Jullay! Our project to design and build a new Visitors’ Center for the Druk White Lotus School in Shey, Ladakh is well underway. We are excited to share with you the progress we’ve made, as well as regale you with stories, photographs and sketches from our experiences here in the Himalayas.
Three short weeks have passed since we all gathered in Ladakh to begin acclimatizing to the altitude and designing our building. We arrived armed with ideas, sketchbooks, and a shared interest in learning how to design and build in a climate and culture that is so different from our own. So much of the design process has been completely new to us, from designing by committee of forty-four, to drafting out ideas on an uneven wood floor without our standard design tools, to making decisions based on the limited availability of building materials. Discussions have been extensive, at times heated, but ultimately we arrived at a design that we are all excited about building.
To help inform our design, we began with a tour of old Leh with a local tour guide for the Ladakhi Heritage Center. Each of us captured our observations with pictures and sketches, absorbing the vernacular architecture as we began imagining the Visitors’ Center. The following day, the entire group toured the Druk White Lotus School for the morning and reconvened in the late afternoon. With our sketches of Old Leh’s architecture and its modern interpretation in the school’s design, we felt prepared to begin our work. Dividing into teams of five, we spent the afternoon developing initial proposals, complete with plans, sections, elevations, and perspective sketches. For many of us, this was our first experience designing with a team of strangers. Before dinner that evening, each team presented its proposal, and as a group, we summed up the similarities, successes, and potential issues. From this list, we prioritized project goals to help inform our second round of design ideas.
The next morning, each group revised ideas, combining with other similar groups and further developing proposals. After a second round of presentations and discussion, we were all beginning to narrow our design ideas to a few basic concepts.
One more round of exploration with light-study models helped us make decisions, yet it raised still more questions. We knew that some decisions could be made later on, but there still remained some critical issues that needed to be resolved before any construction could begin. Window and door placement, for example, had to be determined, and opinions about this issue were varied and strong. After everyone had a chance to voice their thoughts on the critical points (yes, we even got to the point of hand-raising to keep decorum) we concluded that the only way to make these decisions was on the site.
With everyone seated around our pre-poured foundation wall, we mimicked the three final proposals, using our bodies as walls, doors and windows to get a sense of the space. Using good old-fashioned voting, we settled on a scheme that allowed us to start laying brick and framing windows and doors for the Visitors’ Center.