Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School construction sits in the heart of Thar Desert in Rajasthan, India, with a focus on culture, history, traditional craftsmanship and support for the women and girls throughout the region. 

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An oval-shaped wooden building in the middle of a desert landscape

In an area with less than 32% female literacy, the ability for girls to attend school means new opportunities for the next generation in a rural area with high poverty. Over 400 girls are registered to the school, which will serve students from kindergarten through 10th grade. 

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A person standing at a doorway of the curved structure

Additionally, the structure is constructed from local sandstone, allowing it to blend into the surrounding environment and eliminate the need for long supply transports. Relying on local craftsmen, many of whom are fathers of the girls at the school, the school represents one leg in a triad of buildings that will eventually be completed onsite. Soon, a performance and art exhibition hall, library and museum called the Medha will serve the community. The third building will be the Women’s Cooperative where local artisans will teach mothers and other women traditional weaving and embroidery techniques.

Two walls with small rectangle cut-outs with girls in uniform walking in between them

Together, the complex will be known as the GYAAN Center. The project was designed pro bono by New York City Architect Diana Kellogg of Diana Kellogg Architects. She worked in conjunction with Citta India, a non-profit organization that supports development in some of the most economically-challenged, geographically-remote or marginalized communities in the world. 

“We couldn’t be more appreciative to Diana for her time and artistry to make the school a reality,” said Michael Daube, Founder & Executive Director, Citta India. “To make a true impact for our students will mean changing attitudes of what girls and women are capable of. This is our first step in that effort.”

A building with two doorways on either side

Furthermore, the project honors the planet through a variety of sustainable design elements such as traditional rainwater harvesting and water recycling within the school. The building is oriented to take advantage of wind currents while blocking out the hot desert sun. Airflow is maximized in the oval design of the building for highly-efficient passive design without the need for air conditioning, even in temperatures that reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, renewable energy is created through solar panels that power the lighting and fans in the building.

A shot from above down below on the oval shaped school

The culture and history of the region is emphasized at each step in the project. Even the school uniforms, designed by Indian Fashion Designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, rely on traditional textiles called Ajrak, a block-print and natural dyes technique that predates modern history.

“Since the building was built for a non-profit to support girls’ education, every effort was made toward economic design, ” said Diana Kellogg, founder of Diana Kellogg Architects. “It was imperative that we incorporated authentic cultural elements, so the center was a true representation of the region and its members.”

+ Diana Kellogg Architects

Photography by Vinay Panjwani