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Revamping Rural Schools of India

Updated: May 16, 2020

The Vernacular Playground by The GrassrootED Initiative

The Vernacular Playground is the first step within the GrassrootED Initiative that is aimed at transforming the infrastructure of rural schools through corporate and crowd funding.

In a remote village of Karnataka; Udagirinallapanahalli, Manohara and his friends had the most conventional village school tale. Two dark, boxy classrooms; one of which non-operational, a compound and a flag post were collectively called their “primary school”. The walls sure had the alphabet as mural art, but what it lacked, was some natural light to be able to read it. The compound sure was spacious, but all they could do was glide on the soil. It was not the most tragic scene, but not happy enough to motivate them to be regular at school.

Picture courtesy : GrassrootED

The children of Udagirinallapanahalli were enthusiastic in a mystical manner. Their jaw stretching smiles, and jumpy feet that were never off ground brings a realization that nothing keeps a child away from his play. So Manohara and friends were found running with the tyres, climbing the trees, playing chauka-bara in the village alleys; making us believe in Maria Montessori’s words, “play is the work of the child.” We decided to use just this as our trump card, as a probable solution for the rising problem of absenteeism in village schools. After all, 70% of India does reside in the village and as the Mahatma says, so does the future of India.

Picture courtesy : GrassrootED

Design Process:

We observed the children play, looked around for our best resources, communicated in broken Kannada and put together a locally sourced vernacular playground for Manohara and his friends. It took 20 architecture students, 6 weeks, and some local support funding to do this. Our design goals were simple; local materials, local craftsmen, low embodied energy, quick construction and some smiling kids!

To meet the goals, our primary material palate was sourced from within 50km of our site. Nilgiri (Eucalyptus) timber, earth, scrap tires, bamboo, old bike chains and ropes added up to make the rides. A daunting, alienated design was under the “don’ts” section of our design brief.

Timber construction would have regularly raised a few eyebrows, but in this case, it was a boon rather than a bane. Plantation of excess Nilgiris has led to an adverse effect on the water table of Karnataka, leading to a state-wide ban of its plantation. The timber of the tree is strong and uniform in size, proving it to be a great choice as structural members. The villagers often use it to retro-fit roofs for their verandas during monsoons. Understanding the material with the local carpenter, we designed, what we like to call, the “Belan” (rolling pin) joinery to use the timber efficiently for the rides.

Automobile waste such as old tires and bike chains are quite a liability in small towns. Discarding them adds a negative impact on the environment, they are highly combustible and add to the landfill. Recycling these tires and chains to make rides was economically and ecologically beneficial.

Picture courtesy : GrassrootED

Earth from the site, mixed with cement and straw, resulted in compressed stabilized earth blocks (CSEBs). These blocks were used to make houses in the village, we borrowed some to make an outdoor classroom for the school. Bringing back a hint of the gurukul system, one of the most successful teaching systems of ancient India.

A swing, a see-saw, a tyre tunnel, a balancing grid and an outdoor classroom, boxed by a colorful compound wall, acted as a magnet for the gang…even on holidays!

Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy said, “Build your architecture from beneath your feet.” The playground followed just that, and almost 2 years later, it still stands tall, witnessing every child’s jump!

Picture courtesy : GrassrootED

Project: The Venacular Playground by The GrassrootED Initiative

Location: Udagirinallapanahalli, Karnataka Founders: Ayushi Motiwalla, Pranay Motta


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