SISB School Thonburi
Infinite learning area with the common space as the school’s heart

“School” to many children is unfavourable because they do not want to sit in dull classrooms all day long, but not for the students at SISB School Thonburi, a Singaporean international school in Thonburi, because they have such a chance to learn and play in the curriculum different from ones used in Thai schools.  Plus, the interior design of the secondary building, phase 2, has been created by an architect from Plan Architect.  The design contains a quaint outlook and generously plenty of common space, which allows over 700 children to play freely inside this learning area. 

“We try to create a special area for the children because we want them to come in and enjoy the space, which can stimulate them to do activities or attract them here.”  the architect recalls. 

Play and learn in the central Common Area

Several years ago, when there was no COVID-19 outbreak, the architect’s main task was to design the phase 2 building to tackle the owner’s concern of pm 2.5 and the pain point of having encountered several rainy weather conditions in Thailand, which prevent the children from using the outdoor area at full capacity.  Therefore, the school’s new design needs to focus on making the common area usable even on days with rain or pm 2.5. 

From the challenge, the architect proposed both Active and Passive models for dealing with pm 2.5.  These include combining appropriate practical space with the application of mechanical-specific equipment.  This started by designing the space of the main common area to be a Semi-indoor-outdoor area that extends along the front of both sides of the building, which are linked to each other, thoroughly. 

The area at the front atrium is designed to be an air-conditioned atrium with voids from the windows, which allow the natural wind to circulate.  There are also ventilation grilles, including a large fan, which enables the air to circulate practically.  On days with clear air, we can open all the windows to let the natural air ventilate thoroughly.  But on the days with pm2.5, we can close the windows and turn on the fan to take in the air from the outside through the filter.  The fan thus brings in the purified air to the usable area before releasing some part of the air outside the building through the ventilation grille installed at the bottom edge of the building. 

The first-floor plan
The second-floor plan
The third-floor plan

According to the building plan, we can see that the building is divided into several sections to create air vents that allow the natural air to circulate.  The rear plane of the building also contains large voids in some parts to let the natural wind flow through the common area atrium.  This not only creates such a pleasant ambience for children but also helps save energy for the large building by reducing the necessity to turn on air conditioners all day long. 

Cascaded building: linking and increasing the activity area

Regarding the location on the land, this Phase 2 building is at the innermost with the original building in the front. Another significant design challenge is to create linkage and easy access for children’s learning.  However, constructing the design and the layout is not easy due to some limitations imposed by the City Planning Law and Regulations, which states that constructing buildings higher than 12 meters is not allowed.  This building must, therefore, contain 3 storeys and simple functioning layouts.  The right end of the building serves as the gymnasium and the left one is the library, canteen, and auditorium.  The middle accommodates the classroom area throughout the building’s length, which can be linked to other activity areas easily and is convenient for conducting classes. 

Despite its simple function, the building’s form contains an outstanding appearance with the cascading building mass.  The left end of the building leans towards the aisle, merged with the previous building beside it to allow the flow and the linkage of different spaces of the school, creating the same story.  Furthermore, the steps outside also link the green area with the roof area at the top, allowing many activities to be done around the building. 

The building form, characterized by the twisted end, helps differentiate the functional characteristics of the long, continuous common area atrium.  The internal area under the steps of the building’s left half is designed as the light channel that takes in the indirect light from the outside to the common area inside through different opening channels.  The building form gradually twists and changes until it reaches the right half which then turns into a linear form, which, despite being a high atrium, has a minimal design containing both opening channels and enclosed parts, to prevent excessive heat that can enter the classrooms at certain times.

For the internal area, a cascading characteristic of the building exterior is still applied as the main concept, which is for the main part that spread to other central functions like a library, an auditorium, or even the exterior landscape design, which the architect still uses the curved lines or similar shapes to create a continuously flowing graphic that goes through the external area, the semi-external-internal common area, and the building’s internal area. 

The gymnasium is a three-stories building with a void intended to provide indirect light into the area, which can hedge the ball as well.
The library is also designed under the concept of cascading steps which can link to other spaces so that children can participate in various kinds of activities in the multilevel area.
The auditorium act as a Multipurpose Space, which, notwithstanding its modest size, is designed to be flexible by using an entirely foldable amphitheatre, allowing the user to comfortably tailor the area to their usage. The lighting is also designed to have changeable light colour according to the temperature.
The central aisle atrium is wider than usual because it can be served as the common area, which allows children to sit, play, or do group activities together, as well.

Safe, low maintenance, and durable

As a school, the safety of children is therefore the main concern.  Accordingly, the material or detail involved in designing a certain area must prioritize safety.  For example, the safety railing design incorporates high steel trellis to prevent accidents that may arise from children’s climbing.  

The front atrium area adjacent to the external zone may involve heavy use.  As a result, the materials that need low maintenance and are easy-to-clean, such as ceramic tiles, are used.  However, for the steps inside the building which need a bit warmer vibe, the architect goes for wooden pattern rubber tiles, which are cost-effective and require low maintenance.  The same logic is applied to the artificial grass used on the steps outside the building, which can reduce the considerable amount of time, effort, and complexity involved in maintenance.

Material selection also hinges on the appropriateness of a certain function. The art classroom, for instance, is equipped with a varnished floor to make cleaning easy.

“We consider that children are users that can utilize the area in a more multifaceted way because adults usually concerned social manner, so they have more limitations.  Children, vice versa, often go more extreme than we do when they wish to play or do anything.  This makes them enjoy the area we have designed for them in a more special way.  Recently, the school reports that some children were going up on the deck to fly kites because there was a nice cool breeze.  We are so surprised that they can create various ways of area usage that we cannot imagine.

Education style has some tendencies to face changes.  In the old days, when we talk about schools, we think about just only academic aspects, but, later, schools paid more attention to other areas that promote development, which goes beyond academic matters.  These areas include the physical or imagination developments, which the architecture should play a part in supporting these activities that are going to happen.”

This is probably another example of school design in which architecture has a huge influence because the space involved in each design, including practical functions that support the children’s lifestyles, can contribute to boosting development, logical systems, or even imagination. It is a good sign that we can see this type of architecture growing more and more important in our country.  SISB School Thonburi may be another exemplary model.  It could be fantastic if, in the future, designing can morph into one part of fostering experience or quality of life in the public area for all groups of people, not just only some specific users.

“We wish to be one of the drives involved in education development in our country.  But, as an architect, the best thing we can do is tailor areas that are suitable for creativity or positive growth.  We hope to be an example for many schools to see that a school can be designed into millions of things, not just only our familiar scene of a square building with partitioned room spacing.” “The architect concluded. 

Project Location: Ratchamontri Road, Khlong Khwang, Phasicharoen, Bangkok
Gross Built Area : 
13200 sqm.
Lead Architects:
Wara Jithpratuck
Photo Credits:
Sky|Ground Department, Depth of Field Co.,Ltd.

Rangsima Arunthanavut

Rangsima Arunthanavut