This school in the Indian desert stays cool even in the scorching heat

Written by the author Chelsea Lee, CNN

In the northern Indian desert town of Jaisalmer, also known as the “City of Gold” for its array of yellow sandstone architecture, temperatures can reach roughly 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) during summer.

Here, buildings have long been designed to accommodate the heat, a tradition continued by New York architect Diana Kellogg with her work on the Rajkumari Ratnavati School for Girls.

The project, which aims to empower women and girls through education in a region with the lowest female literacy rate in India, was commissioned by CITTA, a US-based non-profit organization that provides financial assistance and education to remote and marginalized women. the communities It is the first step in a three-part architectural project that will also include a women’s cooperative center and an exhibition space.
Named Architectural Digest India’s “Building of the Year” for 2020, the eco-friendly sandstone school opened in November 2021 and currently has 120 girls enrolled in its curriculum, according to Kellogg.

Natural cooling

Designing a comfortable learning space can be a challenge in the heart of the Thar Desert, where climate change is making drought periods longer and more intense. Kellogg, who typically designs high-end residential projects, was inspired by a trip to Jaisalmer in 2014 and wanted the building to symbolize the hope and resilience of the desert by fusing aspects of Jaisalmer’s traditional architecture with modern design.

“There are methods of cooling spaces that have been used for centuries. What I did was I put them together in a combination that worked,” Kellogg said, adding that temperatures inside the school are 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit lower than outside. .

High ceilings and windows help release the heat trapped in the classrooms. Credit: Architects Diana Kellogg

For the structure, he chose to use locally sourced sandstone, a climate-resistant material that has long been used for nearby buildings, including the Jaisalmer Fort, a part of the city that is home to a quarter of the population and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Legacy.

“It’s so abundant in this area. It’s very reasonable (in price) and the talented masons are just wizards with the stone,” Kellogg said. “It actually keeps the heat out and also keeps it cool at night.”

Among the traditional techniques Kellogg incorporated into the design is lining the interior walls with lime plaster, a porous, natural cooling material that helps release moisture trapped by humidity. Inspired by other buildings in the region, he also installed a jali wall: a grid of sandstone that allows the wind to accelerate in a phenomenon known as the venturi effect, cooling the patio space while also providing shade from the sun. High ceilings and windows release more and more heat into the classrooms, while a solar panel provides shade and energy.

The structure, which is at an angle to the prevailing winds, has an elliptical shape, chosen for its ability to capture and circulate fresh air, but also for its symbolic connotations of femininity, in keeping with the ethos of the project. Kellogg calls it “a big, tight hug.”

Top view of Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School.

Top view of Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School. Credit: Architects Diana Kellogg

Comfort in sustainability

While many of the cooling techniques used at the school could in principle be applied elsewhere, their effectiveness and sustainability would vary from site to site, Kellogg admits. Particular wind directions and different sandstones would regulate different temperatures depending on the materials found and used in Jaisalmer, for example.

Air conditioning is not used anywhere in the building, not only because of the environmental impact, but because it is not common in the area. By adopting the traditional and natural cooling mechanisms that students are familiar with, he believes they can gain a sense of comfort from their surroundings to become more confident.

“I’ve seen it for the last three to four months,” he said.

“The change in girls from being a little shy to being these bright lights who are devouring any kind of information you put in front of them.”