DRUK WHITE LOTUS SCHOOL
Urban planning design strategy
Increase awareness of the environment and/or address
Respond to our growing need for clean water, power,
shelter, healthcare, education
Project Location: Shey, Ladakh, in northern India
Project Phase: Complete
Client: the people of Ladakh
User Client: Infants and Children
Concept/Lead Architect(s)/Designer(s): Arup and Ove Arup
The 12th Gyalwang Drukpa
The 14th Dalai Lama
The 2nd Thuksey Rinpoche
The Druk White Lotus School is located in
Shey, Ladakh, in northern India.
The school was started at the request of the people of
Ladakh who wanted a school that would help maintain their rich
cultural traditions, based on Tibetan Buddhism, while equipping
their children for a life in the 21st century.
The master plan and school buildings, designed by
architects and engineers from Arup and Ove Arup &
Partners, combine local building techniques and materials with
leading edge environmental design to make them effective in the
Sustainable design examples include ventilation-improved
pit latrines, passive solar heating, a gravity feed water system
and seismic safety designs.
Shey, Leh Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir 194101, India
Coordinates: 34°08′43.43″N 77°34′03.41″E
constitutes the eastern-most part of the state of Jammu &
area: 97,000 sq km
out of which nearly 38,000 sq. km are under Chinese Occupation
population - 2,70,126
density - 3 /km
(8 /sq m)
average altitude - 12,000 feet (3659m)
one of the highest places on earth
described as the 'roof of the world'
includes the Karakoram Range and the upper Indus River
it hardly rains here because of the lofty surrounding
average temperature in the summer season: -3° C to 30° C
average temperature in the winter season: -20° C to 15° C
Ladakh lies on the rain shadow side of the Himalayan.
Where dry monsoon winds reach Leh after being robbed of
its moisture in plains and the Himalayan mountain.
The district combines the condition of both arctic and desert
climate. Therefore Ladakh is often called “COLD DESERT”
Exceptionally harsh cold desert climatic conditions
Summer midday: 17 to 24 ºC
Summer night: 4 to 11 ºC
Winter midday: –7 to –8 ºC
Winter night: –14 to –0 ºC
cold and dry zone
wide diurnal and seasonal fluctuations in temperature with
-30°C in Winter and + 35°C in Summer
very low with annual precipitation of 10cm mainly in the form
ranges from 10% - 50%
due to high altitude and low humidity the radiation level is
very high. The global solar radiation is as high as 6-7 Kwh/mm
(which is among the highest in the World)
very common in the afternoon
fairly clear throughout the year with cloud cover less than
thin, sandy and porous
devoid of any natural vegetation
mainly through channels from the glacier-melted snow
To reinforce the sense of community, architects clustered
In this way, classrooms, a dining
hall, kitchen, clinic, dormitories for residential students
and homes for teachers also serve as buffers against the
Planners also wanted a school that could operate year-
round in a region known for its extreme climates. Ladakh
has temperatures as low as -22 Fahrenheit to -56
Fahrenheit, frequent earth tremors and because of snowfall
in the mountain passes, is physically inaccessible for
months on end.
Such an environment required unique solutions to
problems of fresh food, clean water, fuel and building
The walls of the Druk School therefore are not made of
concrete, but of granite with a mud core, a traditional
material that ensures adequate insulation and offers
natural appeal in the mountain setting.
Using the latest in green technology and building
design, students will grow food in a system of indoor
cottage gardens; energy will produced by solar
power, which also will pump fresh ground water that later
will be recycled.
PASSIVE SOLAR HEATING
Ladakh is hot in summer and very cold in winter. But even
in winter, there is often intense sunlight and the teaching
spaces heat quickly thanks to their optimal 30° south-east
orientation, combined with fully-glazed solar façades that
gather the sun‟s energy and store heat in high thermal
The Residences are oriented due south, and use Trombe
Walls, which are coated externally with dark, heat-
absorbing material and are faced with a double layer of
glass. Heat is stored in the wall and conducted inwards to
the dormitories at night-time.
A Trombe wall is a sun-facing wall separated from the
outdoors by glass and an air space, which absorbs solar
energy and releases it selectively towards the interior at
The simplest form of Trombe wall consists of a glass pane
held against a wall with an air space behind it. Connecting
this air space with the inner room are two vents, one at the
top and one at the bottom of the air space.
