What should a school look like? We all know the intuitive answer to that question is that the design of a school must encourage inquiry, learning, and imagination. But how such a thought can be translated into practical design is pretty difficult to understand. In the 60s, when educational institutions around the country looked either socialistic and practical, if they were new, or reverential, if they were old, two people in Kerala set out to do something entirely different. Mrs. Mary Roy, an educationist based in Kottayam, the central Kerala district, had set up a school called Corpus Christi, in the 50s. As her little school grew and she needed a larger place, she approached architect Laurie Baker—an Englishman who became an Indian citizen and lived in Kerala—for its design. Baker took on the project in the late ‘60s with the understanding that Mrs. Roy would admit his daughter as a student at the school. It was an offer Mrs. Roy couldn’t refuse.
When he began the project, the school was based on the side of a hill and was under 10 acres. The design Baker came up with completely eschewed then prevailing ideas about institutional design. Making the best of the craggy site and its unusual elevations, he created a series of brick-finished buildings, interconnected by pathways running between and around the trees of the site. Walking through the school when it is filled with kids, the space has a wonderful botanical garden-like atmosphere. And when it is empty, the hilltop is spiritual, the buildings standing nobly on either side, still beautiful after all these years. Mrs. Sneha Zachariah, the former Vice Principal of the school, which is now called Pallikoodam, says Baker never intended for the buildings to survive beyond 30 years. But the school administration has always valued the design of the school, ensured it is well-maintained and that newer buildings follow the format of the original designs. And so, Baker’s designs have survived more than fifty monsoons, and still works beautifully.
The school is a private institution and doesn’t usually allow coverage of its campus. This is perhaps the first time the story of the design of the school has been told, and by one of the few people who participated in the design process: Mrs. Sneha Zachariah, who was the first teacher to join Mrs. Roy’s school, and continues to play a role in the institution’s daily life. Mrs. Roy lives within the school campus. Baker passed away in 2007.