What makes a school flourish?

Leena Satuluri

Architecture has always intrigued me in many ways ever since I developed an interest in history. When I began teaching, I would often utilize the space available in several ways. At times, I wished that the rooms were designed in a different fashion. In my teaching career, I have seen a variety of school buildings. Mostly, they are low rise elevation and a small number of high rise buildings. There are also single storey buildings but they are exceptions. Inevitably, the quality of teaching and learning is the most important factor in education. Nevertheless, school architecture has an equal impact on education including students’ growth and health.

I had the privilege of interacting with Prof. Dr. Minakshi Jain, Director of School of Planning and Architecture (Vijayawada). This interview has provided me with great insight into the nuances of architecture.

As I stepped into the palatial building of the School of Planning and Architecture, I was spellbound by its magnificent and state-of-the-art design. With its plush green spaces both indoors and outdoors, the school was just the right kind of abode for learners.

natco classroom

School plays an important role in the life of a student. Do you think architecture is connected to shaping students’ lives? Why?
Yes, school does play an important role in shaping students’ lives. Proper design of various spaces in the school comes under the domain of architecture. Apart from the contribution by teachers in the teaching-learning process, architectural design of a school building also plays an important role in shaping students’ lives. First, it considers local climatic conditions to design the spaces to keep the users comfortable. Second, the design may also be a response to the local architecture or can be an epitome of contemporary architecture. It generally should have a great concept to enable the student to relate himself/herself to understand the philosophy of architecture (in case of students of architecture/planning). Since it considers use of proper day lighting and natural ventilation for classrooms and other spaces, it leads to the nourishment of students’ minds thereby facilitating their learning.Overall, the appearance and aesthetics of the school impact the minds of the students. A well-designed and planned institute can act as an inspiration for them, making them feel happy and proud.

What steps must be taken while constructing anew school building and spaces?
The following parameters should be taken into account:

  • The school building should be located away from noise and disturbances. If the site is located in noisy surroundings then some measures need to be taken to create a barrier to reduce the level of sound so that only permissible levels can be achieved. Thoughtful design can reduce the impact of noise in our lives.
  • It should be well connected with other parts of the town/city/locality.
  • Separate parking spaces for school buses and other vehicles must be situated away from the main school building.
  • The school should incorporate barrier – free design.
  • Local climatic conditions should be considered to design the building and spaces to keep them comfortable for the students.
  • Ambiguity should not be there in external and internal circulation, that is, corridors and staircases should be wide enough and free from any hindrances.
  • Classrooms should be spacious, well-lit, ventilated for the students with all required furniture. In extreme climatic conditions, mechanical HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) can be used.
  • Trees, shrubs, ground covers and climbers must be suitably provided to enhance the visual and spatial experience of students and teachers as well as visitors. Green spaces should be integrated with the institute’s building design.
  • Adequate playgrounds and hierarchical spaces which complement the built mass with ancillary facilities need to be provided.
  • Drinking water facility, toilets for use of different genders should be provided as per requirement and most importantly located at a place that benefits students.
  • Aesthetic quality of the school building should be pleasant, inviting and well-proportioned.
Peepal grove School

Which type of building is best suited for a school?
Practically, it depends on the location of the site and the availability of site-area for construction of the school building. Ideally the school should be a low-rise building or a single storey building so that students can enjoy and experience the transitional open spaces on ground blessed with natural elements like sun-light, air, trees, vegetation, water-bodies, etc.

Despite taking enough care in designing the school infrastructure and providing enough green spaces for a vibrant education to take place, building construction affects nature. Are there any alternatives?
Yes, construction has a detrimental effect on nature. One must take care of the natural elements while undertaking construction activities. The large trees need to be protected. For the smaller trees, transplantation should be done. Due to increase in population and other infrastructure demands, construction activities are inevitable and unavoidable. However, they must be carried out strictly as per the need. Integrated campuses use lesser space.

The following aspects may be considered while carrying out construction activities.

  • As it is said ‘for every use there is an ideal site and for each site there is an ideal use’,the site should be chosen judiciously.
  • Constructions should not be carried out in eco-sensitive/eco-fragile zones.
  • Green Vista/belt should be created along roads/highways.
  • Brown-field areas, barren lands and non-virgin lands should be encouraged to be used for development.
  • More green spaces should be created as interactive spaces outside the classroom.
  • Carrying capacity of the site and available infrastructure should be considered before starting any new construction.
  • Finally, building bye-laws should be developed and enforced keeping in mind the sustainability principles.

This interview has been very special in terms of knowledge acquisition so there is a learning curve. I am also reminded that no matter how great a person is, he/she must be humble. Prof. Dr. Minakshi Jain is an achiever. Her position, one of the most coveted ones, is an appointment directly conferred by the President of India. Her grit and passion for her subject has encouraged many students to consider research in developing inclusive urban communities.

peepal-school

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize the great role of school architectural design in realizing the learning outcomes. We must not let business entities that construct school buildings without any vision or plan to decide the future of students. In some areas, residential complexes are converted into school buildings (‘Cost opportunity’ applied in the wrong context). At times, classrooms are jam-packed with barely any space to move or walk. While considering registration, authorities must verify the architectural plan even before the building is constructed.

A carefully planned school design creates the right ambience for students’ learning resulting in desired outcomes. One might think that a school building has got nothing to do with education but its design which constitutes the structure, interior spaces and outdoors is a tangible reflection of what a school envisions for its students and their future.

Prof. Dr. Minakshi Jain, is currently the Director of ‘School of Planning and Architecture’, Vijayawada. On the academic front she is the Chief Editor for the International Journal of Planning and Architectural Sciences of SPA Vijayawada. Dr. Minakshi is a stalwart of sustainable practices in architecture and encourages ‘Building Inclusive Urban Communities’. She plays a pivotal role in developing the ongoing ‘Revision of the Andhra Pradesh Town and Country Planning Act 2018’. She is the life member of Council of Architecture, Fellow Member of Indian Institute of Architects and Indian Society of Landscape Architects. She has also authored the book on Landscape Architecture entitled Landscape Architecture: History, Ecology and Patterns and has published nearly 50 research papers and book chapters. She has also undertaken the designing and planning of various architectural and landscape projects.

The author is a teacher at Delhi Public School, Vijayawada. She is also a storyteller and teaches theatre art during her free time. She can be reached at [email protected].

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