The northern Indian desert town Jaisalmer is known as “The Golden City” because of its yellow sandstone architecture. Temperatures can reach up to 120 F (49 C) during the peak of summer.
This area has long had buildings that can withstand heat. Diana Kellogg, a New York architect, continues this tradition with her work at Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School.
CITTA, an American non-profit that supports women in marginalized and remote communities in the USA, commissioned the project. It aims to empower girls and women through education in a region in India where the female literacy rate for women is the lowest. This is the first part of a three-part architectural program that will also include an exhibition space and a women’s cooperative.
According to Kellogg, the school, which is eco-friendly and built from sandstone, was named the 2020 “Building Of The Year” by Architectural Digest India. It opened in November 2021, and 120 girls are currently enrolled.
In the Thar desert, where drought spells are getting longer and more severe due to climate change, designing a comfortable learning space can be difficult. Kellogg, a designer of high-end residential projects was inspired by a 2014 visit to Jaisalmer. He wanted the building to represent the resilience and hope of the desert, combining elements of Jaisalmer architecture and modern design.
There are many ways to cool space that has been around for centuries. Kellogg explained that he combined them in a way that worked. He also said that indoor temperatures are about 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit higher than outdoors.
She used locally sourced sandstone for the structure — a climate-resilient, durable material that has been used in many buildings in the region, including Jaisalmer Fort which is home to one-fourth of the city’s population and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s so plentiful in this region. It is very affordable and the highly skilled stonemasons are simply magicians with it,” Kellogg stated. It keeps the heat out, and it also keeps the night cool.”
Kellogg used traditional methods to encapsulate the design, including lining the inner walls of the building with lime plaster. This natural cooling material is porous and helps release moisture trapped by humidity. Inspired by other buildings in the area, she installed a “jali wall”, a sandstone grid that allows wind to accelerate, resulting in cooling the courtyard and providing shade from the sun. A solar panel canopy offers shade and energy, while high ceilings and windows let the heat rise in classrooms.
It is designed to be angled concerning the wind direction. The structure has an elliptical form that was chosen for its ability to capture and circulate cool, as well as for its symbolic connotations to femininity. This fits in with the project’s ethos. Kellogg describes it as “a tight, hugging hug”.
Sustainability and comfort
Kellogg acknowledges that many of the cooling methods used at school could be used elsewhere in principle and would still be effective and sustainable. Different wind directions and different types of sandstones could regulate temperatures in a different way than the materials used in Jaisalmer.
The building doesn’t have air conditioning. This is due to its environmental impact and because it’s not common in the area. She believes that students can feel more comfortable in their surroundings by using natural and traditional cooling methods they are familiar with. This will help them to be more confident.
She said, “I have seen it myself over three, four months.”
“The girls have changed from being shy to becoming bright, effervescent lights who devour any information that is presented to them.”