A water harvesting mixed use structure for Ban Wang Toei School.
Pylonesque combines climatic context and vernacular typologies into a semi-enclosed multi-purpose space for a primary and middle school in the Thai province of Uthai Thani; a region that experiences heavy rain seasons followed by extensive hot dry periods—where water holds cultural and practical significance as it is linked to agriculture, tradition, and festivities.
The project responds architecturally and ecologically as a water harvesting system, which throughout its development it sought to address three primary criteria:
(1) Construction techniques and industrial materials that are standard but executed in an artisanal manner, (2) Flexibility in the program to provide functionality, play, and aesthetics, (3) Climatic sensitivity to the annual monsoons and droughts.
The structure is composed of inverted triangulated pyramid modules that reduce the number of unique cuts per steel member. The pieces were sized so that they could be manually mounted and welded in place, eliminating the need for heavy machinery and reducing the overall cost. Similarly, the finishings utilize industrial materials that are applied with unconventional twists: water-boiled wood panels provide acoustic and thermal insulation from heavy rains and strong heat; aluminum foil insulated zinc roofing add an additional thermal barrier and shed water inside and outside the building; translucent red canvases project outward from the edges to provide shading while allowing for natural lighting.
Programmatic flexibility is achieved through the open plan which is symmetrical on two axis, where the ‘front’ ‘back’ and ‘sides’ can be decided by the location and organization of the modular furniture designed specifically for the project. Robust and light enough for students and staff to reconfigure as needed, different formations allow the space to transform into a canteen, classroom, event space and an after school hang-out spot; which is a critical element for a school hosting children of different ages on varying schedules.
Due to radical shifts from wet to dry periods the building harvests water by funneling it through its two central cores and into basins which are drained by two channels and into a 2000 liter filtration and dual storage tank system where it is reserved for later use. The unused and derelict exercise equipment on the school grounds are also gathered, refurbished, connected to the water tanks via pumps and hoses, and scattered around the garden area; linking the act of exercising to the watering of the garden in what is referred to here as 'gardenasium’.
Finally, intended as a new beacon on school grounds, the colors allow for the building to fit in while standing out, complementing the geometry, materials, artisanal applications and performance that nod to their surroundings of vast and dense green scenery dotted with electrical pylons and water harvesting towers, creating a new kind of ‘industrial vernacular’.
The project was realized as part of an ongoing collaboration between the International Program in Design and Architecture (INDA, Chulalongkorn University) in Bangkok and Mitsubishi Elevator Thailand as part of the annual summer “Design Build for Community” program and is motivated by two objectives. On the one hand it is pedagogically designed to provide students with design decision making and on-site building experience, and is paralleled with a socially driven goal to produce performative, engaging and usable spaces for schools in rural Thai areas.