After the Workshop: Building in Leh

We have funding in place (thanks to the Walter Guinness Foundation) to start construction of a new toilet block, based on the designs developed by the workshop participants.

Visit the Building in Leh Blog to see how the construction progresses:

We’ll need additional funding to help us complete the toilet block. To help support ASF-UK to build the toilets visit

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Bench in Use!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Day 15: The final push

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Today was the final day of the workshop and an opportunity to draw together  the workshop activities, and share our  findings with a wider audience. The whole group pulled together in the afternoon in the final push to complete the seat, just in time for the presentation!

This is just the beginning of a process which we hope will make a real difference to the school. With the seat complete, attention will now be turning to the realisation of the medium and long term projects.

Watch this space for more information…

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Days 11,12 and 13: The seat prototype group

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


A team from the Immediate/Seat/Prototype group have been responsible for the procurement of the materials for the seat construction. They followed leads and tips on where to find the best material, and had to guess/compromise and bargain in order to get the quality and quantities they were after.

The first stop was mud blocks, where 220 mudblocks were loaded into the back of the truck. Once these were unloaded the team then went out again while the sun was beginning to set in search of clay. We arrived somewhere near Spituk (which felt very deserted) to find a large crater and a JCB digger. They filled the back of the truck with clay and we drove back to Leh to unload the precious material in the dark.

The next day we went in search of stone and were directed towards a quarry where we picked up a selection of large and small pieces of granite. It was hard to see who was managing the quarry and who to pay for the stone!


Different teams have been involved in the various stages of the construction. Under supervision from our team the local mason and labourer have prepared the foundations and walls up to 450mm. The same team have been constructing the post and beams to support the roof which has involved preparing holes with a mini-augur and chiselling pegs to fit the holes. Another team has been investigating rammed earth mixes and block work arrangements for the walls.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Days 12, 13, 14: Focusing on the Classrooms

A small team looked in detail at how the existing dark, cramped classrooms could be improved.

With design input from Gerard da Cunha proposals were developed for some medium/long term proposals including bringing more light in to the rooms via a raised roof light and enlarged windows, creating additional space for each class by forming a new door to the back of the classroom block so that the outdoor space behind could be used by the students, and forming a new timber floor across the whole of the classroom which would make the rooms warmer and would allow the girls to sit on the floor for more informal teaching sessions.

Too small, too dark, too cold – Long term proposal:

  • Extend the classroom space creating outdoor learning spaces in the dead space between the existing classroom block and the boundary wall.
  • Each class would have an individual outdoor space so each class has its own identity.  Possibility of gardening or other competitions between the classrooms to encourage the girls to take pride in their outdoor space.
  • A timber frame in the outdoor space would support a plastic sheet that could be rolled down in winter to create a buffer ‘greenhouse’ space that would be heated by the sun which is strong all year round.  This would allow the outdoor space to be used in the winter too and would improve the environmental conditions within the classrooms.
  • Insulation (made from recycled materials) could be added in the roof zone to help keep the rooms cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
  • On the external walls a layer of cork or particle board that could provide insulation as well as being used as pin board space so the girls’ work can be displayed around the classroom.
  • The light in the classroom will be improved by the introduction of a raised skylight and light tunnel (coated with a reflective surface) inserted through the existing tin roof.  One roof light would be shared by two classrooms to minimise the construction cost.”

 – Joanne Massoubre

Short term proposals to improve the classrooms include repainting the walls (with the introduction of some colour) and painting the ceilings white to make the rooms brighter.

Noticeboards integrated into decorative murals would cheer up the rooms whilst allowing some work to be displayed around the walls.

We were privileged to be joined by the renowned Goan architect, Gerard da Cunha, for 3 days.  As well as working with the participants during the development of their design proposals we were treated to a number of fascinating lectures on his work and on Goan vernacular architecture.  Highlights included learning about his innovative use of waste materials and the way


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Days 11 and 12: The site strategy group

“We first did an analysis of the analysis of the existing school to understand properly what would be our mission for the next few days and what improvements we would like to see in the future.

For that we used different ways: our own investigation and conversations with children and staff in the school. Through the different conversations we learnt what they like, what they dislike and what they want.

From our own investigations we tried to figure out all the opportunities from which we can develop projects and the problems that we have to solve.

Our main intentions are to:

  • simplify and reorganise the outdoor spaces
  • develop essential projects in the long-term to re-use empty and dead space
  • give a real sense of unity to the school
  • prepare the site for a disaster situation
  • give the opportunities to children to get involved in the projects.”

– B. Millet

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Days 8, 9 & 10: Initial proposals for the school

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Over these three days we have been working in 3 groups with each group making proposals for a different intervention to the school as follows:

Short term proposal (1 week)

Medium term proposal (2-3 months)

Long term proposal (1-2 years)

Before the groups got into the design proposals in depth there was another opportunity to talk to the girls and get some further information about their needs and wishes.  We were also very lucky to have the input of several of the teachers.

The short term group selected a site in front of the middle school next to the flowerbeds which could offer shade in summer and sun in the winter. It is immediately visible to visitors entering the school grounds and it has a good proximity to the library which is one of the girls’ favourite places in the school.  There are also good views towards the south to the mountains.

The proposal is for a display and seating area where school information and results of house competitions could be displayed.  The design incorporates a central wall of varying height which at different points frames the view, offers shade and gives privacy to the girls.  The materials to be used in the construction of this area will be principally traditional or recycled materials which are being tested for the benefit of the medium and long term proposals, as well as encouraging their use more broadly.

