The educational philosophy of the school encourages children to discover and learn through interaction and play. Therefore, the school was designed to become a place for exploration and overcoming challenges. The aim was to build a space that is not just a room where teachers are to simply transfer information to students but to design an inspiring learning environment which the children would be proud to call their school. The school children can move around the school in multiple ways. They can climb the first floor via a centrally located staircase, from two ladders. or from the slopes of the mound.

Project: Etania Green School
Location: Beaufort, Sabah, East Malaysia
Program: Classrooms, Library, Teacher Rooms, Amphitheatre, Soccer Field
Design Team: Billion Bricks Homes Pte. Ltd
Area: Total Site Area – 3145 sq.m. Ground Floor Area – 250 sq.m.
Client: Matakana Educational Society – Etania Schools
Completed: 2018
Sponsors:  Triton, Adobe, Autodesk, Autodesk Foundation, Finalcad, Lenovo
Photographer: Fernando Gomulya
Products: Triton Containers

Etania Green School By Architecture BRIO - Sheet3
©Fernando Gomulya

On the first floor, three blocks are placed alternately on either side of a central verandah. Two blocks contain four classrooms. The third block on the mound contains the teacher room and library. Because they orient along the east-west direction, they minimize the heat gain and avoid direct sunlight hitting the long elevations. This also means that the classrooms all face the river and enjoy a natural draft of air that flows across the rooms in the north-south direction.

Between the two classrooms, the children can use two smaller rooms for group work. They are extra spaces that give teachers the flexibility to teach classes since often multiple years are clubbed into one. One of such rooms is a reading room with a netted floor for children to find a comfortable place to read books. The spaces provided are flexible, allowing them to teach multiple age groups at once or also have a traditional classroom set up. The structure houses a library which can be accessed from the mound that it rests on. The wide verandah that connects the classrooms provides space for unexpected events.

Etania Green School By Architecture BRIO - Sheet6
©Fernando Gomulya

Environmental Challenges:

The school is located along a river with a history of massive floods once every 10 years or so. The destruction of the original rain forest and their replacement by oil palm plantations has increased the flood risk even further. Therefore, the prototype school is, not unlike much of Borneo’s vernacular architecture, raised from the ground. However, the classrooms are here lifted off the ground in an unconventional way.

Etania Green School By Architecture BRIO - Sheet8
©Fernando Gomulya


Five decommissioned shipping containers and an artificially created mound from soil excavated for a water harvesting pond, support the classrooms. This minimizes the structural components, and stabilities the framework. Additionally, it creates a covered space below the classrooms for a lunch area and gathering space. The containers themselves are used for storage and toilets.

Instead of the traditional longhouse, the classrooms are alternately located on either side of a central verandah to orient towards either the river and the agricultural fields or to connect with the surrounding landscape. With minimal, mostly natural, building materials that are either recycled or assembled to anticipate future alternative uses, the project in a modest way sets and example of how to deal with a world with depleting material resources.

Etania Green School By Architecture BRIO - Sheet7
©Fernando Gomulya

Flexible Organization:

The building not only provides classrooms but becomes place for exploration and overcoming challenges. The spaces provided are flexible, allowing them to teach multiple age groups at once or also have a traditional classroom set up. The structure houses a library which can be accessed from the mound that it rests on. The wide verandah that connects the classrooms provides space for unexpected events. During the break, the children instead of running away from the structure and to the playground, gravitate to the building.

Etania Green School By Architecture BRIO - Sheet10
©Fernando Gomulya

Sustainable approach:

While a river is nearby, the cleanliness and pollution level of the river is questionable due to the palm plantations upstream. It was, therefore, important to treat water sources with care. Therefore, a large gutter in the centre of the school collects all the rainwater from the roofs of the classrooms and stores it in water tanks, with an overflow to a rainwater harvesting body. The sewage is treated in anaerobic water treatment tanks and then is to connect to a reedbed system.

Principal Designer – Prasoon Kumar, Robert Verrijt

About the practice

BillionBricks uses design and technology to re-imagine housing, to empower everyone to be a homeowner. They aim to pioneer the development of the world’s first self-financing solar home solution that combines housing communities with renewable energy into a financially viable business proposition.

BillionBricks is a unique triple bottom line social business. Through the production and sale of surplus solar rooftop energy, the organisation is able to provide superior quality BillionBricks homes at an affordable price while promising market-rate returns to investors. BillionBricks has built prototypes in India and the Philippines. They are now building a 1300 home community that will produce 15,746 mwH / year in the Philippines.

Prasoon Kumar (Co-founder & CEO)

Prasoon, after having designed over 10,000 homes as an architect during 10 years of corporate career, founded BillionBricks to solve the global housing crisis. BillionBricks originally began as a non-profit (before becoming a for-profit social business in 2020) and has provided shelters, schools and homes to 5,365 homeless and disaster-stricken people across 9 countries, and rendered relief support to another 10,000. Its first innovation called weatherHYDE, is an award winning, life-saving emergency shelter that was described by Ashton Kutcher as “innovation at its finest”. Singapore President’s Design Awardee, TEDx speaker, Urban Land Institute’s 40 under 40, Prasoon has won numerous global awards for his work. He graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a Master of Urban and Environmental Planning and an Outstanding Graduate Award for the year 2005.

Robert Verrijt (Studio Director)

Robert Verrijt (1979) received his masters in architecture from the TUDelft. He attended a two semester exchange program at the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology Ahmedabad in the year 2000. His graduation project which was a proposed housing scheme for asylum seekers in the Netherland. He has since then returned to India several times and has spent two years working in Sri Lank a as an associate of the partners of the renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa. In 2005 he co-founded Architecture BRIO in Mumbai together with partner Shefali Balwani (India). In Mumbai he has taught part time at the KRVIA school of Architecture, and the Balwant Seth School of Architecture. Since 2011, Robert is heading billionBricks Mumbai based design studio working on Konchur sustainable village, Etania green school and powerHYDE – home for homeless in rural India.


Rethinking The Future (RTF) is a Global Platform for Architecture and Design. RTF through more than 100 countries around the world provides an interactive platform of highest standard acknowledging the projects among creative and influential industry professionals.

Write A Comment