Schools


Stephen Hitchins highlights two schools leading the way in creating a nurturing learning environment with timeless, sustainable design


Antoine de Ruffi School, Marseille, France

A spectacular sculptural monolith with colonnades on the port side, a grand staircase on the city side, skewed geometric windows and colourful features, the Antoine de Ruffi school covers 4,100m2 and sits in a strategic spot at the entrance of the Euroméditerranée district. The school says its design relates to the architecture of the Euroméditerranée, a mini eco-city within the city and an urban regeneration project. It also takes notes from neighbouring concrete buildings and brutalist housing estates.

The playground is at the heart of the site. Image Credit: LUC BOEGLY
The playground is at the heart of the site. Image Credit: LUC BOEGLY

the school sits within the Euroméditerranée district. Image Credit: LUC BOEGLY
The school sits within the Euroméditerranée district. Image Credit: LUC BOEGLY

classrooms are designed to encourage young children to love learning. Image Credit: LUC BOEGLY
Classrooms are designed to encourage young children to love learning. Image Credit: LUC BOEGLY

It is surrounded by scattered warehouses, silos, soap factories, large-scale housing estates from the 1970s and, in the distance, the Massif de l’Etoile. The school comprises 22 classrooms, common and outdoor spaces, and teaches children between the ages of three and 11.

Classrooms are designed to encourage young children to love learning. Image Credit: LUC BOEGLYClassrooms are designed to encourage young children to love learning. Image Credit: LUC BOEGLY

The building is L-shaped in plan and was cast in situ using light-hued coquina-sand concrete. External walls are 1m thick. They combine thermal performance and massiveness to the two mineral facades. In their thickness, the deep embrasures provide the interior with useful voids for installing storage, work stations and water circulation. For the rest it is all healthy, sustainable and recyclable building materials and products, including bio-sourced larch from the Alps.

Concrete was chosen as it is believed to better suit the local climateConcrete was chosen as it is believed to better suit the local climate

Towards the west are the towers by Zaha Hadid and Jean Nouvel, as well as the continuous sweep of the highway viaduct. The tower in the background is a Hadid-designed office block for shipping firm CMA CGM.

Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls’ School, Rajastan, India

The oval form reflects local forts and represents female strength. Image Credit: VINAY PANJWANI
The oval form reflects local forts and represents female strength. Image Credit: VINAY PANJWANI

thick sandstone walls help to block heat. Image Credit: VINAY PANJWANI
Thick sandstone walls help to block heat. Image Credit: VINAY PANJWANI

An architectural marvel located in the Thar Desert region in Rajasthan in the north-west of India, very near the Pakistan frontier, the Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls’ School was built to educate and teach over 400 girls between the ages of five and 16. The oval-shaped, fort-like structure covers 836m2 and is made from local Jaisalmer sandstone that blends into and grows out of the landscape. A ramp between the perforated walls forms a shaded corridor that leads up an elevated walkway to the roof. The building maximises the breeze (temperatures peak close to 49ºC), water harvesting systems collect and recycle rainwater throughout the school, solar panels supply energy to lights and fans are fitted to a steel structure on the roof, which doubles as a shaded canopy area and playscape for the children.

lattice stonework also helps cool the building. Image Credit: VINAY PANJWANI
Lattice stonework also helps cool the building. Image Credit: VINAY PANJWANI

all the building materials are from the region, supporting local craftspeople, including some of the girls’ fathers. Image Credit: VINAY PANJWANIAll the building materials are from the region, supporting local craftspeople, including some of the girls’ fathers. Image Credit: VINAY PANJWANI

The perforated parapet that surrounds the exterior of the walkway tapers in height. Its design is a reinterpretation of latticed jali screens, which are traditionally used to provide privacy. Wooden doors lead from the courtyard through to a computer centre and a collection of ten classrooms linked by a series of winding corridors. Clerestory openings in the classrooms create a dappled light effect throughout the day and allow for natural ventilation.

all the building materials are from the region, supporting local craftspeople, including some of the girls’ fathers. Image Credit: VINAY PANJWANIAll the building materials are from the region, supporting local craftspeople, including some of the girls’ fathers. Image Credit: VINAY PANJWANI

The roof is topped with mosaic tiles made from recycled ceramic and is used as a playground
The roof is topped with mosaic tiles made from recycled ceramic and is used as a playground. Image Credit: VINAY PANJWANI

The school will be the first in a complex of three buildings known as the GYAAN Center, which will also consist of The Medha, a performance and art exhibition space with a library and museum, and The Women’s Cooperative, where local artisans will teach mothers and other women weaving and embroidery techniques from the region. Both will be designed by New York City-based Diana Kellogg Architects.








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