An integrated design approach to a great learning environment

Project: ADEC School and Stand-alone Kindergarten, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Architects: Creative Group

Contemporary theories on school habitats advocate the development of a child- centred environment for schools—a ‘home away from home’ that youngsters can explore and make their own. While adhering to this philosophy, sustainability is also kept as a key design driver, with the extensive use of natural light and passive design strategies incorporated in a visible way to engage with students as part of their learning experience. Our endeavour is to provide a ‘fluid learning experience’ for the children, which is not only limited to classrooms but also extends to the outdoor learning communities, so as to maximise interaction between the children and their environment. Our focus is on architecture and spatial design that can evolve as a tool to complement their surroundings.

The building blocks have been oriented towards north-south to mitigate the harsh climate of Abu Dhabi. We intend to utilise the concept of mutual shading from historic connotations, to maximise daylight and minimise heat gain. Thus, we have formulated courtyards with varied scales to not only provide mutually-shaded outdoor spaces, but also to increase their seamless interaction with the indoor spaces, which in turn will encourage the children to indulge in physical activities and become inquisitive towards nature.

The front façade has been given a simple, yet bold language through the use of a combination of solid massing with brick tile cladding and transparent glass, to maximise the passive sustainability of the school. The use of glass connects the external surroundings with the building. Overhangs, sun- shading vertical louvers and small slit-punched windows have been provided to reinforce the concept of maximising day light and minimising heat gain. Sun screens have been inculcated towards the east and west side to protect the outdoor learning communities for both boys and girls.

A conscious effort has been made to have clear cut segregations, in terms of drop-off for girls, boys, kindergarten students, the parents as well as visitors. The kindergarten children and girls have been zoned on one side of the school, which is bifurcated by the reception and the shared facilities, while the boys’ classrooms have been placed on the other far extreme, to maintain the cultural appropriateness. This establishes a distinction in the zoning of the plan, thus segregating their movement within as well as outside the building for efficient utilisation of open-air spaces that also act as assembly areas. Approaching the east and west, the learning communities open towards the play facilities through small wedge-shaped openings, giving a varied view whilst cultivating comfort by means of mutual shading.

The intent is to reignite the idealism of bringing architecture and education together in a way that architecture can aid the education. The way forward for this is to think of a school that can be modulated, but at the same time follows basic design principles, such as orientation, utilisation of open spaces and maintenance of a flowing relationship with the built space, to create a comfortable learning experience combining the indoors with the outdoors, for different age groups of students.

Since this is an air-conditioned school, two typologies of interactive spaces have been amalgamated. The interior of the school accommodates conjoint spaces, just like the exterior. Corridors open towards the learning communities, while connecting vertically and volumetrically through double height spaces and atriums, therefore providing an opportunity for indirect natural daylight from the roof covering to the corridors and public spaces.

The spatial planning for the school has been done in a manner to segregate boys and girls in E-W blocks, whereas the kindergarten takes the N-E corner. A typical grid of 8X8 and 8X9 m has been followed for community typology. All communities connect to the main school circulation and shared facilities. Continuing the fluidity and seamless spaces for the girls’ learning communities, outdoor and indoor interactive spaces have been accentuated with double heighted spaces at main intersecting nodes of the school.

An interactive and sensorial experience for the kids has been inculcated in the design by creating dynamic indoor and outdoor spaces. A new design idea has been proposed through a community of 10 Classes with a central Atrium, which acts as an Indoor Interactive Space lit up with diffused light through a dome at top. Outdoor spaces have been shaded through fins or louvers for a comfortable environment for the kids to play in.

The courtyards are mutually shaded. They are protected by solar panels that not only act as collectors of renewable energy, but also double up as shading devices. This also gives us a unique opportunity to celebrate and accentuate the play of light and shadow. This astute phenomenon, along with enhancing the look and feel of open spaces throughout the day, helps the students to understand and correlate with different times of the day, thus familiarising them with the sun’s movement.

