In most modern FRP applications, composites are usually seen as a practical solution for industries looking to create structures that are strong, lightweight, durable and easy to build. Sometimes, though, composites can help designers achieve a deeper artistic goal. In an increasing number of buildings all over the world, architects are turning to FRP to accentuate what makes a certain place special. That was the case for Abin Chaudhuri, who led a two-year project to create and install FRP façades for an elementary school and its neighboring secondary school in the Newtown area of Kolkata, the capital of India’s West Bengal state.
The Savitri Educational Foundation, which founded The Newtown School, reached out to Chaudhuri’s design firm, Abin Design Studio, while the school was already under construction. Chaudhuri described the framework for the buildings as “rather generic,” with six floors of classrooms, laboratories and other facilities surrounding the school’s central courtyards.
The project’s previous architect had struggled to come up with a façade that could simultaneously stay within the client’s design parameters while also being innovative. Abin Design Studio’s challenge was to work within these parameters to design façades that took air circulation, ventilation, classroom layout and environmental concerns into consideration.
“The first step was to create an identity for the school. Our approach was to create a screen that wraps around the buildings and unifies them visually,” says Chaudhuri. “The facade not only provides shade to the classrooms from the harsh sun, but also lends the school a distinct identity.”
From a distance, each façade looks like a complex Rubik’s Cube® of letters and mathematic symbols. The letters and symbols were used to create a custom stencil for the façade. As Chaudhuri explains, the team wanted the structures to feature a graphic, yet relatable aesthetic for the young children.
“We intended for the central courtyards of the buildings to merge with the play area, creating a seamless connection between [the] junior and senior school,” says Chaudhuri. “Due to [an administrative] restriction, this ground level connection was not possible. However, the screen was created with a strong character so that its continuous application across the buildings by itself would prove to be a unifying element.”
Prior to fabrication and installation, the firm worked with Kolkata-based manufacturer Annex Design Pvt. Ltd. to create a small-scale model of the buildings to determine the best way to fabricate the panels for the façades. Due to the need for a wide range of complex shapes that were durable and lightweight, the team used GFRP to fabricate 488 3.2 x 3.2-meter panels consisting of 13 different combinations of symbols for each façade.