The Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl's School
Architect: Diana Kellogg Architects
Owner: CITTA/MICHAEL DAUBE
Location: Rajasthan, India
An architectural marvel sitting atop the sprawling sands of India’s mystic Thar Desert, the Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School serves nearly 400 young women in a region where female literacy is just 36%. The school is the first important building in a complex known as the Gyaan Center, which will also include a performance and exhibition space and a cooperative where artisans will teach the students’ mothers and other women the region’s weaving and embroidery techniques. The cornerstone of the complex, the school aims to equip young women with tools to advance their education while simultaneously raising awareness around the issues women face in India.
The complex was commissioned by CITTA, a nonprofit organization that works to spur development in the world’s most economically challenged and marginalized communities. In this region of India, women bear the brunt of economic disparities, infanticide, caste discrimination, and technological barriers, all of which greatly informed the project and the social progress the school hopes to achieve.
The school’s form is a fantastical oval that blends into the arid landscape and honors ancient building materials and techniques. Its shape is a symbol of femininity and infinity, while the curved walls evoke a famous fort in the region. Local customs were carefully considered during the design process, most notably India’s tendency to shape schools around courtyards to keep the elements out. As an ellipse, the school offers plentiful shade for the students in its grand courtyard, but its narrower width also allows a canopy to cover the space during the hottest months of the year.
Designed to appear as a natural extension of the surrounding dunes, the school is a model for sustainable design that leaves a minimal footprint on the desert ecosystem. The team followed ancient water harvesting techniques to maximize rainwater and recycle the school’s gray water. The metal framework of the roof’s solar canopy doubles as play equipment for the students near a parapet wall that references the jalis, a traditional screen that offers women privacy. Both elements work alongside the ellipse shape to support passive solar cooling in a place where temperatures peak at nearly 120 degrees.
Once the form was selected, the team realized how it resonated as a symbol of femininity and a healing space that makes its students feel held. The forthcoming performance space and cooperative will also have a similar shape. Together, the complex’s series of ellipses demonstrate that even in a remote corner of India, women’s issues can be amplified to attract attention on a global scale.