A classroom is a place for productive learning.
We envision a “classroom” at Bak Touk High School in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that fills a gap in a 10,000 student campus with no library or study spaces and few resources available for its students. Conventional classrooms, with one teacher instructing up to 65 students over a 4-hour school day, are ubiquitous here. We designed for a “classroom” that is calmer, quieter, and cooler; a refuge for students to read, to study, to sit, and to learn when not in the typical classroom.
The administration at Bak Touk High School has provided us with a 9m x 9m site between two existing classroom buildings to construct a three story building with an 8000-book library, abundant spaces to study, and working space for a college counselor to assist students in applying to American Universities. This program was developed with the school during an extensive process that began two years ago with the help of one of the members of this entry team, a former student at Bak Touk High School.
The potential for this building to change students’ lives is humbling: this is a building for 10,000 students! It will be a unique resource for the campus, introducing a completely new type of learning environment. The building will provide students with a full day’s access to education instead of the four hours they currently have.
The design is informed by contemporary and vernacular Khmer principles, building techniques, and materials. The result is an open-air three-story concrete building enclosed by a facade of bamboo screens that protect the interior from Cambodia’s intense climate.
The ground floor is an extension of the exterior social space in front of the site and adjacent buildings, connecting back to a reading courtyard at the rear that is shaded for most of the day. The upper floors are for quieter studying, working space, and book stacks.
Books are in the center of the building, protected from the sun and rain.
Seating is on the perimeter, in the light, with views to the campus.
The façade is expressive of a membrane between the busy outside and calm inside. It is a thick double-layered membrane that addresses the harsh climate – hot, intense sun coupled with intermittent torrential downpours. Fins constructed from modular bamboo screens provide primary sun protection from east and west exposure. A secondary layer of operable bamboo shutters protect from intense morning and evening sun. In addition to its aesthetic qualities, bamboo was chosen because it is a renewable resource, is harvested legally in Cambodia, and is inexpensive.