Learning by the Sea

Taher Hunaid Ghatila
University of Karachi, Department of Visual Studies

Project idea

The reality of climate change confronts all of us. Building a sense of stewardship amongst the young is no longer a choice. Education and spaces for learning can play a key role in the cultivation of young citizens who have a sense of responsibility and affection towards the environment. How can we create spaces that can instill a sense of connectedness and empathy for each other and the natural world?

A natural setting can provide for a wonderful opportunity for learning. Research has shown that outdoor learning can contribute to wellness, improve cognitive and motor skills and help build a sense of community. In Karachi, the sea is a fundamental connection to the natural world. It offers itself as a potent site for retreat and learning. This project is an exploration of rethinking a learning center that can serve as a means for rejuvenation and awareness by the sea.

Site : Tushan Beach, Keamari,
Karachi, Pakistan.
24.845252, 66.800905

Program :
Learning Spaces
A Space for making
A space for cooking & storage
A space for the caretaker

User: Students of age 13 – 18 years.

Project description

The experience of the architectural intervention has its significance in conveying a personal observation at the site whereby, the solid, rock-hard cliff was being morphed by the forces of the sea.
I perceived this as a relationship between the land and the sea in which the land accepts and submits to the forces of the sea, which in return carves beautiful textures on the elevation of the cliff. The intent of this learning center, which is to highlight the unseen beauties of nature that are revealed by the interaction of the sea with the cliff is fulfilled eventually in the learning spaces.

Visitors of the learning center are welcomed by an architectural element – submissive to the topography of the cliff – that directs and leads them towards the crest of the cliff to experience a view of the magnificent ocean. The walls submerge into the gradual rise of the land and provide a space for interactions with friends while experiencing a beautiful sunset with the waves crashing gently, enriching the audial sensations of the site.

The wall presents a hidden pathway inside the cliff for the young curious minds who go beyond the ordinary. There, in a frame, they would experience the holistic characteristic of nature, where the edge of the ocean meets the infinite sky. This pathway leads them to the spaces where they would experience the unseen beauties that are revealed by the interaction of the sea with the cliff, fulfilling the primary intent of the learning center.

Another set of walls invite the users to a naturally shaded space where they could discuss, gather and explore their collections and perhaps build from any recyclable materials collected from the beach.

All spaces, especially the learning spaces, have been designed such that it encourages students / visitors to help each other, and enrich their experiences along with others, nurturing the emotions of responsibility and empathy towards fellow beings and the environment. Just as the architecture respects the site with humility, such a design is also intended to evoke a sense of humility, modesty and spirituality, through individual and collective experiences.

Taking inspiration from the idea conveyed in the article " Peter Zumthor : Seven Personal Observations on Presence In Architecture" ; that says “Let’s set out to be typical,” He told his students, and added : “It proved the fact that when you make something really typical, it becomes special”; the architecture aims to be simple.

The built form is planned on the basis of a numerical system of 8, comprising of its multiples and factors. 8 becomes the number of choice for it symbolizes infinity and the karmic balance, both of which are perceived characteristics of the universe. This becomes a humble attempt to have the architecture in a relationship with nature at levels both physical and cosmic.

Technical information

The walls of the learning center are made from reinforced concrete for structural stability, layered with brick and plastered with terracotta clay to keep a cold feel. Cantilevered Platforms in the learning spaces have been built using metal girders that support the brick inlay covered with terracotta plaster. The only furniture incorporated under the trees in the "making space" has been made from salvaged wood. The material and textural quality of the carvings in the cliff have been retained to observe its true nature.

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