At an altitude of 3,500 metres and only accessible for six months of the year, the Leh Valley in Ladakh is about as remote as it gets. We’ve been designing and working with a trust charity since 1997 to create a place of cultural learning; a school for local children and each year we send young engineers to help and learn. This fundamentally sustainable centre has become a focal point of culture and communication for the whole region.
The Druk White Lotus School is an initiative of the Drukpa Trust, a UK registered charity under the patronage of the Dalai Lama. It opened in 2001 and now has over 650 pupils.
The school’s aim is to give children from this remote part of India a high-quality, modern education, whilst engaging with local cultures or traditions.
This was our brief- to create a structure that would celebrate and enhance local values, while at the same time making the most of cutting-edge technology and construction methods from the West.
Designed to be built in stages, our plan for the school included teaching courtyards, dining hall and kitchen, computer and science labs, art studios, a medical clinic and accommodation for staff and pupils.
It’s all designed around the circular ‘mandala’ form – an ancient Indian symbol of wholeness and the ultimate model for organisation.
The idea of having a modern school which lays equal emphasis on the importance of preserving the valuable aspects of a traditional culture is very encouraging.
I have always believed in giving equal importance to both modern, scientific knowledge and traditional Buddhist culture.
HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA
In a harsh, high altitude, desert environment where water is scarce, sustainability had to play a major part in our plans for the school from the very start.
We created cutting-edge systems that pump water from melted snow to the site, both for drinking water and for irrigation. The school’s toilets don’t require water at all, and have state of the art passive technology to eliminate odours and turn waste into compost.
Ladakh has hot summers and very cold winters, so we installed passive solar heating. Even in winter, energy from sunlight is stored and used to heat the school and accommodation.
And because the region is at risk of earthquakes and mud slides, we built the school using a timber frame structure with timber robust connections and steel cross-bracing to make sure everyone stays safe. Unsurprisingly, it’s already had to demonstrate its capabilities on more than one occasion!
Even in winter,
energy from the sun
is converted to heating for
the school and accommodation
Beyond the obvious sustainable features, the school’s design and construction focus on sustaining the cultures, traditions and experiences of the region.
All the building materials for the school are sourced locally, providing important trade for the rural communities. And we’ve relied heavily on local expertise, tradesmen and building techniques throughout the project, learning lots to take back to the UK..
Client: The Drukpa Trust
Architecture: Arup Associates
Engineering: Arup Associates and Arup
Completion Date: Final phase due 2020
2013 Winner of the prestigious International Architecture in Stone Award, XIII edition
2009 BCSE Industry Awards, Winner of the Inspiring Design Award, International category
2009 Design for Asia Award, Grand Award
2009 World Architecture News, Shortlisted, Education Category
2005 Sinclair Knight Merz Award for Achievement in development
2003 BCCB Award for International Expertise
2002 World Architecture Awards: Best Green Building; Best Education Building; Best Asian Building