As young children are very sensitive and their curve for learning is receptive to everything that they see and feel around them, it is our effort to provide a level of fluidity in the design, so that edges can be softened and a more playful environment can be incorporated for our young flowers to bloom. Furthermore, the use of colour to aesthetically enhance some pure geometrical forms would enrich the sensory experience of the kindergarten students, the extension of which can also be shared with the learning environment for girls. However, for boys, an unambiguous approach has been maintained through segregated circulation. The outdoor learning experience for the kindergarten children has been carefully shaded by projecting the library on the upper levels, which has been further augmented by the use of colourful vertical louvers, thus establishing a visual connectivity with the children.

We were also hired to design a stand-alone Kindergarten School for the same authority, the design philosophy of which is kept the same, with the ideas of sustainability and a child-friendly environment inculcated in the design. Here, the breakout spaces are given in the centre, with various classrooms and ancillary functions around it. The planning follows a linear layout, with the multipurpose hall in the centre and green landscaped areas around it. For each specific cluster of functions, a separate breakout space and amphitheatre are provided, promoting the visual and physical connectivity with nature for each room in the school individually. This is also followed on the first floor of the building, keeping in mind that the kids need smaller areas for their activities rather than larger ones. The roof structure is made with perforated screens, jaalis and skylights to ensure maximum daylight inside the building.

Passive, Active & Innovative Design Strategies

The project utilises the sun, air, earth, water and landscape, thereby taking a highly passive approach to reduce dependence on energy and water infrastructure. Efficient and renewable systems supplement this approach, integrating timeless green building strategies with the latest innovations in high performance building technologies. The campus has been designed with minimal impact on environment and made self-sustaining through available resources, while creating an ambience that is fit to Learn, Live and Play.
Thermal Comfort: Creating an environment in which the students, teachers and visitors feel thermally comfortable has been a prime motto
for the campus. Thermally insulated walls, fins, slit windows, shaded courtyards and the use of light colours help to achieve a ‘thermal pleasure
in the built environment’, creating shaded outdoor spaces, which are comfortable in the harsh and hot climate of the UAE.

Water Conservation: The design carefully considers the water needs to create an integrated water management strategy. The school has been designed with the intent of minimum dependency on natural water resources and maximising the use of Grey Water. Usage of Grey Water for irrigation, washing and flushing purposes by on site water treatment will help reduce the demand on other sources.

Waste Management: Facilities have been provided to segregate waste on site and transport it for further recycling and reusing. Shifting from Waste Management, Resource Recovery is a way to complete the cycle of Recycling and Reusing. Plastic, paper and metal waste are the ones likely to be generated at the school site. Segregation of the three at source itself will reduce the burden.

Energy Efficiency: The school campus promotes usage of energy-efficient appliances and lighting fixtures to reduce power consumption from the main grid. Use of LED lighting for common areas, street lighting, public spaces, lobbies and corridors, helps reduce the overall demand and consumption. Energy-efficient appliances for Labs, Computer Rooms and all other facilities will help reduce the overall demand through the operational phase.

Efficient Building Materials: Use of efficient building materials is promoted, with minimum heat gain to have a comfortable indoor and outdoor environment in the school. With basic unit of AAC Blocks, Pre-Cast Structure has been opted for better quality and speedy construction. An environment- responsive building facade, with minimal heat gain and reflective index will create a suitable environment for students to learn, live and play. Use of double glass with brick tile cladding for the facade helps to reduce the effect of the harsh sun.

BMS Campus: Perhaps no other type of organisation has as diverse a facility infrastructure as that of schools and universities. To serve populations of students of 3000 or more, schools have diverse activities that need to run efficiently. HVAC Systems, Access Controls, Lighting Fixtures management strategies, etc can be implemented to create an efficient campus, to maximise energy efficiency and security with an integrated infrastructure that allows for the seamless integration of all building systems, services, and applications.


Client: Abu Dhabi Educational Council

Design team: Prof. Charanjit S Shah (Founding Principal), Ar. Gurpreet S Shah (Principal Architect), Ar. Raman Sikka Associates: Sikka Associates

Built-up area: Stand-alone Kindergarten – 10,000 sq m; ADEC School – 35,854 sq m

Project status: Conceptual proposal