look at this and see erosion, intensified by speed and rapid development. An erosion of the vernacular, of craft, of resources – and ultimately of place.
Although located on the southern fringes of the fertile Gangetic plains, Jharsuguda lies in the mining heartland of India and owes much of its prosperity to the industries related to mining, minerals and power. Visiting the open-pit mines typifying the region, we were struck by the powerful sculpting of the land at astonishing proportions which recalled the power of deductive maneuvers in architecture; one removes material, and with the help of the sun, one finds shadows which is presumably the prime purpose of shelter in sun-cultures such as ours.
The mining landscapes thus became a catalyst for us. We began looking at the notion of built mass, and how we could carve it to find space and shadows. Such operations start to make connections to traditional typologies in the subcontinent, where courtyard houses abound, as do palaces within forts. The shared principle: a tough, hefty exterior – to protect against the harshness of the sun, dust, hot winds, the monsoons. Strong geometric forms as one approaches, with mere hints of openings providing clues to the activity within. And as one crosses the threshold, a different sensibility takes over. Not of resistance, but of extensions. The composition begins to open up, creating spaces of shade and shadows, rooms without roofs. The continuity connects to an archetype, and provides a sense of endurance which we find meaningful in evoking a sense of place.
The typology is, of course, an expression of the climate, which for the most part, is agreeable. But in addition, we see richness in the simple blurring of boundaries. Between the enclosed room and the courtyard lies a whole continuum of zones with varying definitions and degrees of protection. The demarcations are easy and amorphous; in subtle modulations of light, in the quality of the ambient air they register each transition with our senses building a physical, bodily memory. The built form is a tapestry of the enclosed, not so enclosed and the open that lends to a smaller footprint because the partially enclosed becomes a dynamic element. It swells and recedes not just to the extremities of the sun and rain, but also to the vagaries of program. Trees and vegetation were also thought of as architectural elements, adding to the variations of space. Shade giving trees on the peripheries extend shadows, and flowering plants within the courtyards add to a sensorial experience for the occupants. The resulting texture of the built environment is an architecture of open spaces, surrounded by just enough built form to one feel one is “inside”.
Given our site, space is a resource. The goal then, is to intensify and expand the impact of a reduced set of operations, as king less to be more through the interweaving of functional engagements and material conditions.
We like to see spaces inhabited throughout the day, even if they are diverse and disparate uses. For instance, let us consider the entrance lobby of the preschool. It is a space of introduction. But it is also where meals are had (we encourage children at this age to eat sitting on the floor). Mats are rolled out, food is served. Upon the conclusion of the meal, the kids clean up after themselves, and then perhaps take a nap. In monsoons, we found play equipment located here. This is an illustration of an approach based on the capacity to improvise. The verandah becomes a lobby, the dining, the nap area, the play area…an indispensable area rather than a left-over area. For us, this is significant, because it begins to refine our ideas around efficiency and endurance. This attitude to multivalence allows us to be a nomad within the building using different conditions of the built form. And this cycle of activity, played out day after day, reinforces patterns of living that generates the culture of the place. The interior and exterior “rooms” are both proportionate to a classroom unit, and hold equal value in the overall programming of the school. Dealing effectively with climate necessitates an inventiveness about living patterns and lifestyles. Form follows climate. The building, through its form, creates controls the user needs.
A phased project provides the opportunity to engage, and inform, the program and curriculum of the school, as well as create learning opportunities for the construction site. Regular charettes with the faculty and student body become beginnings for integrating the built environment in to the classroom as projects, seminars and artwork. Our choices for the building system and materials reflect the ground conditions rather than a romanticized version of the “regional”. At the level of building, we have used the scale and pace of construction as an opportunity to utilize the construction site as a place of learning, training and remembering in an effort to reinforce best practices, and reviving the sense for materiality and typology within the local building community. In this, the role of every member of the design team (architects and engineers) becomes critical and creative. Drawings and specifications get a material and tactile translation on site, prior to the actual construction. It is an opportunity for knowledge to become embodies, as a lived experience. Tests such as the Carazas Test become ways to experience specifications: how wet is viscous, or plastic, or slurry? Numbers are abstract, and in situations where the labour come in gradations of training and literacy, reviving a “feel” – a body memory – for material is critical.
Local stone mining is discouraged in light of other mining in the region, do we have had to look for alternatives to stone masonry and the rusticity it brings with it. Stone chips from quarries and construction sites is used for our exterior wall treatment, in colors that are inspired by the landscape around us. The use of exposed concrete is selective and strategic in creating opportunities for the retraining of concrete casting. The consequences of the rapid growth of Indian towns often are fast construction with most work plastered or covered up. Coupled with lax jurisdictional vigilance results in ad-hoc adoptions of material technologies. Exposed concrete reintroduces accountability for the contractor – their work is there for everyone to see! We also used exposed concrete as a visual cue, providing an articulation to verandah and the interstitial, which contrasts with the more finished enclosures and rooms. Enclosures express the thickness of the envelope from within. Any glass surface recedes into the shadows, away from the sun, creating places of light.
Model: Phase 1 & 2
Model: Detail View Phase 2
Learning Communities [Above] & Linkages [Below]
Extensions & Connections
Nomadism Within The Built