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A Place to Learn

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

An experiment for affordable learning. - Aakash Jagad

”The greenest building is one that already exists” as the (not very) old adage goes. In recent years, adaptive reuse has evolved as a new trend in contemporary architecture, especially in densely packed cities, where finding an open plot to build a gargantuan building to suit your needs is best left to divinity. Cities continue to grow, the population keeps on increasing, but after a point, land stops being a luxury, falling into the dark realm of scarcity. Adaptive reuse is a viable solution in these cases, especially for functions other than residence(where redevelopment is a major player), while preserving the existing fabric and identity of the city. We already have such examples in our country, like the historic mills in Mumbai. The Phoenix Mills Lot in Lower Parel, Mumbai is now an opulent shopping mall, going by Highstreet Phoenix (adaptive reuse of the name too, I see) whereas Kamala Mills Compound in its vicinity has turned into a hot destination for affluent Mumbaikars’ splendorous need to dine and party.

Another riveting example would be the Alembic Factory in Vadodara, Gujarat, which has gone through various alterations, owing to change in operations, from manufacturing Penicillin to alcohol, settling on its current function of the museum, art studios, display and exhibition space. Collage House in Mumbai, Bamboo House in Hyderabad and Soro Village Pub in Goa, are other successful experiments in adaptive reuse.

In the midst of all this adaptive reuse hullabaloo, we seem to be missing out on one significant aspect of human life- "Education". Population growth puts a strain on education too, with people from every economic and cultural background striving for a good school to cater to the need for a decent education for their children or themselves. People high up the economic ladder have no issues with procuring good education because there are a number of good private international schools they can choose from. Unfortunately for the middle class and deprived lot, that is not the case. There is an urgent need for schools which give modern education without putting a hole in the pocket, especially in cities where the population boom mainly consists of people who can’t afford expensive international schools/colleges. An argument can be put forward that building a school requires money for land, construction, approval and clearing of drawings according to bylaws (this costs a lot!!!), maintenance, etc. Adaptive reuse is one of the solutions to tackle this problem as a lot of the costs involved in building a new school are bypassed, by using an old, non-functioning building like the mills in Mumbai, factories in Vadodara and other historically industrial cities. They provide ample space, mobility and basic functions. With the right kind of intervention, these relics could turn into a fully operational educational institute.

AIM Academy in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, USA is one such case study, which we will explore in this article.

A paper mill of yore (18th century, precisely), the AIM Academy building has undergone a few changes, a most significant one being an office space for Blackney Hayes Architecture, the firm that would eventually take up the challenge of adaptive reuse for AIM. As a part of the project, the former paper mill/office was designed and renovated into a K-12 school, with an arts-based, college preparatory curriculum for students with learning differences.

The huge spaces available made it possible for the architects to design non-traditional classrooms focused on collaborative learning, stressing on both theoretical and practical aspects of subjects inside the classroom itself.

Similar treatment has been given to the global resource centre, making it a one-stop space for all self-study and research requirements a student might need- the library, computer lab, discussion space, etc. In addition to these, there is an arts/music wing aimed at honing the creative skills of students and a cafeteria.

Ample daylight and bright colours seem to be the flagship feature of this project as highlighted in the capacious corridors, encouraging activity, liveliness and interaction.

The play of natural light with exposed brick acting as a background to the greens, yellows and oranges, provides a historic yet modern, and stimulating atmosphere to learn and study, integrating the structure’s past with its present seamlessly. Exposed services add to the rustic feel of the design, a trend certainly overused today in cafes and bars, but in 2012 when this renovation was done, it was avant-garde.

All of this has been achieved using repurposed furniture, recycled and reused materials as much as possible. Don’t believe me, well then, here’s a description by the Architects themselves, “The interior design includes carpet with 65% recycled content, reused light fixtures and abundant natural light.” I hope this has removed any qualms. BD+C writes, “Some of the furniture was repurposed, with a portion coming from a pharmaceutical company that had recently closed and some from the existing school.” Green, affordable and aesthetic, without compromising on the basic functioning of the school, what more do we want?

School Bridge in Fujian, China and Topeka Center for Advanced Learning and Careers in Kansas, USA are some of the many examples of adaptive reuse of old buildings for educational purposes.

Taking inspiration from these projects and applying similar principles and methodologies in Indian cities and towns, could go a long way in providing affordable education to the masses, without compromising on the quality of learning.

A place to learn and receive formal education shouldn’t be a luxury available to only a few percents of the economic spectrum, but an opportunity for everyone, in this day and age, and for the ensuing future.

Works Cited and image courtesy:

“AIM Academy.” Portfolio :: Blackney Hayes Architects,

“Adaptive Reuse Project Brings School into Historic Paper Mill.” Building Design Construction, 26 Feb. 2014,

Admin. “A Case for Reusing Old School Buildings.” White-Website-Header,

Mena, Florencia. “Collage House / S PS Architects.” ArchDaily, ArchDaily, 24 Apr. 2016,

“Reuse the Idea of Reuse - Adaptive Reuse Architecture and Reusing Building Materials.” Cindrebay Blog, 2 Apr. 2020,

Saieh, Nico. “School Bridge / Li Xiaodong Atelier.” ArchDaily, ArchDaily, 5 Jan. 2010,

Tapia, Daniel. “Alembic Industrial Heritage and Re-Development / Karan Grover and Associates.” ArchDaily, ArchDaily, 29 Aug. 2019,

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