The state of Andhra Pradesh encompasses one of the hottest — and driest — regions of India. Beyond the coast, blistering temperatures and a sun-baked landscape shape a frequently harsh local climate. Yet, local architecture isn’t always well-adapted to the conditions. In the rural village of Talaricheruvu, for example, the aging local school offered little respite from the intense afternoon sun, with shade provided only by a few trees along the compound’s wall. For Bangalore-based architecture and design studio CollectiveProject, a renovation of the facility presented an opportunity to create more comfortable and welcoming indoor-outdoor environments — as well as a subtle local landmark.

A Deep Retrofit Transforms a Rural School in Southern India

PHOTO: Vivek Eadara

Funded by the Penna Foundation — the non-profit arm of a privately owned cement company — the Talaricheruvu Rural School has served the children of the cement factory’s workers for 15 years. Yet, as the facilities and finishes gradually degraded with age, the design’s shortcomings became more obvious. In addition to the lack of shaded outdoor spaces for play and circulation, the school’s 16 oversized classrooms were seldom fully utilized, while support spaces — including a library doubling as a faculty room — were too limited, while the bathroom facilities were inconveniently local far from the main building.

A Deep Retrofit Transforms a Rural School in Southern India

PHOTO: Vivek Eadara

Situated on the edge of a barren two-acre property, the L-shaped 1,850-square-metre main building was structurally sound but in a state of relative disrepair. Tasked with renovating the campus and integrating new programs while ensuring minimal disruption to the children’s education, CollectiveProject oversaw a gradual transformation over the course of six years. The architects’ approach centred on adapting and augmenting the existing structure with subtle interventions, helping the building feel more intimate rather than institutional. “We retained the L-shaped structure while introducing porous masonry screens (jalis) and strategically placed windows in a staggered rhythm to invite natural light and ventilation into the classroom interiors,” says CollectiveProject co-founder Eliza Higgnis. “These strategies also created a fluent dialogue between the interiors and green pockets.”

A Deep Retrofit Transforms a Rural School in Southern India

PHOTO: Benjamin Hosking

The facade received a facelift with a light cement wash sourced from a neighbouring factory. Subtle additions of pale pinks, greens, and blues on the jalis, doors, and window frames softened the building’s boxy presence. The gentle hues complement the earthy tones of the arid context and also imbue the corridors with a sense of lightness and play. Previously oversized and poorly lit, the architects reconfigured the building’s internal layout from 16 classrooms to 24, while also inserting two faculty lounges, three labs, and two multi-purpose libraries. Spread across two floors, the new classrooms are smaller, brighter, and airier, fostering a calm and focused learning environment. Each classroom is distinguished by pastel-coloured perforations, contributing to a dynamic sensory experience as children traverse the corridors, encountering shifting patterns of light and shadow throughout the day. 

A Deep Retrofit Transforms a Rural School in Southern India

PHOTO: Benjamin Hosking

A bamboo canopy extends from the main building, providing shade to the much smaller surrounding “pavilions” that house ancillary programs. The preschool, kindergarten, and art room were situated in front of the main building. Portals that cut through either axis led to the kitchen, cafeteria and bathrooms behind the main building. Beneath the expansive canopy, these pavilions are interspersed amidst a network of multi-purpose landscaped pockets that come alive with the children’s energy.  

A Deep Retrofit Transforms a Rural School in Southern India

PHOTO: Vivek Eadara

The architects adopted a collaborative, community-focused approach to construction. Guided by the cement factory’s head engineers, local labour from neighbouring villages participated in constructing the showpiece canopy. Divided into repeating triangular forms, the canopy is crafted from 15,000 locally sourced bamboo poles, which were seasoned on-site and are supported by a lightweight metal structure. Strategic roof pockets remain open, allowing shoots of freshly planted greenery and trees to reach from the ground floor to the corridors on the second floor. Incorporating bamboo and indigenous vegetation not only softens the arid landscape but also mitigates heat gain, creating comfortable outdoor temperatures. 

A Deep Retrofit Transforms a Rural School in Southern India

PHOTO: Vivek Eadara

Although the buildings are programmatically separate, the architects have fostered a sense of cohesion within the campus. Kadappa black limestone from a small village nearby was used as the flooring across the campus. A unified palette of cement plaster, accented by pastel-toned perforations, establishes a clear visual language across the site. “The facade was finished with a simple cement plaster, trowel finished and sanded till smooth,” says CollectiveProject co-founder Cyrus Patell. 

A Deep Retrofit Transforms a Rural School in Southern India

PHOTO: Benjamin Hosking

Prioritizing local materials and placemaking in equal measure, CollectiveProject has reinvigorated the campus into a light-filled, energetic environment that empowers students and educators and serves as a catalyst for inspiring future school retrofits across the region.

Lead image by Benjamin Hosking.

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