The Girls’ Hostel at the St. Andrews Institute of Technology and Management in Gurugram, designed by Zero Energy Design Lab studio, blurs the distinction of learning and sustainability through the vernacular perspective. 

The architecture of the 25.000 sq. ft. Girls’ Hostel is based on the adjacent Boys’ Hostel Block and articulated in the same material palette of fair-faced concrete and stone and red brick, while a diagonal staircase brings appeal to the exterior with exposed structural elements adjacent to the composition on all sides, the hostel completed in 2020.  

The hostel’s design encourages learners with mobility within an environment that gives priority to thermal comfort and functionality to become an example of zero energy design. The primary design objective is to create a reliable platform for girls—a place within a campus that fits into an urban master plan that did not prevent movement while creating an outdoor connection. 

The double-skin façade functions as a thermal mass, eliminating direct and diffuse visible light by 70% on the main façade, thereby mitigating heat gain in the residential spaces behind the concrete block wall. This building seeks to be zero-energy by adopting passive cooling methods that diminished mechanical cooling loads by 35%.

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The Girls’ Hostel of St. Andrews Institute of Technology and Management ©Studio Nuughts and Crosses 

The Zero Energy Design Lab studio, which specializes in grid-zero energy buildings, used parametric architecture tools to envision a two-layer facade that would accommodate the climatic atmosphere in Gurugram, where temperatures can reach almost 40 degrees Celsius. Its grey concrete foundation has been left uncovered to provide a decorative contrast to the red blocks. 

Concrete columns are positioned in a tripod-like arrangement to provide structural support. The hostel accommodates approximately 130 students, with dormitories spanning four levels and ancillary spaces such as a pantry, recreation areas, and social spaces. 

The design has faced several challenges, from conceptualization to implementation. The ground floor consists of twelve double rooms with a double-height reception, a pantry and an indoor activity lounge where students can arrange meetings and social activities.

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Section of Hostel ©Zero Energy Design Lab  
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Ground floor plan ©Zero Energy Design Lab 

In response to the limitations, the layout was achieved by incorporating indoor and outdoor open space that interact functionally and spatially at different levels to encourage social interaction and activities. 

Besides, to bring in the outdoor landscape taste inside, the entrance hall and lobby are designed as outdoor environments facing the west and are integrated into the pantry so that student residents can enjoy their evening outdoors in the green landscape and enjoy their own time. Students have been given the flexibility to explore and develop their own space in a secure environment without any constraints placed. 

In terms of construction, Zero Energy Design Lab studio’s design challenge was posed by the stairs and the connected façade. The free-standing exterior facade was built at a distance of thirty feet from the foundation, stretching a height of three floors with structural stability and earthquake resilience in mind. The facade was resurrected by a comprehensive scaffolding and casting operation.

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Gathering space at ground floor ©Studio Nuughts and Crosses 

Zero Energy Design Lab studio’s design aims to reimagine traditional qualities of human comfort by implementing the notion of responsive comfort—a theory that people feel differently and respond, to a certain degree, to a range of indoor environments, based on their clothes, movement and general physical health. 

The building manifests as a set of multilayered spaces organized in a social hierarchy utilizing an integrated layering method. Each room is designed as an intimate atmosphere that gives priority to both functionality and human comfort. 

The construction of such a detailed exterior, which allowed each brick to be rotated at a particular angle to block solar radiation, provided the need for thorough study and design of iterations. When students switch from the building interior to the open space, they undergo vibrant transitions in various thermal conditions. 

Action lounge on the second floor next to the landscaped courtyard provides an intimate atmosphere for study or chat. Also, the adjacent interior landscaped court features thick planting to mitigate heat gain by evaporative cooling. 

From the centre of the hostel to the outdoor, the next shift is the second-floor terrace along the building’s west façade, which welcomes students in the mornings and late evenings and in the summers functions as a day-long gathering place in the winters.