The medium term group are developing proposals for the girls’ toilets. Before working on detailed proposals the group asked the girls to draw their dream toilet and the key things that came up were that it should be clean with no smell, that there should be toilet paper and a good supply of soil to throw into the compost pit.  They wanted somewhere to wash their hands where there could be soap and a towel, and most popular of all… mirrors!

The group has undertaken research into different types of composting toilets and is proposing an improved traditional toilet where ventilation of the compost pit via a pipe means that smells are minimised.  A separate hand wash area will incorporate small water tanks which the girls will be responsible for filling from the pump.  The run-off water will be directed away from the composting pits (as the compost will not work if it gets too damp) and filtered through charcoal before running into adjacent flowerbeds which will dramatically improve the appearance of the area.  The compost produced by the toilets will also be used on the flowerbeds.

“Upon meeting with the girls at the school a common thread that emerged was that they would like to have hand washing facilities close to the toilet area.  As the group tasked with designing new toilet provisions we felt that it was also important to address the hand washing situation.  Currently hand washing is only available from the common water pump located by the main entrance gate; this is a significant distance from the toilet facilities and is therefore not ideal.  We considered how the water could be brought closer to the toilet site.  It was felt to be uneconomical to provide a new pump to the area and we are aware that piping the water to the site will not work as this will freeze up in the winter, we therefore have proposed a scenario where a number of small water butts with taps can be provided close to the toilets which could be filled on a daily basis by the students by bucket from the water pump.  This gives the girls ownership of their wash area and helps to educate about water provision.  A black water butt will provide warm water heated by the sun. The girls will easily be able to monitor the water level with the provision of a meniscus tube on the butt to show the current level.” – Lisa Hunter

The long term group have undertaken exercises with the girls to mark on the school plan the girls’ daily routines.  A full measured survey and a condition survey of the entire school has also been undertaken by this group which will inform the strategic design proposals for the school to be developed over the coming days.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Day 7: Harvest Mapping

A harvest map is an ethical enterprise method of achieving sustainable construction. By mapping and researching the area surrounding a proposed building site or development a harvest map can identify potential resources, materials plus skills and knowledge that can be used to inform how a building project is designed and constructed. It has the potential to be a catalyst upon which future building projects or enterprises emerge.

Harvest Map – School Compound
Harvest Map – Leh Town

“We searched for building resources and tools in Leh town. We noticed that the majority of suppliers/traders and workshops were based in the south of the city from Moti Bazaar (market) to the main busy stand. Shops full the brim with fabrics, foam and army surplus, parachutes and tools.   A wide range of building materials sourced locally in Ladakh, and around Jammu and Kashmir, including glass and wood were also available. Local craftsmen carving and joining kindly donated wood shavings and gave us prices for their items. Local tradespeople were keen to sell us wire mesh and yak wool. The local area is full of resources and exciting materials for immediate use and showing plenty of options for future work and design.” – Nousheen Rehman

Harvest Map – Outside of Leh Town

“Our group went furthest afield to find material resources in the villages outside of Leh. We discovered non-Ladakhi labourers as whole families (mostly from Nepal) hand-manufacturing mud-brick after mud-brick, ready to sell and deliver. Delivery costs added a substantial amount to buying.

To test the quality we placed a brick on top of two more – an inch on either side and jumped on it. We also dropped it from 1m onto soft-ish ground. The brick was solid! The labourers were confident and one man began throwing the brick in the air just to show off a little.

In the same area, we also found some local Ladakhis who had grown their own poplar. Their home was made from materials found close-by – but these were not all for sale.

Another main resource we came across was a scrap yard full of old army gear and various cans and bottles. There were hundreds of old army boots, tyres, old bukhari burners and more, triggering some exciting ideas for the school grounds.”Mena Shah

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Days 4 and 5: Surveying in Leh old town

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For these two days we surveyed a dilapidated house in the old town for Andre Alexander of the Tibet Heritage Fund.

The house is located right on the edge of the old town on a constrained L shaped site.  Since several of the rooms on the first floor are accessed directly off a balcony around the courtyard we wondered if the house might once have been an inn.

Working in small groups we measured the ground floor, first floor, roof and external and internal elevations.  Two of the team who are building surveyors also completed a detailed conditions survey of the building which revealed some serious structural issues.

“During the measured survey of the residential property in Leh Old Town the owner visited to see what the group were doing. She explained that the road level at the front of the property had increased significantly and that this had led to the continual flooding of her courtyard. Both this and the deteriorated condition of the property were the reasons she had left her home, but she hoped in the future she could return.”Marianne Benzie

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Day 3 PM: Secmol

SECMOL is situated in a remote and dramatic location on the banks of the Indus.  It is the culmination of 2 peoples energies and drive for an alternative approach to living and education in Ladakh.

The campus is a collection of experimental and energy efficient buildings made out of  materials from the surrounding  environment. Mud is everywhere and spaces are warm and welcoming!  Thick rammed earth walls and trombe walls soak up sunshine during the day and radiate warmth at night. Energy and water is harnessed from the environment  and not a scrap of material is wasted. From salvaged oil drums to rubbish pushed into ceiling cracks.

Children are admitted at 17/18 as an alternative to mainstream Government education, which has failed to give them adequate skills to cope with everyday life. Students are given responsibility for running of their environment; maintaining the buildings, vegetable patches and animals. This gives them skills for life and confidence to become an adult.

It is a continually evolving project, forward thinking, experimental and an inspiring place that everyone should have an opportunity to visit.

There is a lot for us to learn from this school – from the low-cost, local approaches to technology and materials t0 the inspiring learning environments.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized