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Diane Kellog Thoughtfully Designs a New School in Rural India

In the middle of Rajasthan’s Thar Desert, an oval sand- stone structure blends seamlessly into the arid landscape. But the Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School, designed by Diana Kellogg, is something of a visual paradox. “Inside the space it feels very intimate, but when you approach,

it feels monumental,” says the New York–based architect. That’s because the building—which is located in Jaisalmer in northwestern India and was made possible in large part thanks to the nonprofit organization the CITTA Foundation—is the only structure within sight.

Class in session lit by a clerestory.

Class in session, lit by a clerestory.

The 400-plus students, in kindergarten through 10th grade, all live below the poverty line in nearby villages, where female- literacy rates remain strikingly low. Kellogg, who offered her services pro bono, had the girls and their communities in mind when she designed the school, paying homage to the region’s historic forts, as well as to the infinite possibilities of female strength. Lattice-like stonework, meanwhile, nods toward local weaving techniques, also providing privacy. Scorching tempera- tures—as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit—required thoughtful design solutions. Classroom ceiling heights were elevated to accommodate clerestories, which allow light in while limiting the intake of additional heat. On the roof, solar panels both shade a forthcoming outdoor play area and allow the building to function off the grid.

Ultimately, the school will be one of three structures that make up the broader Gyaan Center. An exhibition space, along with an all-female textiles cooperative, is in the works. Those additions are two examples of how a focus on inclusivity and community buy-in helps make the school sustainable—in the best and broadest sense of the word. Which was always the goal. As Kellogg puts it, reminiscing about how area craftsmen persuaded her to eschew concrete in favor of local sandstone: “That will last 100 years; this will last 600.” 

Image may contain Human Person Walking Footwear Clothing Shoe Apparel Pedestrian Path and Wood

Students at play. 

Vinay Panjwani

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