Akshara Vidya Mandir School Administration Building / Exurb Design Studio
Text description provided by the architects. Vilvakulam is a small town in the Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu, India. The 20 acre site for the Akshara Vidya Mandir (AVM) School was deliberately chosen away from the town to provide the students with ample open spaces and good environmental conditions. In the master plan, the first phase ie the Administrative and Academic block was completed in April 2019. The second phase includes staff quarters, residences, a research laboratory, an extension of the academic block & Kindergarten. The school management’s brief was to create a campus that is simple in terms of layout and buildability. The shape of the building must be distinct and iconic in the vast landscape. The design was approached with sensitivity to the environment and geography of the site, ensuring that the building was more than just iconic and aesthetic.
The buildings are designed to promote the residents’ well-being. The staircase and courtyard are central elements in the academic block. The direct visibility of the stairs from the building’s entrance and playground from the classrooms creates physical activity for the children and staff. The indoor environmental quality of the classrooms meets international green building standards. There is ample daylight and natural ventilation in the classrooms. The interior finishes reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The post-occupancy survey revealed that the classrooms have the optimum lighting (LUX) levels according to NBC standards.
The buildings respond to climate and reduce energy demand through passive design measures. The academic block had to face the West, to provide visibility from the main road. The extended roof structure shades the west wall in the hot summer months. The joining of the structure is formulated to create wind tunnels in the vestibule for stack ventilation. The extensive roof vocabulary is also followed in the academic block, where the classrooms are protected from the direct-southern sun.
There are various water conservation measures such as reduced hard paved areas and catchment areas that are included in the landscape design. The most interesting and iconic feature of the school, namely the MS folded Origami roof, serves an equally important role in harvesting the rainwater. The roof, which was inspired by children’s activity of paper folding and Origami, was carefully designed to channel all the roof water through stormwater pipes to catchment areas.
The construction process also reflected the pedagogy of the school, to train and develop skills among the local laborers. The laborers were trained to make the unique Origami roof structure as well as the ‘Yellow Flower Columns’. This has resulted in an overall high level of construction quality, which is equivalent to the construction quality of large schools in the cities. The project is also an example of how a good design can create traction. The school has gained more admissions and teachers from bigger cities like Delhi and Gurugram are willing to move to the small town of Vilvakulam, partly because of the atmosphere of the school, the school management and pedagogy being the main driving force.