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Front view of Girls’ Hostel ©Studio Nuughts and Crosses 

The architecture of the building is kept raw by Zero Energy Design Lab studio while at the same time defining essential features such as the stairs act as hubs for human engagement. The corresponding transitional zone at the centre of the building consists of a staircase, which is artistically integrated into the south facade, linking all the floors. 

Transitional and circulating spaces, such as bridges that open into lounges and pause points, provide the potential for socializing activities such as group study. Because bridges provide visual connections, they promote connectivity and interconnection. They seamlessly spread to the student lounges on several levels, building fluid spaces. 

The staircase is a sociocultural core that is home to all things, from large-scale parties and festivals to simple casual conversations. The outdoor lobby area also acts like a badminton court in the afternoon, and the courtyard that hosts daily carrom games are areas that facilitate athletics and other related games.

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Activity spaces beside the staircase ©Studio Nuughts and Crosses 

With restricted space available along the hostel’s northern façade, a double-skin type façade was designed by Zero Energy Design Lab studio to provide a semi-permeable layer that would help shade and control the indoor and outdoor environment’s temperature by regulated airflow. 

The parametric screen takes the cues from the façade, previously built, that encompassed the adjacent boys’ hostel within the institute. The façade of the Boys’ Hostel Block was constructed as an enclosure in which the brick’s rotational angles were measured to block the diffused and direct radiation. 

However, it became apparent that the depth of the brick used in the free-standing facade, when rotated, could not construct a deep barrier to cut off the diffuse radiation in an effective way.  Hollow pigmented concrete blocks have been used in the external façade panel to resemble the red brick colour. 

The blocks Zero Energy Design Lab studio designed  have been useful in solving three issues. Not only can they have enough thermal mass to absorb sunlight, but with a depth of eight inches, direct radiation must reach many layers within the block and be mirrored on various surfaces several times before penetrating the interior, eliminating the glare. 

Moreover, when the block is penetrable, the amount of air flowing through this mass, based on Bernoulli’s theorem, loses its heat through compression. The blocks are also significantly tilted at a precise angle depending on the insulation study for solar heat gain. 

The second layer of the facade inside offers a volume where the person can walk out into a shaded space, such as a balcony or courtyard. It is a room that gives priority to thermal comfort by the adaptive behaviour of the building and enhances functionality. It empowers students to take care of their surroundings and activities and interact with nature whilst still within the building.

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The Girls’ Hostel of St. Andrews Institute of Technology and Management ©Studio Nuughts and Crosses

Concrete and brickwork tie the various floors together. Columns are circular to improve both facial appearance and physicality. Instead of using single columns, the sheer mass is broken down into three columns in a tripod-like arrangement to provide more excellent structural stability as vertical support. 

The pergola on the roof is built with cement and steel beams to achieve a lightweight structure and optimal structural efficiency. Zero Energy Design Lab Also focused on landscape. Landscape architecture diversifies space by taking greenery within to satisfy not only visual appeal but also practical purposes. 

Getting closer to nature is scientifically known to have a positive effect on psychological and physiological well-being and provide a desirable atmosphere for engagement, which has driven our landscape policy. The planter boxes’ edge details are shaped as seats, enabling students to come and sit with nature. 

The shaded courtyard is home to some plant species that need less sun exposure. Peripheral areas include bamboo that works as a screen. Outside the house, where the field is open to the light, Champa trees have been planted to provide shaded seating areas owing to their vast canopies. The surface of the landscaped outdoor court is penetrable, making it easier for groundwater to penetrate. 

Wastewater, such as washroom water, is transported to the sewage treatment plant and is reused for horticulture purposes. The building is an example of sustainability by its energy-efficient architecture, surely a great work done by Zero Energy Design Lab studio. 

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Brick detailing of the facade ©Studio Nuughts and Crosses 

Tamrin Afroz is an architecture student who loves traveling, painting, journaling, and experimenting with new ideas. She aspires to uphold local culture, tradition, and craftsmanship within the community, to conserve tangible and intangible heritage. Apart from architecture, she is an activist working on social issues and promoting girls' leadership roles.