a rural venture with a modern streak – the rane vidyalaya, tamil nadu

Entrance to the Rane Vidyalaya School. Photo Credit: Shanmugam Associates

An iconic vision in Red, Grey, and White, the Rane Vidyalaya School in Theerampalyam aims to provide quality education in rural Tamil Nadu. The architects, Santhosh Shanmugam and Raja Krishnan of Shanmugam Associates wanted to create an infrastructure that would have a positive social impact on the local community while showcasing the core values of the Rane Foundation.

Inspired by the 6th century Thiruvellarai temple’s walls and the layered cross-sections of 50-year-old houses in the region, the building is made of alternating layers of red wire cut bricks from local kiln and grey fly ash bricks recycled from industrial cement waste. After numerous mock-up iterations of the facade walls, the architects arrived at a combination of these locally available bricks that would not only contribute to the cost-effectiveness of the design but also ensure easy construction within the limited time frame.

Exterior Facade. Photography Credit: Shanmugam Associates

Theerampalayam, situated in the tropical belt of interior Tamil Nadu, demands all-round cooling from the very humid conditions. With this in mind, the architects wanted to ensure certain comforts without hiking up the costs. Their use of natural ventilation, lighting, and climatologically approached design not only keeps the interiors cool and well lit but also adds to the aesthetic appeal of the structure.

Lintel level walls with openable windows. Photography Credit: Shanmugam Associates

The walls are built till lintel height to have openable windows above it that dissipate hot air and increase cross ventilation. Large openings in the South East – North West directions and smaller ones in the East-West direction between classrooms create a microclimate that cools the entire school without the use of air conditioners. “In a public institution, we tried to minimize using mechanical equipment, but rather designed the building to achieve the necessary micro-climate by planning design parameters. We realized that it would be easier to maintain the building as it ages,” explain the architects on their approach to designing the school.

Terracotta jali work.  Photography Credit: Shanmugam Associates

The school incorporates a lot of jali work, which makes it tread slightly into traditional architecture while still keeping the ideologies of modern construction. The terracotta jali is primarily used as a shading device. Being an integral part of the facade design, it added further character to the entire building. “It is a beautiful material that increases ventilation, can be non-plastered and keeps the space enclosed, secure, said the leading men behind the design.

The jali walls have also been used in the kindergarten classes to secure and ensure safety to the garden that adjoins each classroom. The garden pockets induce learning, create a green environment, and therefore provide a comfortable microclimate to the children in their early years of education.

Kindergarten Garden Spaces.Photography Credit: Shanmugam Associates

While the entire school follows a clean colour combination, the main staircase in the lobby provides a striking contrast to the rest of the space.The lime green anchor wall at the base of the staircase offers a moment of visual pause – a potential canvas for murals and other creative projects by the students, say Santhosh and Raja. With the green resembling the landscape surrounding the school, it certainly piques one’s interest.

Main Lobby with the Green Wall.Photography Credit: Shanmugam Associates

With a lot of experimentation, the architects were able to cut costs by using red clay bricks, fly ash bricks, and jali walls which were consciously left unplastered. What makes this building unique are these very aspects that allow for natural ventilation, daylit spaces, and use of local materials and labour – all of these being the foremost principles while designing. Through their compelling design for The Rane Vidyalaya School, Shanmugam Associates are not only opening a new possibility of architectural enthusiasm in rural areas but also inspiring other young architects to follow suit.

Written By
Litty Salas is a Master's student of Design Curating and Writing. With a degree in architecture, she wishes to travel and write on the beautiful cities and buildings she encounters.