We left from the Government Girls school to visit the Druk White Lotus School in Sheh – to see a different example of school construction and learning environment. This school was conceived by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa as a model for sustainable development in the Ladakh region, to cater for 750 pupils from nursery age to 18 years old.
The project is executed by Drukpa Trust, a UK-registered charity and a team of architects and engineers from Arup and Arup Associates has been working on the Druk White Lotus School project in Ladakh since 1997. We were lucky enough to be shown around by Suria Ismail, the current Arup engineer on site who shared her knowledge and experience of the school from the last 4 months. She started by showing us around the first phase, the nursery and infant courtyard, opened in September 2001, and explained how the design had evolved since then and what lessons they learned. As we walked around the other blocks she talked us through the palette of local materials and traditional building techniques. Solid granite blocks have been used for the outer wall, and mud blocks for the inner walls to form a cavity wall for significantly improved insulation and high durability. The roof is of a traditional Ladakhi mud construction, including poplar and willow from local monastery plantations, and provides good protection from the cold. By supporting the heavy roof on a structure that is independent of the walls, Arup’s design team made sure that the school was built to the Indian seismic code. Classrooms face the morning sun to make the most of natural light and heat and incorporate ‘trombe’ wall technology. We spent some time sitting within one of the classroom spaces observing the quality of the learning environment – and the flexibility of the space.
“Toilet blocks may not be the most exciting of buildings, but the toilets at the Druk White Lotus School were something to behold. To call them beautiful may be a step to far, but they were definitely practical, clean and smell free! These are things we take for granted, but in a climate where hard stone and freezing temperatures limit the drainage options compost toilets are the traditional solution. The design of the toilet System at Druk is simple and effective. A minor adaptation to the traditional style is an innovative solution to remove smells. A large sheet of steel (2-3mm thick) forms the back wall to the composting space, this is painted black to heat the air behind creating an updraft. As the cold air from the bottom of the compost pit rises it draws the smells up and out of horizontal vents at roof level. This is an excellent solution and significantly improves the Ladakhi toilet.” – Tom Marshall