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Gurugram, a city located just west of New Delhi in the Indian state of Haryana, sees its summers lasting from April to October. With the heat indices easily breaking 40 degrees Celsius for months on end, providing shelter from the sweltering heat is paramount in residential design. Tasked with designing the girl’s dormitory at Gurugram’s St Andrews Institute of Management and Technology, Delhi-based architecture firm Zero Energy Design (ZED) Lab harnessed local materials to create an elegant, naturally ventilated dormitory that nourishes social life.

Modelled after the school’s nearby dormitory for boys, which was designed by the same firm, the girl’s residence complements its neighbour — but the two buildings are sisters, not twins. Known locally as the “girl’s hostel,” the dormitory measures over 2,300 square metres and houses 130 students. Utilizing humble materials, such as red brick and pigmented concrete blocks, ZED Lab conceived a simple but extremely energy-efficient structure.

The dormitory’s distinctive structural feature is its exoskeleton. The double skin serves a double purpose: to shield the building and its inhabitants from the sun, and to provide ample space for socializing outside.

The dual facade creates a semi-permeable layer that helps in regulating the temperature between the exterior and interior environments by providing shade and controlling airflow. Riffing off traditional local architecture — which typically features courtyards to draw warm air out and shelter the home from hot wind — ZED Lab’s design ensures a comfortable environment while reducing the need for costly and carbon-intensive cooling.

Brick jaali, or perforated brick, makes up the bulk of the facade, with each brick rotated at a precise angle parametrically engineered to block solar radiation. The visually striking partition evokes a living, breathing organ, hinting at the lively coming and goings within. The angled facade draws a sweeping, rippling motif, a nod to the hot summer winds (loo) that tend to blow in the region. Brought to life through an extensive scaffolding and casting process, it spans three floors to shelter the building’s living quarters.

For all its openness and flow, the building also provides ample privacy, an important feature of any compact, high-density housing. Establishing a congenial yet intimate atmosphere was critical to ZED Lab’s vision: the brick and concrete screen also encloses the dormitory, creating a comforting cocooning feeling.

On the ground floor, the internal court is thoughtfully landscaped with various local plants and Champa trees, whose large canopies create shaded seating, while a balcony adjacent to each room provides each inhabitant with a more private open-air refuge.

The exoskeleton also provides a space for the day-to-day functions of the bustling university residence. Usually a makeshift hangout, the staircase can be repurposed into a bona fide venue for gatherings and social events with the addition of integrated benches. The imposing stairwell, normally a liminal space, thus becomes the heart of the community.

In India, A Girl’s Dormitory Adjusts to its Environment

Zero Energy Design Lab brings sociable and sustainable design to an all-girls’ university residence.

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