Aga Khan School in Gahkuch, Gilgit

Text: Ar. Maria A.
Photography: Irfan Naqi

Any project by the architect Tariq Hasan is rooted in concept which is deciphered from the site and its surroundings. While a student of his in another life time, we had to deliver a concept even if the project was not there. I recall fondly how many a tales were built in a line drawing but though his attributes as a teacher cannot be doubted he made us think,

write and conjure stories of and about the project which initiated a dialog of questions and answers about the project itself. And yet again I come across a project which responds to the site directly in response to the need and requirements of the inhabitants which inhabit the built space the Aga Khan School in Gahkuch. Its many years now that I was in Gilgit last, and happened to pass by Gahkuch, that I first saw the coming up of a building the school that is narrated in the piece. Gahkuch a small town located two hours from Gilgit and not so easily accessible even at the most weather opportune times is a valley surrounded by mountains and experiences extreme weather conditions be it summer or winter.

A school is an enclave of a society grooming its future generation and Gahkuch is an educational facility that represents the fusion of a profoundly unique and experimental environment that binds the facility with the surroundings. The physical design provides open class rooms with a variety of adjacent multi use spaces shared by the school and community programs. Planning and design was a collaboration involving educators, parents, neighbors and community organizations. The consensus was to provide a stable, secure environment for young children—something often missing from their home lives. The school was designed to provide a ‘main street’, multipurpose room,

and shared story telling areas within a cheerful multi usage structure.
Challenging traditional notions of the school as closed fortress, the school, in its diverse program, strong community influence and physical design ‘opens’ its doors to expose the innovation and learning within.
This higher secondary school is envisioned as an environment-friendly or green building that uses passive systems to maintain a comfortable environment throughout the varying climatic conditions. A multi-use atrium, and large south-facing windows capture the sun and keep the building warm in the winter; while wind towers, vine-covered trellis- work and cross-ventilation, combined with the use of stone as the building material keep it cool in the summer. The top-lit atrium allows sunlight to filter into the main communal spaces which doubles as the circulation space for class rooms and labs. The classrooms are cross-ventilated with a stair-tower. The finishes are simple with predominantly stone external wall surfaces which clarify the form and planes of the built structure. Simple L-shaped plan with a skewed corridor-bridge that leads to the entrance portal nestled amongst the mountains with views and vistas that always keep one connected to the formidable outdoors. Innovative construction methodology acquired from the surrounding built structures addresses the harsh climate of summer and winter. Wood trellises over Deciduous roof slab covered with vines lowers the temperature by allowing the summer heat to pass; similarly vertical trellises covered with vines, shades the indoor spaces yet allows the winter sun to penetrate inside.

in its diverse program, strong community influence and physical design ‘opens’ its doors to expose the innovation and learning within. Located in a thickly mountainous terrain, the school has been designed to integrate indoor and outdoor learning environments. At different points it becomes an outdoor learning center, playground, and the main lobby of the school. A pedestrian bridge from the main building allows protected passage to the entry portal while maintaining neighborhood access to the recreational amenities of the site. The school is nestled on a square 10,000 sq yds hillside parcel with a suburban neighborhood overlooking the Karakoram mountain range. The 16000 square foot staggered two storey building was set into the southeast slope to improve views and free up land for outdoor activities.

The external wall construction is a single leaf stone masonry as apart to the conventional double wall methodology which is prone to earthquakes. Hence single wall with batton chicken wire and plaster creates insulation and solves long standing wall technological issues. The long corridor-bridge that connects the school to the outside world was utilized to create a contrast against the rigid campus architecture while engaging the rolling site. The relatively large size of the facility was intimidating hence, grade level pods allowing each teaching team to center their time in neighborhoods reduces the impact of the building size. Challenging traditional notions of the school as closed fortress, the school,

Yellow colored intervention on the façade highlighting fenestration, terraced levels, pathway networks and landscape buffers enhance the community fit. The true challenge of designing schools lies in creating a space that will not become obsolete after a few years and a few different teaching techniques. Designing schools for the unchanging characteristics of children enables them to last longer. A lot is known about how the physical environment affects the children emotionally, psychologically and intellectually. This knowledge should be used to form their learning spaces. Children develop at different paces, but most develop at the same rate within a two year span of each other. The school thus has proved to be a great success, enhancing the community’s sense of renewal and optimism about the future of its children. The grouping of these facilities makes for a wonderful partnership between private and public sectors to fill the educational needs of the young and old.

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