Schools are temples of learning but the cost of building them is often exorbitant, which makes quality education inaccessible. This is why the aim of the project was to make sustainability affordable and accessible, by involving local communities, materials, and resources.
For the Solar Decathlon India, a design challenge to develop resilient net-zero buildings, the Builders team (apart from the three of us, the others were Taha Mama, Dhruv Bajpai, Varnika Dalmia, Ishita Mittal, Aditi Agrawal, Rounak Dutta, Vidipt Saroj Kalla, Maazen Ahmed, Sobia Rehan) from the Jindal School of Art and Architecture collaborated with the Society for Human Welfare and Education to build a new campus for Hamara School in Aligarh, which has been educating underprivileged children for free since 1997.
Sustainable architecture is close to our hearts. Our motto was to “build with what we have, build for what we have”. So, we used the support of the local community, local materials and practices to combine social and environmental sustainability. Instead of red bricks that are produced in kilns and cause air pollution, we employed rammed earth construction, terracotta hollow blocks made on site, as well as bamboo and mud shelters. Incorporating these materials and techniques helped reduce the construction cost, and achieve a 47.5% reduction in the building’s carbon footprint.
We learnt how to make terracotta blocks from the potter’s community in Khurja, and made blocks using the earth excavated from the site, with the help of the local community. Then we used these created moveable jaalis, which offered the perfect solution for temperature control to protect during the intense summers. Similarly, the entire shading system in bamboo was made transformable; in winter, the entire system can be removed to allow sunlight inside the space. The walls are made using rammed earth, one of the oldest systems of building. It is completely natural and doesn’t need any form of synthetic finishing. These thick walls can store a tremendous amount of thermal energy and protect the inhabitants from the searing heat.
Another major challenge was to reduce usage of water and create affordable systems for net zero dependency on municipal, ground or fossil water. So all the water needs had to be met by rainwater harvesting, stored, reused, and recycled. In a school with nearly 300 students, constantly washing their hands and using the toilet, there are a lot of ways in which water will be wasted. So we came up with little tweaks to the plumbing system to reduce water wastage. For instance, flushing the toilet consumes nearly five litres of water but we reduced it to two litres. We also fitted nozzles to reduce the flow of water from taps. We also worked on water recycling using ECOSTP, a passive zero-power, zero-chemical sewage treatment technology.
Harvesting rainwater without building expensive pits was another challenge. We designed the landscape with microinjection wells so that all the rainwater percolates inside the ground. We carried out water metering to measure the amount of water coming from the ground and the amount of water going inside the ground. Our goal was to ensure that the water we pump from the ground is less than what we can give back. Ultimately, we became net positive; we are able to return almost 60,000 litres of water to the earth annually.
Our faculty mentor, Prof. Abu Talha Farooqi, was awarded the prestigious Outstanding Faculty Award. We believe that our method and design has created a template which is replicable, has scalability potential and can create habitats of co-existence.
The writers are architecture students at Jindal School of Art and Architecture, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat