The Shri Ram Universal School, Chennai, has been conceptualised by Architect Samira Rathod as an environment that encourages the overall development of students.
A franchise of New Delhi’s Shri Ram School, which is run with a specific philosophy grounded in sustainability and with nationalist leanings, the upcoming Shri Ram Universal School in Chennai is a project designed by award-winning architect Samira Rathod. The brief was to create a space that was well-defined with equal importance to education, recreation and interaction. It was to have a structure that was defined by the site, but inspired by the students and their needs.
The school sits amongst the residential towers and villas of the famous Binny Estate, which was once home to the erstwhile mills and now serves as a large hybrid space. The unspoken brief was to design a building that was not only the flagship for development, but a place where children would love coming to every morning and never want to miss a day of school. The school is articulated to form a maze-like space of open courtyards, quiet alcoves and classroom blocks. Children spend most of their growing and learning years in schools. This is where they make their first friends, their first memories. It is where character and integrity are instilled, and responsible citizens of the future are nurtured. The school environment has to be sensitive to allow for all of this. “It must be a place that brings pleasure and joys, and allows for thinking or simply staring at the sky, looking for birds, chasing butterflies, running aimlessly and telling stories. It is a place that, above everything else, must allow daydreams! A place to hide and seek,” says Rathod, evoking a sense of nostalgia.
“How can we, as architects, forget the need for creating beautiful spaces? A good design, which allows for ample sun, gardens, trees, a piece of the sky and fresh air, which is well structured and organised allowing for ease of functioning, and has a hint of poetry—that perhaps, is architecture.” — Samira Rathod, Architect.
The resulting structure does allow for all this and more. The staircases were broadened and spaces crafted within them that could be used as galleries, amphitheatres, little alcoves for discussions, and open classrooms. The school exhibits a hierarchy of courts, winding staircases, amphitheatres and even bridges. The idea was not just to create a functional space but one that evokes a sense of wonder and curiosity. The architecture itself is simple, and the materials—bricks and RCC—humble. But the thought is complex. What seems natural—the meandering corridors, open courtyards, skylights, and trees—are, in fact, carefully orchestrated. The process is rigorous, continuous and relentless.
The real role of education is to create critically thinking minds, and for this, a simple building with great teachers would suffice. But if you were questioning the role of architecture, then it should be one that allows for learning beyond the classroom, both in plan and form. The architect believes that while architecture alone can’t be the defining factor, a good environment allows not just ease of dissemination of knowledge, but fosters creative thinking while enhancing the act of learning, building and growing effortlessly. That is what this school made of humble materials and simple forms executes perfectly. “How can we, as architects, forget the need for creating beautiful spaces? A good design, which allows for ample sun, gardens, trees, a piece of the sky and fresh air, which is well structured and organised allowing for ease of functioning, and has a hint of poetry—that perhaps, is architecture,” Rathod concludes.
Photo credit: Samira Rathod, Kevin Mehta and Jainam J