Exclusive: Interview with Diana Kellogg, New York’s best interior designer, she’s designed a womb-shaped girls’ school for India

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“I was looking at universal symbols of female strength across cultures and kept coming up with an oval or womb shape”, said Diana Kellogg.

CITTA is a New York State registered non-profit organization that recently came up with a project in India called “Jaisalmer Gyaan Center”. Establishment of ”Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School” is first phase of the project that has been completed and is about to open for students in December 2020.

Photo: Diana Kellogg

Being the largest state of India, Rajasthan is the seventh largest state in terms of population. According to the census 2011, state had a literacy rate of 67.06% out of which 80.51% are for males and 52.66% for females. Whereas the literacy rate of rural areas of the state is 76.16% for males and 45.8% for females.  Apart from education sector, Rajasthan has always been a discussed for issues like child marriages and female infanticide. According to CITTA, “These statistics provide compelling evidences that girls in the rural Thar Desert of Jaisalmer face some of the most difficult obstacles to developing literacy, skills, and other educational opportunities in all of India”.

With state-based curriculum and an aim of providing quality of education, “Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School” will be offered to the girls belonging to below the poverty line living in Thar Desert region. The school is capable of providing education to more than 400 girls from kindergarten to class 10. The amenities available in the building will be classrooms, a library, a computer center and a bus for transportation service to girls residing in the neighboring villages. Mid-day meals will be the part of girl’s school routine to ensure proper nutrition along with the motive to reduce families’ financial burden.

In the Eat News interview with Diana Kellogg, the architect behind this project discussed her journey of collaboration with CITTA.  She said, “I was shifting my practice to more institutional nonprofit work. I wanted to be able to reach more people and was interested in work that involved women and girls issues as well as creating nurturing healthy spaces. I met Michael and his model for CITTA was more involved and direct than other NGOs.”

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Since the location is deserted, she talked about the points she kept in mind while designing the school. She said, “I felt strongly it needed to be sustainable and also involve the local community as much as possible. Since it was non-profit every move needed to be justified as essential to the project. I wanted to help with the reverse migration and have local people do our furniture, lighting etc. as well.”

The building has a quite different structure from other existing school buildings in India. The whole building is in oval shape and an open space for girls to play in the middle makes it unique and interesting. “I had several buildings do make so I decided to combine them in the shape of infinity in the hopes that the ideas for improving the lives of women and girls could extend beyond the limits of the projects itself. I also wanted to have the building seem to naturally arise from the movement of the dunes and feel fluid. I also knew I had to incorporate the standard school of courtyard shape but eclipse allowed me to create a shape with a shorter distance between the sides so I would be able to have a tensile structure to reach across for shading.”

While mentioning the challenges she came across while designing the school, she said, “First it was impossible to find anyone to donate land or find land that was affordable. Originally we had very little support in Jaisalmer as I don’t think anyone took us seriously but once the building was designed and underway that changed, we got more support. As a foreign woman there were many cultural difficulties and language barriers. I had to become familiar with the local construction techniques and drawing conventions as well as understanding way to deal with a very extreme climate that included harsh sandstorms, monsoons and unusually high heat.”

“The building has been very well received and especially by the girls. They say they feel free there and safe, that was my main goal and that it be playful”, said Diana. Apart from this initiative, Indian Fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s contribution made headlines. The designer took a step forward to collaborate with CITTA organization   to create uniforms for the girls of “Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School”.

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CITTA organization is also aiming for gender equality through The Women’s Cooperative. Local artisans will teach weaving and embroidery techniques to women of the region. These lessons will help women to be financially independent for their families, their communities while conserving the traditional techniques from getting extinct. According to CITTA, “The education, independence, and empowerment women gain at the Gyaan Center will incentivize families to educate their daughters, bringing the benefit of the center full circle.”

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Shefali Ranawat is an Eat News correspondent in India. She want to be the voice of people. Also, she aim to be a war correspondent.

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