Kiran Community, India
Kiran is an educational and rehabilitation centre for children with a range of physical and mental disabilities on the bank of the Ganges in Northern India. It provides education, restbite and medical therapy for children and their families who would not have access to any of these facilities. It is a wonderful place of healing where the physical, mental and spiritual needs of staff and students are developed and nurtured.
My wife and I were fortunate enough to live and work there for about 2 years. The architecture that we made in Kiran was inspired by the designs of Laurie Baker in South India who used simple local materials in a highly efficient way to create comfortable and beautiful spaces. The buildings I made had to modify the climate that ranged from 5 to 50 degrees and also had to deal with high levels of rainfall and flooding. But ultimately the buildings were for the people who used them and I wanted the buildings to reflect and support the simple and natural spirit of caring that was at the heart of everything that happened in Kiran.
The administration building welcomes everyone who comes to Kiran. The central hall provides a place for visitors to see the products that are made in the workshops and see an exhibition about the activities that are ongoing in the centre and it can be also used as a meeting space. Kiran means ‘a ray of light’ in Hindi and a high level window creates a ray of sunshine that moves along the back wall of the entrance hall during the day. On this wall I designed a ceramic mural, in collaboration with local artists, that depicts the tree of life with shining fruit radiating light. The offices radiate out from this central hall. The corridors have brick screens providing passive cooling but they also create a connection with the entrance space at the front of the building. Because we had good craftsmen on site I was able to include some more elaborate brick detailing.
The Hall was the biggest building that I made in Kiran. It was used every day for school assembly, for physical activities and therapy. It also had to be flexible enough to be able to be used for much larger gatherings and events that were organised during the year. The main structure was a concrete portal frame but the roof was made from brick arches laid over slip form moulds. This was a fast and cost effective way of making a large durable roof. These brick arches were also used in the covered area around the building that were used as spill over spaces for large events and play spaces for the kids during the day.
This building was used for prayer and yoga and it was the spiritual building in the Kiran Village. The building had to provide a simple sacred space that would be available and accessible to all religions without being a church, temple or mosque. The building took the form of a square with a circular inner room with a brick dome above. The space between the square and the circle let all the light and air into the building. While there was plenty of light there was no view or distraction from outside. This was intended to evoke the internal exploration of mediation and the presence of ‘the other’. The building was also located half on land and half over a lilly pond. This made a connection between earth and water, the elements of life but also tried to express the balance of awareness between what is happening inside us and outside us that is the work of meditation. Beautiful Lotus flowers blossomed in the Autumn which also provided a powerful spiritual symbol. On the floor we designed a labyrinth based on the floor pattern from Notre Dame Cathedral. It symbolises the journey of life and the search for God. We designed a lamp, carved in stone, to provide a focal point in the centre of the room and to use another spiritual symbol that was familiar to all religions. No matter which way the wind blows one corner of the building is facing into the wind and one corner away. This provides a constant cooling breeze to keep the building comfortable to be in. There are external and internal shutters to modify the breeze if necessary. An eight sided roof sits on top of the internal corbeled brick dome. The space under the corners of the roof were used to cast concrete beams required to support the lantern on top of the dome. This structural requirement helped to resolve the finishing of the roof and making the transition from the circular dome to the square exterior of the building.
The farm building was designed to store grain and fodder grown in the village, to make a place for the dairy and to make a small house for the family who looked after the cows. This was a very simple building made from the same elements used elsewhere in the village; brick screens, corbeled brick roofs and brick cavity walls. This construction created a very stable and comfortable environment inside. The spaces outside of the building were also important as these were used for the farm and by the family, they allowed for privacy, shelter but also maintained easy access to the fields and the rest of the village.
The Boys hostel was a facility for older boys who were training or working in Kiran. It allowed them additional independence but they still had easy access to the village and to the additional support that they required. The design was based on 80 year old mud buildings that were to be found in the local villages. The rooms were arranged around a central courtyard with a colonnade providing a sheltered comfortable communal space where the boys could hang out. A pool was introduced to cool the micro climate of the courtyard and a tree was planted to provide additional shade. Simple brick details echoed the timber details found in the local mud houses. Ferro- cement slabs were pre-cast on site to form lintols over openings but also shelves for storage inside the rooms.