BaSiC Initiative’s Ladakh program is a Research/Design/Build initiative to aid the Druk White Lotus School, a small Buddhist school located high in the Indian Himalaya. Designed by Arup Associates, the school serves children ages 3 to 14 and continues to be expanded each summer to provide classrooms and dormitories for the upcoming year. The school has won several international design awards, combining traditional Ladakhi architecture with a focus on sustainability—ventilated trombe walls, solar driven latrines, as well as unique thermal insulation and energy harvesting solutions on a remote and challenging site. Because of the incredible amount of work that must be carried out each extremely short construction season, a partnership has been created between Basic Initiative, Arup Associates, and the School to address many unmet needs. The Ladakh program aims to answer the school’s call while teaching socially driven design and construction skills to architecture students from various universities. By challenging architecture students to apply their education in the service of others, the hope is to nurture a new generation of architects with a socially driven conscience that will lead them to become more sensitive, reflective practitioners.
The program launched in 2009, when the first group of students spent five weeks at the school collaborating with ARUP in the initial phase of charrettes toward improving and preserving the life of the Ladakhi community at DWLS. Research intimately tied to local site and skill, including the investigatory building of a traditional yak-hair nomadic tent, led to construction of much-needed additions such as tensile shade canopies, a willow pergola, a rammed-earth greenhouse learning center, and an instructive demonstration water fountain.
In 2010, students collaborated through several group charettes to design a much-needed Visitor Centre for the School. Using traditional Ladakhi mud-brick construction techniques, the Centre incorporates a greeting space with a corner window and seating area for serving tea; a gallery space for displaying artifacts, information about the school, and student artwork; and a custom built semi-transparent cabinet that divides the two rooms while providing additional display space. The gallery benefits from four skylights, which highlight the hand-made mosaic pattern inset into the floor. Other details include a hand-carved wooden bond beam, and an angled partition wall used to bounce light from the window far into the space. Another major component of the work was dedicated to the completion of a ceremonial tensile pavilion to be used by the School and temporarily exhibited at the Earth Awards in London.