15 years ago, we won a design competition for the American School of Bombay. According to the jury, comprised of educationists, administrators, and the Consul General of the United States, it was the expression of a distinct approach towards education, a focus on the student, and the streamlining of movement that tilted the balance in our favor.
In 2009, the government doubled the allowable FAR for educational plots, and we were once again approached to develop a concept to utilize the additional area.
The site is part of the Bandra-Kurla complex, a newly formed business district in the northern part of the city. The ASB shares playing fields and recreational facilities with an adjoining school.
The original 5-storeyed school was designed around a space-frame covered courtyard. The nursery and pre-school areas were accessed directly from the ground level, while the rest of the students had to climb a wide flight of steps to enter onto a large covered podium courtyard which provided a congregation and breakout space, as well as a pre-function area for the Multi-Purpose Hall ( MPH) and an outdoor reading room for the double level library. Essentially, it was a reinterpretation of the traditional courtyard, enhanced to meet multiple performance criteria.
The open strip on the western part of the plot was a recreational zone, with 2 swimming pools and a children's play area, thereby ensuring that the younger children could be closely monitored within the safety of the plot, while the elder children could use the adjacent shared facilities.
Doubling the area of the school threw up a number of questions that an inner coterie of board members insisted could be answered by demolishing the existing school and opting for a Greenfield project.
A blank slate would certainly have been the easiest way to tackle a complex and congested program, but it would also entail a massive waste of environmental and financial resources, not to mention a serious disruption in the running of the school. We convinced the board that a solution that preserved the existing building, and that allowed the school to function, albeit with a few adjustments was possible.
The only way to achieve this was to lift and extend the addition over existing building whilst minimizing ground level footprints to structural points and circulation cores.
In order to retain the recreational facilities on the west, and to ensure that natural light to the west facing classrooms was not compromised, we restricted the building footprint to a southwest circulation/structural core and a minimal structural footprint in the northwest. This also allowed for a separate and direct access to the extension (the existing building would house students up to grade 5).
The entire addition was lifted above and was made to extend over a part of the existing building in a way that it did not structurally intrude onto it, but allowed for links that would tie the 2 entities together thus enabling a more optimal utilization of space as well as streamlined circulation.
The addition of a 2nd MPH further complicated the situation and we found that the best way to incorporate this large, column-free box, was to stack it on top of the original MPH (the structure had been pre-designed for future vertical expansion) whilst linking it with the new senior school.
The strength of the original school was its independence of elevators (they were provided but with restricted access) and we were looking to replicate this pedestrian typology in the new school. This was achieved by using a large bank of high-speed elevators to bring students into a large, interstitial volume, from where they had to walk a maximum of 2 levels up or down to reach their classrooms. This volume contained all of the common facilities (art, music, drama rooms, library, laboratories, open/green spaces, tiered amphitheater etc), and was a recreation of the podium of the existing school, the difference being that its lengthy proportions as well as its vertical connections, through eccentric voids, to the classroom levels above and below, allowed for a more fluid arrangement of enclosed facilities and semi-open spaces, with large green terraces and vertical green walls. The west facing voids are smaller and more fractured, while on the east a greater porosity is maintained, in accordance with solar and monsoon patterns. The northeast corner opens up to views of the city and a tiered, semi-covered amphitheater thrusts out of the building. A low-rise typology expresses itself in the interstitial volume, with individual spaces breaking out onto landscaped terraces.
The typical classroom floors are designed as structural tubes, spanning between the north and south cores like bridges, accessed by singly loaded corridors with a void space connecting to the common areas in between. By developing eccentric voids connecting the entire school, we have managed to avoid the feeling of a continuous undifferentiated court, and have instead opted for a more articulated approach that breaks the rigidity and predictability of the horizontal and vertical journey, assimilating it into a more fluid 3-dimensional concourse.
The administration areas are suspended below the lowest classroom level, connected to the school, yet separated, so that they can operate autonomously.
Ramp links from the main voids, and the circulation core are provided to access a cafe on the roof of the existing school as well as to the pre-function space of the new MPH.
The original school used malad crete for the external finish. This 'malad-crete' was developed using malad stone dust ( malad stone was used for all of the institutional colonial buildings and is no longer quarried) and mixing it with cement slurry to produce a permanent finish very close in appearance to malad stone. The impression we were looking to create for the original school was one of heaviness, and a solid adhesion to the ground.
In response to this, the addition, as well as the 2nd MPH ( which was shifted slightly off-grid to create a pre-function space as well as to visually create a marginal separation from the existing building) are clad in natural zinc, as malad-create would look highly incongruous on a radical, floating structure, and the colour and texture of natural zinc, as well as its tendency to weather, would , in our opinion complement the original texture wonderfully.
We believe that education is about personal discovery, experience, interaction, and inspiration and we have expressed this by bringing nature and the arts into the center of the school. We have tried, through our decisions, to express our personal ideologies, in the hope of creating far more than just a physical container within which young minds grow.