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Thnouh School is situated South of Takeo town in Cambodia, one hour and a half with a local tuktuk-ride. This is Project Little Dream's 4th school, and their first attempt to design and run their own tailor-made curriculum for Thnouh Village. Thnouh School provides free classes to 250 children aged 5-15, offering a gathering place for the village children, activating the quiet neighbourhood into a learning arena. Over the period of 2 years, more than 80 student volunteers and 20 local craftsmen participated in building the project and was completed in summer 2015.
Thnouh Village is among the least accessible villages in Takeo Province. Close to the Vietnam border, village children needs to cycle for at least 45 minutes to get to the nearest school. Of the 182 families there, only 20% of the children aged between 6 and 17 are attending school. Hence, building this school can be a catalyst for community development.
The Journey of Thnouh School
As students and parents arrive Thnouh School at the main entrance from the East, they enter a double height arrival portal before ascending from the landscape steps. For majority of the students, after their playtime before class, they will take the flight of stairs on the left to the classrooms upstairs to have their beginner and advanced english class. The rest of the younger children will stay on ground floor, taken by their teachers to an elevated concrete plinth to begin their kindergarten session. Towards the end of the school, the 2-storey building halts and opens up a courtyard that anchors the quieter area of the school against a homogenous concrete backdrop. Going through the courtyard, walking around the plumeria tree, the students will arrive at the library wing of the school where the 2-storey building is reduced to the cosy single storey house where they can read on the elevated timber platform.
The wall is one of the main thresholds of the school where the mode of learning is shifted from teacher-student classrooms to student-student exchange area. Not only does the wall further formalises the notion of the house section, the varying apertures offers the library a discreet reading space hidden behind the active playscape next to the courtyard. The reading area is opened for students in most times so they are free to use the reading space in between classes or they can linger after class. Only the library collection is stored behind the timber folding doors in daytime.
In order to achieve a 2-storey house, Thnouh School imitates the approach in the local vernacular architecture where the relatively light-weight timber structure is supported by the lower load-bearing concrete structure. With the varying programmatic order along east-west axis, the structure requires a much more articulated concrete-timber joinery that opens up the lower level as a series of colonnade. As common as it might seem in the developed world, the steel joints were experimented, prototyped and custom-manufactured in a nearby garage - a vital keystone element achieved locally in the marriage of the concrete-timber structure of Thnouh School.
Translucencies - Polycarbonate
While Thnouh School stresses its position to exemplify vernacularism, this project did not simply translate such notion into a display of nostalgia. One important material was brought in from the city after a serious consideration of environmental performance and availability - polycarbonate. The translucent envelope allows the top section of the pitch roof to open up. It is a more durable, economical and effective membrane than glass that insulates and at the same time permits natural daylight to enter the learning environment. If one views the courtyard space from within the classroom, the polycarbonate facades enveloping the courtyard also metaphorically suggest the form of a house glowing, hovering in the centre of the school.