Award-Winning Sustainable School Complex for Women Empowerment to Open in Jaisalmer Desert

While Indians take pride in their culture and religious beliefs, which put the women on a divine pedestal, these divine beings are only suitable in the theories. The country has yet much to learn in the aspects of girl education, women empowerment, and gender equality. For instance, Rajasthan reportedly has one of the country’s worst female literacy rates at 53 percent, which is even lower in its rural population at a mere 32 percent. To remedy that an award-winning, sustainable girl school complex has been designed in the Jaisalmer Desert to empower women.

CITTA, a USA based non-profit organization working to bring health, education, and economic development to women in remote or marginalised communities in the world, has taken over the charge to mend this situation by creating a sustainable Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School and Women’s Cooperative in Jaisalmer Desert to empower women.

Sustainable Girl School Complex in Jaisalmer Desert to Empower Women

Girl School Complex in Jaisalmer Desert | Image: CITTA

Designed by Diana Kellogg Architects and funded by CITTA, the school is the first of a trio that will collectively become Jaisalmer Gyaan Centre. The other buildings will have a women’s cooperative and an exhibition-cum-performance hall, and a textile museum. Once completed, this complex will be a marvel of sustainable architecture.

Jaisalmer’s Rajkumari Raatnavati Girls School began as a vision to tackle the issue of lack of girls’ education in the area owing to a high rate of child marriage even in the modern era and stereotypical gender roles assigned to girls. It is tasked with providing education to girls under the poverty line in the neighboring areas.

The structure of the building is a modern merger of minimalism and sleek design. Constructed with locally cut sandstone, the oval forms of the buildings reflect the curvilinear shapes of the local forts and also the universal symbol of female strength.

The school complex doubles as a women’s cooperative where older women will receive training in various traditional arts and techniques to make items to be sold to acquire economic independence and stability. Moreover, the uniforms for the girl students have been designed by celebrity designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who has used the traditional Ajrakh print, paying tribute to the distinctive ancient craft.

Sustainable Girl School Complex in Jaisalmer Desert to Empower Women

Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School and Women’s Cooperative in Jaisalmer Desert to empower women | Image: Bharath Ramamrutham

Diana Kellogg said that she was excited about this project as women empowerment and the importance of women’s education has been very close to her heart. Besides, she wanted to use the traditional forms of the region in a contemporary way to show that stone craftsmanship can be utilized in many creative ways.

The architect paired with the skilled local artisans who made everything from individual bricks to sculptural water-cooler openings. And the result was a sweeping design from the curved terrace and winding corridors to the wall topped with latticed screens.

Having never worked in desert landscapes or stone artisans, the architect had to face many challenges. She said,

The issues concerning climate and technique were completely different than anything I was familiar with. I knew I had to work with local building techniques and lime plaster as they have been successfully building monuments for centuries in these extreme climates.

Now the team is planning the central building, which will be an Arts Centre integrating dance and performance spaces, along with a library and computer facilities. The second part of the building will typically display the textiles of the region, which the NGO has been buying from the local villagers to help support them during the pandemic.

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