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Hilltop School
Hyderabad, India
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Location:
Hyderabad, India
Category:
education
Phase:
in use
Updated:
2 January 2023
Bright Horizon Academy is a charity school for children from disadvantaged backgrounds in the historic Golconda Fort. It is run by an educational trust and was built incrementally on a tight budget, on the side of a cliff. DesignAware were appointed as architects when funds were raised to construct the school which had been housed in a makeshift warehouse. The participatory design process engaged teachers, students and execution team. 
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Introduction
The charity school had been functioning out of a makeshift warehouse for years and raised funds for a building. The site is located on a cliffside, in the unplanned, low-income settlement inside the Golconda Fort. The project was riddled with challenges: a tight budget, a highly contoured site, a dense urban context, and Heritage Zone regulations. The school was founded to uplift the local community and empower future generations. We wanted to design bright and fun spaces, to encourage learning and growth. We also aimed to preserve the openness of the playground by not building over it, which is a rare green lung space in the low-rise, high-density, unplanned neighborhood. 
Articulating the peculiar topography of the site and its surrounds posed a major challenge due to proximity to heritage structures and tight urban context, resulting in a design that had to evolve and adapt to the terrain. Due to the tight budget, the school was built incrementally, as funds were raised. But due to pressing need for space, the spaces were occupied during construction. This allowed us to observe the use of different spaces, the impact on users and their response in real time, and adapt the design on the basis of this user experience data. 
We see students adapt spaces and use them in unintended ways and understand the importance of leaving some parts of the design incomplete. The school has now transformed into a magnet for the community.
Impact
This project has a bigger impact than just a school building. The outer walls of the fort house an unplanned settlement of small courtyard houses with shared walls, within the Heritage Zone. In the neighborhood children do not have access to affordable education and drop out of school to help their parents earn a living. This school was established to provide affordable education to the children and their parents and elders, built on private funds and charitable donations. The first structure over old ruins was a mosque, with spaces for men and women. A large warehouse had partitions to create makeshift classrooms. Considerable work has been in convincing families and communities to send their children to school. 
Early on, the school was planned to cause minimal intervention and damage to the existing terrain, and was designed to be a low-maintenance building. Extension of the school is planned with library and a computer lab. As the current batch of students graduates to higher classes, new spaces are being created. The project was published in the 2021 RIBA Rethink Design Guide: Architecture for a Post-pandemic World.
The school has now transformed into a community hub, doubling as a training center for the teachers, an information and awareness center for the community and a makeshift clinic for vaccinations or blood drives on certain weekends and during holidays.
The potential of the school is immense in educating the children, their families and the entire community. 
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Core team
Afia Rasheed is the Chairperson of Mohammadi Educational Trust, the charitable trust that runs Bright Horizon Academy. Trained as an engineer, she is now a philanthropist. It was her mother who founded Bright Horizon Academy.

Takbir Fatima is the Lead Architect and Director of DesignAware. She has an MArch from the Architectural Association and has been teaching and practicing for the last 13 years, with a special focus on socially-relevant projects. She was asked to serve as a board member and has worked on designing a curriculum and running the crowdfunding campaign, #MakeProgressPossible to raise funds for the school.

Abeer Fatima is Lead Interior Designer at DesignAware. She is closely involved with the school and her aim is to make spaces universally accessible.

From the beginning, a participatory approach was adopted, involving teachers, students, parents and community members, to inculcate a shared pride and ownership. The project keeps adapting to needs of the children and responding to context and culture.

The ensemble team working on the project was not highly-skilled and consultants devoted their time on a pro bono basis. At times, design was delegated to workers providing physical prototypes, verbal guidelines, and sketching directly on the rock in lieu of detailed working drawings. A design-construction-use feedback loop was created to run the process, resulting in a robust built form that was not authored singularly by the architects, but collectively with the students, teachers, masons, carpenters, and fabricators: a participatory, multi-author design process.
Chairperson, teachers and students

image: public domain
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Image gallery
Site and terrain

image: Sasank IVS | © all rights reserved
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Cliffside

image: Takbir Fatima | © all rights reserved
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Outdoor classes during construction

image: Takbir Fatima | © all rights reserved
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Outdoor classes during construction

image: Takbir Fatima | © all rights reserved
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Classes under trees during construction

image: Takbir Fatima | © all rights reserved
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The school situates itself in the context of the Golconda Fort

image: Ashwin KV | © all rights reserved
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Lower entrance

image: Ujjwal Sannala and Akhila Rao | © all rights reserved
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Rocks form walls of classroom

image: unknown | © all rights reserved
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Color-coded classrooms

image: Ujjwal Sannala and Akhila Rao | © all rights reserved
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Red staircase

image: Ujjwal Sannala and Akhila Rao | © all rights reserved
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Atrium for natural ventilation

image: Ujjwal Sannala and Akhila Rao | © all rights reserved
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Atrium and staircase

image: Takbir Fatima | © all rights reserved
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Students in class

image: public domain
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Skylight

image: Aisha KT | © all rights reserved
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Upper Ground Level

image: Takbir Fatima and Abeer Fatima | © all rights reserved
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Skylight during construction

image: Ujjwal Sannala and Akhila Rao | © all rights reserved
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Informal hangout spaces

image: Ujjwal Sannala and Akhila Rao | © all rights reserved
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Assembly

image: Ujjwal Sannala and Akhila Rao | © all rights reserved
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Drone imagery

image: Ashwin KV | © all rights reserved
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Top view

image: Ashwin KV | © all rights reserved
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Technical drawings
Lower Ground Level

image: public domain
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Middle Ground Level

image: public domain
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Upper Ground Level

image: public domain
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Section

image: public domain
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Help bring our project to life!

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Help bring our project to life!
Where are we now
The school building was constructed incrementally over a period of six years, as funds were raised, and is still a work in progress. Due to the pressing need for a building, it was occupied during construction, and the basic requirements were completed first. Ancillary spaces such as the library, computer lab, science lab and sports facilities still remain, and funds are required for completion. The building and its site have plenty of space, from which these facilities can be carved out. A team of architects, designers, structural consultants, builders and fabricators is available and ready to begin design and construction as soon as funds are available.
An indication of our team’s capacity:
30% funding already raised
100% expertise already found
100% materials / equipment already found
100% builders already found
Finance: € 42,500
The kindergarten block was designed in situ by the teachers themselves, and crucial supporting facilities such as the library, computer and science labs and sports areas are missing. The school has already become known for a high quality of education, but this remains incomplete without art, sports and other activities. The funding raised will be used to provide these supporting experiences, and will also be able to augment the existing points that qualify the building as a Silver-certified Green Building by the Indian Green Building Council. The aim is to improve the rating to a Gold or Platinum by adopting further sustainable practices and materials.
  • Building maintenance and repair
3,000
  • Library block
25,000
  • Science lab completion
3,000
  • Kindergarten block completion
2,500
  • Computer lab equipment
5,000
  • Science lab equiptment
500
  • Sports equipment
3,500
Skills: Planning & Management, Technique, Financial advice, PR & Marketing
Any guidance on management and running of the school, as well as how to establish partnerships with NGOs and other organizations working in the educational space, through which an exchage of information and volunteers can happen. A sharing of knowledge on how to run a charity school and how to equip students from disadvantaged backgrounds to uplift their communities would be most welcome.
Stuff: Equipment & tools
To build a computer lab from scratch in the space allocated, a starting donation of 20 computers and peripherals are required. For the science lab, we require basic lab equipment. 
Help bring our project to life!
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