Batticaloa is a colourful city. Be it the pastel pink of the Kallady clock tower or the brilliant shades of the Aanaipanthi Kovil, this township is famed for its Dravidian influences in colour and architecture. After the devastating tsunami of 2004 crushed lives on the Sri Lankan coastline, Rotary International launched the project “Schools Re-awaken” rebuilding schools across the island.
The Udayapuram Tamil School at Perriyakallar was one such project by the Rotary Club of Colombo Uptown. It was a place for the children of Perriyakkallar to find peace and rediscover the joys that had been so brutally washed away. In his recreation of the school, architect Yudish Ganesen strikes a balance between rich tradition and simplistic clarity.
The new school complex located a 45- minutes drive away from Kallar, included four classroom blocks, one administration block, an assembly hall, a library, science block, aesthetic music block, canteen, staff quarters, two toilets and a bicycle shed. The classrooms were placed within the four main low cost, basic buildings that housed about 350 schoolchildren. “Architecture is about creating space. The school blocks are placed so that within them they create courtyards. The courtyards help the interaction between students,” explains Yudish.
It is interesting how the architect has also overcome the obstacle of noise transgression. The allocation of space is such that no two blocks lie parallel to each other, thus avoiding excessive disturbance
The architecture is both conventional and innovative. “What we did was, take the most basic form and make something creative with it,” says Yudish. The structure therefore symbolizes creativity with a sense of order. The buildings are basic and linear in structure. Clear lines compliment the column and beam construction seen in most tropical architecture.
The sloping roof adorned in callicut tiles is another feature. The series of blocks are complete with spacious verandahs and wide eaves to beat the extreme weather conditions in Batticaloa. They help keep the harsh sun away and give shade and a sense of coolness to the generally warm and humid atmosphere. The large façade of some of the buildings has been broken down and tiered, thus appearing less intimidating and more welcoming.
The exposed brick half walls that run along the open verandahs serve as both railing and partitioning. There is a distinctive pattern in the honey comb work of these brick walls with symmetric voids being created through cube-shaped gaps.
This also helps the regular flow of cross ventilation. The courtyard borders a paved path that would be generally finished in stone. But the low budget for the project spurred the imaginative team behind it to use a variety of local sand for the pathway. Cut cement is the most commonly used flooring material seen at the school. The high cost of electricity encouraged Yudish to make use of voids, spaces and windows to let in lots of sunlight.
The openings used for natural light also reveal beautiful vistas of the landscape. The school opens to a picturesque setting full of palm fronds dancing in the sea breeze.
The colour palette used for the project reflects both those of the surrounding scene and Dravidian culture. A mix of warm and cool colours unfolds a vibrant pattern of reds, blues, greens and yellows. “The bold use of colour gives the school life. We have to keep in mind that these are children. The colours reflect their growing minds. It is a vibrant scheme for children,” adds Yudish. The pillars on the front colonnade are painted in bold shades of blues and reds while the rafters are a mix of bright greens and yellows, The doors too carry distinct hues of hopeful, lively colours.
The school has become a safe haven for kids who lived through a terrifying ordeal –giving them a chance to open their hearts and minds to a brighter future.