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Druk White Lotus School, Ladakh, India

About Ladakh:
Often described as Little Tibet, this is one of the few remaining mountain societies where a traditional Tibetan Buddhist way of life is practiced. It is sparsely populated and remote, and the only road that connects it to the plains to the south is frequently cut off for 7 to 8 months each year by snow.

The Druk White Lotus School

The Druk White Lotus School is a small Buddhist school under the patronage of the Dalai Lama, and founded by His Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa in 1992. This primary and secondary school sits high in the Indian Himalaya among one of the last remaining mountain societies where a traditional Tibetan Buddhist way of life is still practiced. Enrolling nearly 500 local children, the school provides a modern education with a sound grounding in Ladakhi language, culture, and tradition. The innovative architecture of the school has won several international design awards, including the 2002 World Architecture Awards for Best Education Building, Best Building in Asia, and joint winner for Best Green Building. Designed by international architects Arup Associates the buildings combine the best of traditional Ladakhi architecture with 21st century engineering excellence and act as a model for appropriate, cost effective and sustainable development.

Supporting the Educational Experience

Sophisticated environmental engineering analysis was used to optimize the efficiency of local traditional materials and building methods. Stylistic elements are based on designs found in local monasteries. The schools innovative form stems in part from the presence of Arup designers on site each year, working closely alongside the local team. The spacious and light filled interior coupled with outdoor seating and teaching areas beside a tree planted courtyard offer a fresh take on traditional designs. Parachute silk awnings add the final touches. Staff and pupils can now enjoy access to electric lighting, computers and other modern appliances. Classrooms have been fitted with electrical sockets, enabling teaching aids such as DVD and CD to be used as part of lessons. In addition, the school has recently been connected to broadband, which together with a dependable electricity supply is fundamental in strengthening educational and communication links with other schools worldwide.

Self-Sustaining Environmental Controls

The school has been designed to optimize use of natural resources such as solar radiation, shading, and natural ventilation. The facility its own energy and reduces local emissions by using solar panels that take maximum advantage of Ladakhs high and consistent exposure to direct sunlight.

Water is a limited resource in a region with very little rainfall. The main source of water is snowmelt from the surrounding Himalayas. The water distribution system reuses water for irrigation and directs any rainfall to planted areas. Groundwater from the 105-foot (32-meter) deep water table is pumped by solar power to a 16,000-gallon (60,000 liter) tank at the surface. Drinking and irrigation water is then gravity fed to gardens and water faucets. When not driving the water pump, the solar panels feed batteries used to power the schools computers. The schools toilets use a ventilated improved pit system, considered an important and affordable breakthrough for improving sanitation in developing countries. The system uses no water but has a solar-driven flue to eliminate smells and insects. The roofs need good insulation to minimize heat transfer in both winter and summer. The roof is made from a combination of mud and local wood. Rock wool and felt are used to insulate. On top of this they have added corrugated aluminum sheets and sand to cover the felt to prevent it from melting under the constant sunshine.

Key Sustainable Features

Using locally-available materials, which have the least impact on the environment; Exploiting natural ventilation and passive solar heating; Minimizing energy use and emissions; Minimizing water use; Refining and adapting traditional techniques to provide modern solutions.

Seismic Design & Safety

The school is located in an area of considerable seismic activity and the methods used to ensure improved safety in the event of an earthquake needed to be easy to emulate for future structures. Druk White Lotus building structures use timber frames to resist seismic loads and ensure life safety in the event of an earthquake. The timber frames are independent of the walls, and steel connections and cross-bracing provide earthquake stability.

Setting an Example for the Future

The project is moving into its second phase with planned expansion aiming to eventually provide education facilities for up to 800 pupils, aged 3 to 18, from poor and remote areas. On completion, facilities will include a health clinic, library, open-air temple, computer and science lab, vocational workshops, dining hall and residential accommodation for pupils and staff. As a self-sustainable construct and a lesson in design for pupils, engineers, and designers alike the school successfully achieves a balance between community and environment while remaining true to its cultural context.

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