School in Thar Desert build of Sandstone, thus requires no ACs

By Divyashree Mohanty

Try to figure a void land, where day temperatures rise up to 50 degrees Celsius and rasping wind creates sand to blow through out the day. Now can you imagine children studying in the middle of Thar dessert with the same surroundings? We might think this is an absurd question to ponder upon. Conceptualised by CITTA, a non-profit organisation founder Michael Daube and designed by US based architect Diana Kellogg made it viable.

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An architectural marvel, pinpointed to a six minute drive away from Jaisalmer’s famous Sand Dunes has taken shape in Kanoi Village, with an aim to educate and empower girls. The Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School is constructed of yellow sandstone and astonishingly, has no air conditioners. Inside, students can study and even play in the sheltered courtyard without considering on the extreme weather.

The school is overall imposing, with an oval shaped structure that fuses in the dessert landscape. The building has a surety of sustainability. The school portion is known as the ‘Gyaan Cente’ which can shelter 400 girls from kindergarten to class 10th. The place includes a textile museum and performance hall, with an exhibition space for artisans to sell their crafts. In another building, women will be trained in traditional arts such as weaving and textiles to safeguard dying handicrafts.

It took a decade for Michael Daube to conceptualise the building and help it materialize. He tied up with architect Diana Kellogg, who conceived the design. Diana visited India in the year 2014, and observed how life in dessert was thrifty. Speaking to News Sense, Diana said, “I have never worked outside New York, and it was difficult to comprehend building a project in the middle of the dessert. But upon my travelling here, I saw the beautiful buildings, music and art of Rajasthan. Even the step wells here are an architectural wonder. The experience gave me the confidence that the project could be made.

She further adds, “The oval shape works as it symbolises womanhood across many cultures. I did not want to impose any western ideas. The symbol projects infinity and complements the landscape of dunes that merges with the school. It is also how the children play in circles and women work in a community”.

She also explained how the idea to design the building with sustainability came from surroundings. The canopy and the jalis filter the sand. They keep the sun and heat out. The pattern of airflow inside the building naturally cools it down. The solar panel on the top of the building works as a canopy, and provide shade while simultaneously powering the building. A cooling system uses geothermal energy at night to cool the building during the day.

Michael decided to build the school in Jaisalmer considering the disturbingly low literacy rate and a high dropout rate of school girls in the state. “The girls are in dire need of support. More women need to be empowered and educating them is the only solution,” he adds. The logo made for the school symbolises healthcare, women empowerment and education, which he says are crucial aspects to nurture and allow women to hold a powerful place in the world.

To gain community support, Michael percolated the idea of tourism, culture, craftsmanship and other unique aspects of Jaisalmer. “I did not want the building to function only as a school. Hence, a beautiful structure that represented womanhood was needed. Besides being an education centre, the school will attract tourists and serve as a global platform to host events for women empowerment and global programmes like Ted talks,” he explains.

He adds that the school will help bring together culture, growth opportunities for women, and tourism, all of which will create a “ripple in the desert”. The school could not open in 2020 owing to the COVID-19 lockdown, and Michael says it should hopefully start functioning from March 2021.

Apart from this, renowned fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee made beautiful uniforms for these school girls. The uniforms feature traditional Ajrakh block print.