2014 AZ Awards Winner: Best Architecture < 1,000 Square Metres

2014 AZ Awards Winner: Best Architecture < 1,000 Square Metres

As its name suggests, School Floating in the Sky is a dream of a learning space. Envisioned by a student in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand, it was realized by D Environmental Design System Laboratory. 

Travel guide books describe Sangkhlaburi village as a place to go if you want to stay clear of other travellers. It is located in a remote part of Thailand near the Myanmar border, and its most notable landmark is a 400-metre-long wooden bridge. It is quiet in Sangkhlaburi; it is also poverty stricken, and in 2012 Kikuma Watanabe decided to improve the lives of the disproportionate number of children there who have been orphaned because their parents were unable to keep them. To do so, he asked the children to draw their dream school. One drew a flying ship, which became the basis of School Floating in the Sky, a two-storey structure made from earthbags and bamboo.

Watanabe, who is also a professor at the Kochi University of Technology in Japan, has built other structures like this before, and he taught the locals how to assemble the school’s three domed volumes by filling sacks with dirt. An internal grid of steel bars was also added to ensure earthquake resistance.

The rounded volumes create cool, dark interiors, a respite from the region’s intense heat. The top level, made of bamboo, functions as a Buddhist room and learning area. Since its completion, the school has become a multi-­functional space for the entire community, and it has provided young minds with a compelling idea: good design can change things, even when all you have is dirt.

About the firm: D Environmental Design System Laboratory of Nara, founded in 2007, explores the life-changing potential of earthbag design. Projects similar to School Floating in the Sky have been built in Uganda and Jordan. d-ken.info

Project team: Kikuma Watanabe with Erika Izumi, Yusuke Kataoka, Miku Okazaki, Syunya Takahashi and Hidehiro Tamaki

What the jury said: “You can see immediately that this building works perfectly. It has an inspiring connection to place that we can all recognize and relate to.” – Patricia Patkau, juror

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