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


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Days 4 and 5: Surveying in Leh old town

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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

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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.

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Day 3 AM: Post Flood Approaches to Shelter Provision

Following the lecture we went to look at two different approaches to shelter provision for the households who lost their homes in the flooding of August 2010.

The first stop was ‘Solar Colony’ to look at some of the prefabricated shelter units provided by the Leh District Administration. These were imported to Ladakh at extremely high cost (Rs. 400,000 per shelter). ‘Solar Colony’ is a misleading name for the settlement as the prefab units make no use of solar gain or solar energy in their design or in the site layout.

A resident explained that the units were not well adapted to the cultural or climatic needs of the region, and were impossible to live in during the cold winter. She also explained how there were not enough toilets provided for the residents, and that as they are flush toilets they are now dirty and disused. Although the government is providing money for expansion, she explained how stringent rules are forcing them to build a culturally inappropriate house layout. She hopes to be able to remove the white prefabricated shelter once the rest of the house has been built.

Our next stop was Shey to look at an alternative to prefab shelters. These one room shelters (provided by NGOs SEEDS & LEDeG) were a similar size to the government units but were provided for 65% of the cost (a total of Rs.260,000) and included a Ladakhi composting toilet for each unit. The shelters used local materials (mud and timber) where possible and were designed to reduce risk to future disasters such as earthquakes and floods. New technology such as double walls, insulation, and trombe wall technology ensured that these shelters were comfortable to live in during the cold winter. Residents have been expanding their shelters with the help of government grants. At least one resident has expanded his shelter to include more trombe wall technology.

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Day 3 AM: Learning from the Past – An INTACH presentation on the 2010 floods

This morning Tara Sharma  came to present INTACH’s (Indian National Trust for Arts Cullture & Heritage) post flood findings to the group.

Here’s a summary of the key points from the presentation and following discussion:

Newer Buildings were at increased risk of damage in the floods. Of the houses INTACH surveyed 79% of houses under 50 years suffered damage in the flood, whilst the figure was only 21% for houses older than 50 years. There was no major damage to heritage sites (some of these mud buildings date back to 11th Century, displaying the longevity of mud construction).

Site selection & changes in land use have increased risk

Traditional belief systems did not allow construction on clay or sandy soils and sites vulnerable to flooding. With the introduction of concrete construction, the belief is now that you can construct anywhere, including along streams.

Changes in building design have increased risk

The old vernacular in Ladakh consisted of stone masonry on the ground floor, mud on upper floors, tapered walls, and small window openings.

The new vernacular consists of a concrete frame with straight walls, infill construction, and cement copings. This kind of construction was at increased risk of damage in the flood, and is at increased risk of collapse in earthquakes.

Local construction knowledge is dying and there is a real need to draw on local skills and knowledge, and not just to rely on migrant labour. Without local knowledge, there has been a loss in the quality of building and reduced soundness in construction.

Learning from the disaster – Ladakh needs:

–       Better planning and building guidelines – to ensure higher quality construction and safe site selection.

–       To build pride in their own traditions – Inspiring examples of contemporary architecture in mud  to show that mud architecture can be a modern material. This is an opportunity missed in hotel construction in the region which has largely used concrete.

–       A disaster management strategy

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Day 2 PM: Exploring the Druk White Lotus School

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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

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Day 2 AM: At the school

Today the participants and school students worked on a quick sketch model of the school grounds and buildings to provide a basis for an ideas exercise with the girls.  Groups of 2 or 3 participants worked with the students doing drawings and making models to show how they think their school could be improved.

Amongst the highlights were some beautiful models of the existing buildings which the girls made from memory extremely accurately, a new model classroom and a model of an improved sports area the complete with trees to provide more shade made from leaves of plants found on site.

The key themes that emerged from the exercise were the desire for more shaded seating around the sports areas, improved sports pitches (to allow a greater variety of sports to be played) and modifications to classrooms ranging from introducing more colour, making larger windows on the east side (to make the rooms lighter but also warmer in the winter) and changing the furniture so the children could sit on the floor in a more informal arrangement.

The time with the students working in an informal manner was effective in encouraging the girls to talk openly about how they use the schools and what they would like to see changed.

“Working with the girls was all about creating a comfortable atmosphere where they would feel free to communicate, a space where the trust created would encourage deep answers… a look, a smile in response to our first tentative questions, then at some point the questions become more direct and more personal.  We also talk a bit about ourselves to show that we are not that different.   Age, language, origin; the barriers collapse and the exchange can really start.” – Joanne Massoubre

“For the two days we spent with the girls it was immediately apparent that they loved sports.   Before we met them they had started a volleyball match amongst themselves, I joined in and was surprised how great they played and really tried to ‘bump, set, splice’.  We later talked to the P.E. teacher and he explained that the girls play volleyball, kho kho, soccer or handball each day.  The girls are passionate about football and would like a proper football pitch at their school, they even made a great model of the future pitch.” – Brooke Gasaway

“Physical education is very important to the girls who start each school day with sport, and practice or enter tournaments on Saturdays.  They watched the football World Cup in 2010 and love Ronaldo.” – Diana Mihai

“Speaking with the school P.E. teacher I learnt about the school house system.  The children belong to one of four houses which give them an identity within the school.  The four houses are named after four holy rivers in India; Gangh House (blue), Yamuna House (red), Indus House (yellow) and Saraswati House (green).  Each child wears as part of their uniform a name badge and ribbon in the colour of their house.  Sport, painting, dance competitions and quizzes are organised where the houses compete against each other.  It would be great if we could help to reinforce the house competitions possibly introducing new events, creating scoreboard and introducing areas of colour for house zones.” – Fergus Knox

Tsering Tachi (the P.E teacher, who has been helping us) also spoke about the benefits that could be achieved if the school buildings could be improved to make them comfortable in the winter.  At the moment the girls are at home for 3 months over the winter when there is little work that can be done on the land, but are in school over the summer when their families would benefit from their help with the farming.

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