By Marina Correa
Photography: Lalita Tharani + Ajeeb; courtesy Collaborative Architecture
The JDT Primary School for orphans, designed by Collaborative Architecture is a befitting example of socially responsible catalyst architecture that proves that ‘good design need not be expensive’.
This Lego-shaped project is part of a prosaic JDT Islam campus, the very first Muslim orphanage in India, located in a small village in Calicut, Kerala, whose built environment was characterized by highly disparate styles and mediocre buildings.
The site that was identified to be a primary school was a linear left over track between a girl’s school and an existing old school building; added to this, unplanned massing, restricted sources of wind and light; and a limited budget in a village with limited skills and resources were some of the design challenges that lay before the firm.
Known for their astute designs, principal architects Lalita Tharani and Mujib Ahmed decided that their architectural intervention would not only approach the project as a catalyst, paving the way forward, but also work as a responsive, immersive and progressive tool for the community.
Designed as a porous and inviting convergence of classrooms and spaces for interaction rather than as typical regimented rectilinear blocks – the structure transforms the quality of architecture on campus; evoking sensorial attributes that maintain an ‘intrigue’ factor for the children. Like Lego, it changes form in dramatic ways as one views it from different angles.
Internally, the classrooms are oriented around ancillary spaces to encourage interaction among students and teachers; corridors become meeting points and double up as open classrooms.
Furthermore, vibrantly coloured, asymmetrically-shaped large windows extend the intrigue factor within the building and add an unconventional touch normally not associated with school buildings. They also succeed in ushering in natural light and an airy environment.
Besides dramatically enhancing the overall look of the campus, the primary school building belies the fact that it was built on just a narrow strip of wedged land; its dynamic architectural vocabulary speaking volumes for its relevance in the lives of the orphans, who are educated here.
The project is the proud recipient of the Social Economic Environmental Design Awards (SEED Awards) for 2012 and more recently, the NDTV Design & Architecture Award for 'Socially Relevant Architecture of the Year 2014’.