Deakin students participate in rural community design project in India

A group of thirteen Deakin University students embarked on the annual Intercultural Dialogue through Design (iDiDe) study tour program in India in January to explore social sustainability and capacity building in rural communities.

Now its ninth iteration, the iDiDe is a three-week study tour designed to target developing and rural communities. Deakin architecture students collaborate with international partner universities, along with non-government organisations and local government to focus on a different project each year. The program was founded by Deakin Senior Lecturer Susan Ang, and fosters international engagement and compassion.

Students presenting design ideas for Anganwadi Centre at Shirthady, Rural community workshop, held in Moodabidri, Karnataka

This year, efforts centred around designing and building the new Anganwadi Centre in Shirthady, Karnataka, following the success of the previous year’s Anganwadi project in Ajjarkad. Anganwadi are government-funded centres that deliver free childcare, nutrition and basic education to children under the age of six in the local area. They also provide education and welfare services to lactating and pregnant mothers and young women aged between 16 and 21.

In the iDiDe design studio this year, students from Deakin and the Manipal Academy of Higher Education worked together to produce potential designs for a new Anganwadi building in Shirthady.


Around 40 children spend their day within the small Anganwadi building, and for this time they are restricted to one main room with an adjacent basic kitchen and wash area. Windows are barred for safety from animals, which evokes a prison like atmosphere. Outdoor play takes place within a restrictive veranda that extends from the front of the building. There is no playground or outdoor equipment, and the site edge is only partially bordered by a basic timber fence.

Students were tasked with envisioning a potential new space for these children. Could it be creative, explorative, and exciting, while still providing all the required practical and safety elements, within a tight budget? Could this humble structure be treated with the same seriousness and sincerity as a more expansive or prestigious one?

Scale model of one of five proposed designs for Anganwadi Centre created by iDiDe students from Australia and India

During the design process, we were provided with the opportunity to visit and spend time with the children, workers, mothers and government officials. Connecting and collaborating with people who are invested in the outcome was an incredible and enlightening experience. Although, language barriers and cultural differences amongst many other challenges tested our capacity as architects, they also forced us to explore alternative options and question typical practises. Moving away from conceptual ideas within a typical studio, the project exposed us to the reality of the built environment, and its potential impact on communities.

A special engagement moment between Deakin architecture student, Kelly O’Halloran with the children of Shirthady Anganwadi during our case study visit to the existing facility

As student architects, we learned how to perceive and understand the environment through a different lens, and the Shirthady Anganwadi forced us to push the boundaries of possibility.


Through our immersion and exposure in India, we developed a greater understanding not only of international architecture but of community engagement. The experience has instilled new ambitions and allowed us to develop a greater understanding of our own place within the global community.

Article written by Deakin architecture student Katie Stanley.

Applications are now open for Intercultural Dialogue through Design (iDiDe) Study Tour in Malaysia!



Leon Comben

As a third year architecture and construction management student, iDiDe accelerated my development of collaborative skills in a stimulating environment. The Anganwadi project was often challenging, having to overcome differences in culture, language and ways of thinking to deliver a design response with heavy time constraints. Completing the project developed my confidence in dealing with unexpected situations, my resilience, and ability to work under pressure. Visiting the rural community where the Anganwadi was located and interacting with the residents really emphasized the magnitude of our work and how potentially beneficial it could be. The end result was a great sense of accomplishment and a heightened passion regarding the importance of design.

William Testa

Entering my third year of my architecture studies, I was able to participate in iDiDe, which showcased my architectural understanding of sustainability and the built environment. Not only was this a chance given to prove how much I have learned over the last three years but also an opportunity to understand the complexity and richness of local materials within India. By being given the chance to go out and visit a practicing architect we were able to listen to so many stories and dive deeper into Indian culture and practices they use in their everyday life. After listening, we all got the opportunity to experience how the mixtures are made to make a Rammed Earth wall. Making the mixture was a different experience, however once you start embracing the mud and dirt flying everywhere, do you really understand the procedure and realize how important bare materials can be sufficient enough in design. The result was held with a sense of success being able to pull away the frame work and see our wall we mixed, molded and smashed sit in place. I defiantly learnt a lot and I am so happy to have witnessed this and be part of something that I can take with me and grow into my future.

Stephanie Wowk

Being involved with the Anganwadi Project was more than just producing a design. It was over coming language barriers and cultural differences to interact with the children who looked on in awe at the toys we were able to produce for them. To be able to create a structure that could provide more than just shelter from the sun.


For further information about studying at Deakin and courses that relate to architecture, visit our architecture and built environment page.


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