Playpen: A school building designed for holistic learning

October 18, 2022

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Playpen school’s building, designed with spacious playing areas and open learning spaces, utilises modern architectural techniques to create a learning facility that nurtures intuitive knowledge

Located in the capital’s Bashundhara Residential Area, Playpen school’s premises will stick out as unique to anyone who will stumble upon the site.

Built over a two year period between 2016-18, the vertical and narrow 10-storey building, with protruding structures giving it a three-dimensional look, is the result of a very purposeful vision by the school authorities and clever engineering by architect Ehsan Khan and team.

The parts sticking out of the eastern side, that gives the building its 3D look, are 25 by 25 feet classrooms. And the hollow spaces were designed to be used as informal learning areas.

The school building has a number of designated areas for activity and play. These include the blackboard-floor space where kids can draw on the floor and play chess on a life size chess board. 

Everything was designed with a focus on facilitating mental and physical development of the students. The open learning spaces and play areas are not at the expense of a field, however.  

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

There is a playground that is made of ground and grass and not cement – something that has unfortunately become a rarity in the overpopulated Dhaka city. But thanks to the high-rise design, there was space left to accommodate even more like a basketball court.  

Engineering challenges and solutions

It was a challenge to squeeze in so much within the four bigha land on which the school compound sits. When the renowned architect Ehsan Khan was first given the idea for a new school premises for Playpen he was interested immediately, particularly given his kids studied at this school’s Banani campus.

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Although the limited space was initially a concern, particularly given the private school’s nearly two thousand students, Ehsan Khan and his team invented solutions around it. 

Not wanting to give up the playground resulted in the tall, narrow and compact shape of the building, thanks to which a linear playfield could be accommodated on the eastern side of the plot. 

The floors from the second to fifth are visually connected with continuous diagonal stairs which might make it difficult to play hide and seek although the unbarred spaces make it possible for the children to enjoy the rain and weather.

Everyone has memories attached to their own school, more particularly about a particular section. 

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

For Playpen, the diagonal stairs that connect the whole school, even visually, are sure to etch into the minds of the students and form fond memories.

Classes in outdoors atmosphere

Courtyards adjacent to corridors create the sense of an open space. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

The linear street-like corridor that connects the classrooms, is punctuated by breakout spaces, which are either courtyards or informal learning spaces. These spaces are meant for group gatherings or solo activities like reading or painting.

A teacher can hold classes in an outdoor atmosphere as well. The double-height void spaces project the building as lower than it actually is. 

They also ensure airflow and light to these breakout spaces. The solid walls and double/triple-height void spaces keep the corridors aerated, and the courtyards adjacent to them create the sense of an open space. The stairs are placed right beside the corridors. 

The western side has solid walls to block the harsh sunlight and indirect windows for ventilation.

“As this building is facing towards west, it acts like a wall with perforation in different levels, protect the classrooms from the west heat, as well as creating a dramatic environment by welcoming the west light through the perforations to the double and triple height collaborative spaces.” said Bhuiyan A R M Tareque, project architect of the school. 

Thanks to the high-rise design, there was space left to accommodate a separate basketball court. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Informal learning spaces

To promote learning from nature and being close to nature, there are mock forest-like spaces, featuring different plants with a waterbody. The spaces are also meant to allow children to interact with nature, by looking at the butterflies or birds that the environment invites.

The informal learning spaces are also meant to allow students to interact with nature by looking at the butterflies or birds that the environment invites. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Sorabon Tohura, the school’s principal said, “Every school has its individual identity. Playpen school has a reputation for its strong academic curriculum. Now we are emphasising on extracurricular activities with this new building design.”

The top floor with the basketball court is also utilised for table tennis and baking and drama classes. The top floor, with a steel structure roof as a shed, lets ample daylight in and no electric lighting is needed.

Class 10 student Tahsan Masud says this is his most favourite part of the school. “I am not a sports enthusiast. This auditorium made me more interested in playing sports. I learned to play badminton here, and now I am learning table tennis. It is a big part of my school life,” he said.

Constructed with economic bricks, concrete and glass, which makes the establishment cost-effective and sustainable in the long run, it took two years to complete the building.

An extension of the building to the south is still under construction, however, which will make room for a new playground, a canteen and classrooms.

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