Shanmugam Associates Takes Cues From Stepped Wells of Gujarat To Design Courtyard of the Northstar School | Rajkot

The Northstar School Designed by Shanmugam Associates | Gujarat

Located in Rajkot, Gujarat, The Northstar School designed by Kerala-based architecture firm Shanmugam Associates (SA) is formed by stacking volumes that overhang and overlaps. The passive design of the building allows the surrounding greenery to enter the indoors. The firm focussed on integrating the nature to shape how children learn in a positive way. We, at SURFACES REPORTER (SR) are presenting here all the info about the project and the challenges associated while designing this outstanding school, shared with us by SA firm.

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the northstar school-Architecture Designs Firm in Kerala

View of the Northstar school from the playground

The project sits on the south eastern corner of a 17.8-acre barren site located adjoining the RK University campus on Rajkot- Bhavnagar highway and spreads over an area of 33,000 ft2 (3065.80 m2).

northstar-school-Architecture Designs Firm in KeralaThe first-floor classrooms have creepers as secondary skin allowing for the harsh sunlight to get filtered into the rooms

“School is an enjoyable and enriching part of life where students can safely explore their True North” - reads the vision of The Northstar School, a progressive institution established to transform the educational ecosystem. 

northstar-schoolThe cantilevered first floor classrooms are planned to create shaded play area for the floor below

Influential Contextual Pointers

Before commencing the project, the firm had to first identify the local climate of the region.  In north-west India, the climate is semi-arid. Rajkot has dusty yet windy conditions and 20- 30 days of monsoons. Another crucial factor was the supply of STP water from the nearby RK University.

the-northstar-school-indiaTreated water from the STP has been used effectively to offer nourishment to the green landscape, as seen here by the lush climbers that have taken over the corridor areas.

Additionally, open-ended corridors, the building orientation and its future potential were other vital factors to look into.


Three Phases of Development

Overall master planning was conceived integrating three phases of development of which only Phase -1 is built.  Key functions are accommodated in ground and first floors to keep the built space child friendly. 

the-northstar-school-indiaJuxtaposition of the Bella stone on the ground floor with the green creepers on the first floor

The primary intent was to find ways to learn with nature. The fundamental unit of schools are classrooms.

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the-northstar-school-indiaClassrooms have their own garden pockets which are used also for learning

So, the design process started in programming a single classroom module with cross ventilation, its own private garden and an open to sky jallied courtyard. This module was iterated to arrive from a part to a whole.

the-northstar-school-indiaAn ongoing virtual class session is in progress here in this courtyard that acts as a relief especially during these tough times

Between two classrooms is a larger garden that is easily monitored, has a performance space and provisions for conducting classes.

A Central Stepped Courtyard 

Drawing inspiration from stepped wells of Gujarat, a central courtyard ties all the spaces within each module and is replicated in all phases. 

the-northstar-school-indiaThe main courtyard that serves for circulation, a gathering space and a green relief is provided in all the phases

This central stepped and vegetated courtyard serves for larger gatherings as a multi-purpose space and for circulation. Integrated within the courtyard amidst the green pockets, creepers and vines is a stage, that is used by children or staff to perform. 

the-northstar-school-indiaIn between the creepers and vines in the courtyard is a performance stage for the staff and children to use

With due credits to the structural engineer, the massing on the second floor sits lightly on the floor below and houses a 250-persons capacity multipurpose hall. The structure visually creates a presence as one walks along the heavily canopied main entry walkway.


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the-northstar-school-indiaBasic shapes and forms are introduced as a part of the architecture

A secondary skin – Jalli (a perforated skin) in ground floor and an ambitious creeper screen in first floor, has been planned in all floors to allow natural light, shield dust and provide security.


the-northstar-school-indiaPrivate gardens have been provided for all spaces as seen here in the library area

When exploring material for the façade, the criteria was for it to be locally available, have an earthy tone, reflect an institutional character and be economical. Bella, a natural hard lime stone in terracotta color, has been used to blend the built form with existing surroundings. 


Architecture at The Northstar School has been planned such that as the building ages, landscape adds in more life into the space therefore taking ownership. 

the-northstar-school-indiaThorny Bushes used for fencing

Presently, an Indian owl resides in an unused truncated duct, the gulmohar trees lay a red carpet for the main pedestrian entry and Northstar’s horticulture program engages the learners on importance of flora & fauna. The design foundations at Northstar lie on ideologies of exploring contemporary design with local material, using regional references to define built form and finding simplistic solutions for complex design problems.

Project Details

Project Name: The Northstar School
Architecture Firm: Shanmugam Associates
Firm Location: Trichy/ Chennai, India
Completion Year: 2017
Gross Built Area: 33,000 sqft
Project location: Rajkot, Gujarat


Lead Architects: Raja Krishnan, Santhosh Shanmugam, Shanmugam A
Design Team: Raja Krishnan, Santhosh Shanmugam, Balasubramanian, Manish Bokdia, Vimala
Clients: Mohit Patel
Engineering: Jayant Laklani, Laklani Associates, 
Landscape: Sandip Patil, Tapan Modi, Earthscapes Consultancy Private Ltd
Collaborators: Gudgudee- Playground Design,
Photo credits: Ishita Sitwala   

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