Can you imagine children studying in the middle of the Thar desert — where day temperatures peak close to 50 degrees Celsius — without an AC?
An architectural marvel, located just a six-minute drive away from Jaisalmer’s famous Sam Dunes, makes this possible.
The Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls’ School is made of yellow sandstone, and surprisingly, has no air conditioners.
Here, students can study and even play in the protected courtyard without worrying about the extreme weather.
The school is visually impressive, with an oval-shaped structure that blends in the desert landscape.
The complex also has a textile museum and performance hall, as well as an exhibition space for artisans to sell their crafts.
In another building, women are trained in traditional arts like weaving and textiles to preserve dying handicrafts.
It took a decade for Michael Daube, founder of CITTA, to conceptualise and design the building along with US-based architect Diana Kellogg.
It started when Diana from New York was taking a trip through India in 2014 and saw how life in the desert was thriving.
“I have never worked outside New York, and it was difficult to comprehend building a project in the middle of the desert. But upon my visit here, I saw the beautiful buildings.”
“The experience gave me the confidence that this project could be made,” she says.
The oval shape made practical sense, as it would reduce the distance between the different sections of the building.
Having a courtyard for the building was familiar to Indian culture.
“The canopy and the
filter the sand. They keep the sun and heat out. The pattern of airflow inside the building naturally cools it down,” she says.
The solar panels on top of the building work as a canopy, and provide shade while simultaneously powering the building.
A cooling system uses geothermal energy at night to cool the building during the day.
Kareem Khan, the contractor assigned to the construction of the building, says the courtyard in the complex can harvest 3.5 lakh litres of water.
“The inner walls of the building are plastered with lime, which insulates the building. The local sandstone protects from extreme heat during the day, and warmth during evening hours,” he notes.
The school, he says, brings together culture, growth opportunities for women, and tourism, all of which will create a “ripple in the desert”.