Designed by Mumbai-based architectural design firm, Studio NM, Sahyog- a new institution in the city of Palanpur devoted to vocational and educational training of divyang (differently abled) is no less than a quaint ‘Living Library’.
Recently inaugurated in the presence of a large number of diamantaires from different corners of the globe, Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is among the supporters of a new school building for children with special needs.
Mumbai-based and Columbia University-trained architect Nishant Mehta of Studio NM steered the project to fulfil the varied needs of differently abled students.
Located in the Indian city of Palanpur, the building houses Mamtamandir run by the Vidyamandir Trust, an institution that provides free education to children with four different types of disabilities—the visually impaired, physically handicapped, hearing impaired and mentally challenged—under one roof.
While the new building, named “A Development Space for Divyangs, an Indo-US partnership,” was made possible with a generous grant from the GIA, the institute itself has been nurtured and built by donations from different diamond industry families, allowing it grow from its humble beginnings in the early 1960s.
Ashish K. Mehta, managing trustee of Vidyamandir Trust, said the idea for Mamtamandir took shape after his father, Kantilal “Kanubhai” Chhotalal, who set up the trust in 1948, attended a lecture in the 1960s given by Padmashri Dr. Rajendra Vyas.
The most valuable inputs for the design actually came from the practical insights provided by experienced teachers and trustees. Noting that the building has no no barriers and goes beyond standard regulations, Nishant highlighted some of the special features that Studio NM incorporated.
The use of brick jaalis (meshes) are inspired from traditional buildings in Palanpur, lofty perforation allows hot air to be expelled from the corridor and cooler air to enter the lower level.
Ceiling heights modulated with double-height spaces and triple-height corridors with bridges, to both achieve visual connectivity through the school and control the echo.
Skylights to create a choreography of light, allowing visually impaired students with photosensitive skin to orient themselves;Openings oriented towards the north for the learning spaces, allowing soft, natural north light to permeate and helping to keep the space cool.
Use of the floors as tools for navigation, such as rough and polished Kota stone floors along with tactile flooring used in corridors and classrooms respectively, so the change of texture helps visually impaired students differentiate the spaces.
The workshop areas at the ground floor is where students learn everyday skills, and the first two floors contain classrooms, and training centres for the teachers. Ceilings are of double-height with triple-height corridors, along with bridges, to achieve visual connectivity. This stave off reverbation for the benefits hearing-impaired students—one of the many thoughtful details one will find spread across the campus.
Fragrant flowering plants near the entrance activate the olfactory senses and enable identification of entrances by visually impaired students; all chosen plants had rounded leaves to avoid any injuries.
A translation of Braille script in Gujarati is developed specially for signage in the school along with artworks commissioned from local artists.
It is one of the first institutions in India to implement the vision of integrated education, under which differently abled students joined mainstream institutions whenever possible, enriching the learning experience for all participants.
Today, the trust runs more than 20 different projects under Mamtamandir, all related to vocational and skill training. The complex also includes a newly opened college that grants master’s degrees in special education.