The GYAAN Center will empower and educate women in India, helping them establish economic independence for themselves, their families, and their communities. The project is designed by Diana Kellogg of Diana Kellogg Architects and commissioned by CITTA, a non-profit organization that supports development in some of the most economically challenged, geographically remote or marginalized communities in the world. An architectural marvel located in the mystic Thar Desert region of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, the complex will consist of three buildings: the The Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School which opens first in July 2021, that will serve more than 400 girls, from kindergarten to class 10, from below the poverty line where female literacy barely touches 36%. The GYAAN Center will also consist of The Medha - a performance and art exhibition space with a library and museum, and The Women’s Cooperative where local artisans will teach mothers and other women weaving and embroidery techniques from the region.
The GYAAN Center will invite renowned female artists, designers education advocates to create artwork, host events and present installations. Exhibitions will embody the importance of women’s empowerment, while drawing people to the center. The space will also periodically act as a marketplace to share the women’s creations with tourists venturing to the nearby dunes to experience the sunset. The education, independence, and empowerment women gain at the GYAAN center will, in turn, incentivize families to educate their daughters, bringing the benefit of the center full circle.
Located in the rural Thar Desert, the city of Jaisalmer lacks significant opportunity for girls to receive an education. With female literacy at just 35.5%, it is among the worst in all of India. Economic disparities, gender discrimination, caste discrimination, and technological barriers are some of the prominent reasons for illiteracy throughout India. Rates of female infanticide due to poverty and the dowry system are still alarmingly high in this region.
The GYAAN Center is designed by a woman for women. Diana Kellogg of Diana Kellogg Architects looked at feminine symbols across cultures when starting the design process – specifically symbols of strength, landing on a structure of three ovals to represent the power of femininity and infinity, as well as replicate the planes of the sand-dunes in the region of Jaisalmer. Since the building was built for a non profit to support girls education, every effort was made toward economic design.
The design team employed local stone craftsmen and traditional architectural details and building techniques were combined with indigenous heritage details so that the Center felt authentic to the region. It was vital to Kellogg to include the community in a building made for the community, while also creating an infrastructure that helped reduce carbon emissions. The exterior is made of Dabri veneer stone and Jodphur stone, both made available in Jaisalmer, to create stone features such as basins, rain and sun canopies, flower medallions, recessed light fixtures and water downspouts that were carved on site with the Dabri stone masonry technique with alternating courses.
A parapet wall is also featured as a reinvention of the Jallis (screen walls) traditionally used to hide women for privacy and also to allow air to flow through the building and keep the sun and sand out. Stone niches, typically used for candles, decorate the entry and all of the furniture throughout the Center was made locally out of rosewood with the classic Charpai woven seating.
Sustainability was of utmost importance to the designers and contractors, who worked entirely with all local craftsmen. The building is sustainably designed with recycled ceramic tile for the roof, lime plaster for the classroom interiors and 95% local materials.
The design team followed the local ancient water harvesting techniques to maximize the rain water and recycle brown water in the school. While the building is oriented to maximize the prevailing wind and keep maximum sunlight out, the team also employed solar panels for the lighting and fans in the building, in addition to passive solar cooling where temperatures peak close to 120 degrees. Both the canopy and jallis keep the heat out and the elliptical shape of the structure also helps bring aspects of sustainability creating a cooling panel of airflow.
The Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School plans to provide education to nearly 400 students from kindergarten to grade ten. Enrollment is only for families living below the poverty line in the Thar Desert region. The school project will not discriminate based on religion, caste or ethnicity.
Facilities include classrooms, a library, a computer center, and a bus facility to transport students from neighboring villages. Students will learn to read, write, and develop traditional artisan skills unique to the region. The school also provides a midday meal program to ensure proper nutrition for the students as well as lessen family financial burden.
THE UNIFORMS: The uniforms were designed by famed Indian fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee. Sabyasachi used Ajrak, a traditional textile from the region that is block-printed with natural dyes using a technique that predates modern history. They were made to reflect the region’s craft heritage to highlight the beauty and power inherent to the crafts, as well as provide a better sense of community, connection and pride for their home.
THE WOMEN’S COOPERATIVE
While girls are receiving an education at the Girls School, mothers and other women in the region will work with local artisans at The Women’s Cooperative. The goal of the cooperative is to enhance gender parity in the region. The women will learn weaving and embroidery techniques from the Jaisalmer Thar Desert regions that are on the verge of being forgotten and lost. These lessons will preserve and enhance traditional techniques while establishing economic independence for the women, their families, and their communities. Additionally, these traditional techniques paired with contemporary designers will produce international quality items for the global marketplace, thereby diversifying and enhancing the local economy.
THE CENTRAL HALL
This central structure will weave together both the girl’s school and women's cooperative enhancing both programs to form the completed GYAAN Center. The Hall will include a library, regional textile museum, art exhibition and performance space and an AV lecture hall.