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It takes a village: Locals joined forces to build this stunning girls’ school in the Indian desert

Diana Kellogg Architects designed the Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School, and local women joined regional craftsmen to build it.

It takes a village: Locals joined forces to build this stunning girls’ school in the Indian desert

To survive in the remote, sandstorm-prone Thar Desert region of northwestern India, structures require rugged sandstone. Builders there specialize in the intricate carving and stacking of stones to provide shelter, shade, and defense from the desert’s fierce winds. The new Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School, outside the city of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, was designed by Diana Kellogg Architects as an elliptical fortress, using ancient techniques to block the sand and sun. The regional craftspeople who inherited this vernacular were called upon to build it.

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[Photo: Vinay Panjwani courtesy of Diana Kellogg Architects]
Despite the traditional building methods, this school for 400 girls from kindergarten to high school is also an attempt to move the community in a new direction. Commissioned by CITTA, a nonprofit that supports development in geographically remote communities, and designed pro bono, the project is a subtle yet significant plug for female education. “The area is really resistant to teaching their girls,” says Kellogg, whose firm is based in New York. Getting locals to build the school, she hopes, will make it “less intimidating to send their girls there.”

It seems to be working. Though the pandemic hampered the school’s opening, the daughters of several of the construction workers plan on attending. During construction, local women joined local craftsmen to dig the school’s foundation and lift its stones. What they built for their community’s girls is a physical pledge for a different future.

See more from Fast Company’s 2021 Innovation by Design Awards. Our new book, Fast Company Innovation by Design: Creative Ideas That Transform the Way We Live and Work (Abrams, 2021), is on sale now.

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