Getting an education in Mongolia is a challenge. In winter, temperatures drop to below -45oC; during extreme ‘dzud’ winters, even lower. In a country that is criss-crossed with active seismic faults, few buildings have been designed with earthquakes in mind. Rapid urbanisation means there is a chronic shortage of space in schools.
Arup Associates 'Highly Commended' entry in this open internation competition, Lean School, is a blueprint for overcoming these challenges. The triangular section is a passive design response to the extreme environment. It reduces exposure to prevailing northerly winds while harvesting solar energy on its south elevation. The highly insulated, sealed envelope minimises heating energy demands.
The pitched form creates an efficient seismic-resistant stability system. The inclined plane of the roof is formed of a stiff steel diagrid, the pitch allowing one side of the grid to be firmly anchored into the foundation. This removes the need for bracing or complicated connections. This offers flexibility and simplicity, redundancy and safety, while reducing cost.
The school structure works on a simple, repeating grid. This future-proofs the design against the need to expand. The pitched form allows buildings to be closely spaced without overshadowing, allowing optimal use of available sites, however constrained.
Lean School is integrated into its landscape. The ‘Cool grounds’ are designed to maximise sports activities with minimal vertical interventions. The grounds are kept free from clutter to allow children to play.
The north facing roof pitches are angled in response to the strong north-easterly prevailing winds. The classroom spaces are buffered from these cold winds by a thick mass wall and internal circulation route. The southern façade is designed to maximise mid-season sun exposure, harvesting renewable energy and providing shelter and shading.
Lean School is based on modules of two classrooms, each providing for 25 pupils combined with a taller ‘centre’ module which serves as a physical education hall, library and simple multipurpose space.This modular system allows for expansion into many different types of sites and locales including an existing school site, such as this version of Khovd -or a new site altogether.
COST AND AFFORDABILITY
The scheme employs systems such as the steel frame that are well understood locally, and more innovative systems such as the timber cassette system which are low tech responses to the particular challenges of the region. By working with local supply chains and contractors we would seek to establish an affordable building system for walls and roofs based on simple components that are readily available. These systems are commonplace in Europe and can be established in Mongolia with some enterprise and local expertise. A design has been developed that allows for future adaption and future-proofs against operational costs by maximising the use of sustainable technologies including on-site energy generation. Such technologies may be donated to the school through charities and grants - a successful system that has been implemented globally.
IMPACT AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENTIn the next design stage we would encourage involvement with the local school team, stakeholders and the wider community to gauge their thoughts and incorporate relevant ideas and local knowledge. We would welcome the involvement of the teachers and children in the design of murals and landscape elements. Our aim is that the school is built using local materials and labour wherever possible and we would work with local contractors and craftspeople to create a built manifestation of this partnership. The scheme is designed to be fully accessible with showers and toilets for the disabled and able bodied.