Curved walls, peek-a-boo windows, bright colours and hanging pockets from the ceiling – these are pages out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales or Arabian Nights that find their way into a school that redefines a child’s domain.
From afar, it’s the mural of coalescing alphabets on the elevation that grabs our attention, and as we move closer, the shocking pink entrance porch is an invitation that just can not to be ignored. This is Planet Kids; a school designed by Bengaluru based design firm Cadence whose principal architects are Narendra Pirgal, Smaran Mallesh and Vikram Rajashekar (famed for their design process that looks to create experiences that are strong statements of unique identity.)
The school is located in an urban neighbourhood, hence due to space constraints, instead of a lateral span, the program is spread vertically over five floors and includes the terrace and basement. Giving such a space, a child friendly appeal was a challenge, but the designers have worked the vertical ascent to their favour with the clever use of architectural tools like colours and negative-positive spatial dynamics.
Architect Smaran Mallesh explains, “We saw each program requirement as an opportunity to create a holistic world for a child. The colourful assemblage of different rooms and experiences is connected with a staircase and a special void. This void aids in a visual and spatial interaction between the different levels.”
‘Childhood fantasies’ – the underlying theme reaches out to all, the moment one steps into the premises. The angular pink porch which urges you to say the words, ‘khul ja sim sim’ takes you into the reception where the structure bends and folds to form the reception desk and seats for the visitors.
Using a material palette comprising of brick, ferrocement and concrete as the base canvas, the Cadence team has used colours – shocking pink and bright green, burst and scatter their aura onto the grey background, just like bubbles of energy. Also, points out architect Smaran Mallesh, “The colour green compensates for the lack of a naturally green environment, and makes references to zoos and forests and the colour pink evokes empathy and creates a calming atmosphere in the otherwise charged environment.”
A staircase and a central void connect the five floors, and all the classrooms open their vivid worlds into both these elements, much like an architectural promenade.
Safety was a major challenge, but the team brushed past it by fencing all the staircases and corridors with vertical bars; horizontal rails were not used in order to negate the risk of children climbing over them.
Apart from not constricting the space visually, these railings in combination with the green shades existing all around, provide a zoo-like feel.
While explaining the underlying theme, Architect Vikram Rajashekar stresses, “to execute our theme of ‘myriad child fantasies’, we used the collage technique to bring these fantasies together, a particular form representing a discrete experience.”
We notice that in the different classrooms a distinct spatial ambience can be experienced whether it is the library, the activity spaces on the terrace or the multi-purpose hall. The Cadence team also studied the required spatial qualities for a particular activity and then translated it into the form of the space, thereby giving every room its unique identity.
Angles and curves break the inflexibility associated with conventional school designs and along with winding corridors, wiggly forms, colours and atypical fenestrations create an exploratory, fun-filled atmosphere for the children.
“The shelves and false ceiling details are highlighted in pink; these provide a sense of playful freedom that flows and animates the space” elucidates Architect Mallesh. In the play area, we find curving walls and pink coloured suspended false ceiling pockets; the team describes these as, ‘pockets of different volumes relating to a child’s sensibility of spatial scale.’
An anthropometric scale is visible even in the fenestrations that deviate from typical linear shapes. Interspersed on the green walls, the circular and ingenious profiles seem to be right out of a fairy tale castle; these perform the dual tasks of accenting the space and letting in sunlight.
A happy school space, abundant with energy and inspiring creativity at every turn, is the ultimate utopian world for a child. The Cadence team started off with a brief that required them to ‘design a primary school in a tight site’, and ended up with a colourful school that mimics childhood fantasies. In this world of new generation smart schools, this is an example of how a ‘child friendly school’ can easily be a reality in spite of space constraints.
Text By K Parvathy Menon
Photographs Courtesy Anand Jaju