Gray Puksand’s designers come together to deliver a passionate and informed design for a remote primary school in Timor-Leste

A team of three designers from Gray Puksand’s Sydney studio have designed a primary school for ‘RE School 2018’, an international design competition set by Volume Zero. The competition focused on architecture and infrastructure as instruments of social change that can assist to boost a society’s potential for its own transformation.

Mani Saham, an architectural designer, suggested the competition to colleagues and Kristine Piggford, an Associate, jumped at the chance to be involved. Part of the challenge of the competition was to select a remote site where education was inaccessible. The third key team member, Andrew Cochrane an architect, had recently worked in the region of Timor Leste and knew of a site in the village of Letefohoa, where a primary school was the missing piece of infrastructure.

“We’re all very passionate about education and the positive social changes it can facilitate, so thought it was a great project to get involved in. Having worked on a variety of education projects we understand learning and education. Some of our recent primary school designs really informed the planning, and this flowed seamlessly into the project.” Kristine said.

With two other Gray Puksand designers, Kristine had previously helped to raise funds to build a primary school in Nepal and had travelled there in November 2018 to help in its construction. This experience highlighted the fact that local people would build the school using materials to hand. The submission is therefore practical, buildable and adaptable and is centred on the idea that modules can be built out of any material to suit local conditions.

The team looked at architectural opportunities and sustainability attributes to devise a simple solution based on traditional architecture, that responds to place, the climate of wet and dry seasons and the significant rainfall. The modular building structure incorporates a roof design to collect water, raised for natural ventilation to suit the tropical environment. Walls can also pivot and open, to make the most of fresh air and natural light and allow students to move through the spaces and optimise indoor-outdoor learning. A central outdoor, undercover meeting and gathering place is designed to be used by students and the broader community to promote the school as the heart of the village and build community relationships and learning opportunities for all.

As their abstract states, “Whilst good solutions address a problem, great solutions are universal, transforming across diverse contexts, delivering sustainable, contextually relevant and resilient solutions to issues of equality, community and culture.”