Words & Symbols

Abin Design Studios design alphabet-inspired façade that also helps in altering internal temperature by controlling exposure to light and heat

Abin Chaudhuri

This school façade project came to us at a stage when the construction of the two academic blocks was already underway. The blocks were rather generic, with six floors of classrooms, labs, and other facilities arranged towards the periphery around matching central courtyards. Our brief was to work within these existing parameters to make a school. So we developed a design programme in terms of circulation, movement, ventilation, classrooms and other concerns.

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Keeping in mind the location of the school in the Newtown Area of Kolkata, the school needed to make an impact and establish a distinct identity. The locality is planned in a radial grid and the site for the school is curved along the longer edges. One approaches the site along the inner curve and the blocks are placed at a slight angle from each other. The school occupies approximately 160,000 sq.ft. of floor space on a two-acre plot.

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The first step was to establish an identity for the school. Our approach was to design a screen that wraps around the buildings and unifies them visually. Also, we intended for the central courtyards of the buildings to merge with the play area creating a seamless connection between junior and senior school. Due to a restriction in programme, this ground level connection was not possible. However, the screen was created with a strong character so that its continuous application across the buildings by itself would prove to be a unifying element.

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Graphical representations of symbols, alphabets and numbers became an inspiration for the screen. Younger children relate to simple lines as letters of the alphabet and as they grow, abstractions of the same would start to look more like alpha, gamma and pi. Thus, familiar shapes and symbols were used to create a bespoke stencil screen around the existing unremarkable building mass. The facade not only provides shade to the classrooms from the harsh sun but also lends the school a distinct identity.

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Four hundred and eighty-eight panels, made of Fibre-Reinforced Plastic (FRP), measuring 3.2 x 3.2 meters envelop each of the two academic blocks. Thirteen different panels were designed with a combination of small and large alphabets, numbers and symbols. These have been placed in various orientations to achieve a randomised effect on the façade.

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Structural slabs were projected beyond the building surface all around in a way such that an exact number of panels would fit on all surfaces on the symmetrical cuboids. This also enabled simpler servicing of the panels from the back and ensured a better light quality for the building.

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A mild steel frame work was devised in a grid like manner on the projected slabs to align with the FRP panels. A fixing detail using steel Z-profiles embedded into the FRP panels was developed to fix these 70kg panels to this M.S. support structure.

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The grey walls and windows background brings out the white FRP screen in all its glory. Starting with a sample of the module and fixing detail to manufacturing, shipping, complete installation, painting and cleaning, the façade system took four months to complete on site. The effect is exactly what we hoped for with its dramatic expression and unmistakable identity.

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Project Name: The Newtown School

Project Category: Educational Building

Location: Kolkata, West Bengal
Area: 15,000 sq.m.
Status: Completed in April, 2015
Client: Savitri Educational Foundation

Façade, Interiors and Landscape Design and Architectural Intervention: Abin Design Studio

Materials used: Fibre Reinforced Polypropylene, Mild Steel, Handmade Tiles, MDF.

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