During the day the Sun heats first the air in this space,
then the solid wall behind. Once the air is heated it rises
and enters into the room, giving it additional heat. Also the
rising air pulls in cooler air from the room below to then be
heated. But for sometime after the sun goes down the now
hot wall will still keep heating air and exchanging that
heat into the room.
To stop the trombe walls from heating up the room in
summer, the roof overhang is used. If it is deep enough, the
higher summer sun will be able to heat the glass.
The space between the thermal mass wall and the glass
should be a minimum of 4 inches.
Vents used in a thermal mass wall must be closed at night.
Thermal wall thickness should be about 10-14 inches for
brick, 12-18 for concrete, 8-12” for adobe or other earth
material and at least 6 inches for water.
Trombe walls can also be used to create ventilation in sub
floor spaces. If there is adequate height in the sub floor
space set it up so that the top vent goes into the sub floor
space and that the bottom is open to the outside (instead of
the inside). In effect a solar chimney is created, feeding into
the sub floor space. This will raise the average temperature
in the sub floor area that should lower the relative
TROMBE WALLS THAT ABSORB THE SUN'S ENERGY DURING THE DAYTIME TO
WARM THE DORMITORIES AT NIGHT
SOUTH FACING RESIDENCES WITH ANTI-SEISMIC CROSS BRACING AND TROMBE WALLS
VENTILATION IMPROVED PIT LATRINES
Traditional dry latrines have been enhanced to „VIP
latrines‟. These eliminate fly and odour problems and most
importantly in a desert environment - do not require water.
A double chamber system with an integrated solar flue
allows their operation as composting toilets and produces
humus that can be used as fertiliser.
The latrine blocks are clad in solar panels that dry human
waste, permitting it to be compacted into an all but
odourless fertilizer. Fresh air is drawn through the latrine
blocks, to dissipate an unpleasant odour, which in turn
discourages flies and other disease-carrying insects.
The architects particularly are pleased with the design of
the latrines, which could help to revolutionize health in
much of the developing world.
VIP LATRINE UNDER CONSTRUCTION WITH METAL CLADDING BEING PAINTED
BLACK TO ABSORB HEAT AND CAUSE FUMES TO RISE
CONSTRUCTING COMPOSTING BAYS FOR A VIP LATRINE
The school aims to manage the electricity demand within
the constraints of solar energy
As the school expands and electricity demand
increases, they will need to increase installed capacity of
both photovoltaic panels and inverters.
Around half of the initial investment in solar energy was
co-financed by carbon-offset funds
PHOTOVOLTAIC PANELS TO GENERATE ELECTRICITY FROM SUNLIGHT,
COMMISSIONED OCTOBER 2008
The mains electricity supply in Ladakh is highly unreliable and
therefore the school was previously forced to use a diesel
generator to produce power to run lights, computers and the office
However, the generator was polluting a fragile environment and
the school therefore determined to become energy self-sufficient
through the use of solar energy.
Stage 1 was achieved in 2008 with the installation of photovoltaic
panels and inverters, but it is necessary to increase the capacity
to meet the demands of the expanding school.
The solar scheme was independently audited and approved by
TICOS, the Travel Industry Carbon Offset Service, and travellers
may offset their carbon travel footprint via their travel agent and
Water supply in the Leh Valley comes from snow-melt. The
volume of water potentially available at any time depends
on the amount of accumulated ice stored in glaciers and
permafrost, and on snowfall each winter.
Through spring and summer, the snow and ice gradually
melt, and the water runs down numerous channels and
eventually joins the Indus River that runs through Ladakh
and into Pakistan.
Weather patterns seems to be shifting and glaciers are
tending to recede. Therefore water supply could be at risk
in some areas in the medium-term.
The solar pumps raise water from a depth of about 30
metres into above-ground reservoirs at the top of the
campus, from where water is distributed under gravity
through separate potable and irrigation systems.
Grey water is used for irrigation, including for willow
SEISMIC DESIGN & SAFETY
The major October 2005 earthquake in adjacent Pakistan
was a „wake-up call‟ concerning such risks in Ladakh
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
HORIZONTAL AND VERTICAL ANTI-SEISMIC CROSS-BRACING, WITH SUMMER
2-STOREY JUNIOR BLOCK; EARLY STAGE PLANTING OF FRUIT TREE SAPLINGS IN
The Himalayan region is one of the most disaster prone and
ecologically vulnerable ecosystems in the world. For nearly six
months of the year, the valley is cut off by prolonged snowfall.
Under the patronage of His Holiness, the fourteenth Dalai Lama,
the Drupka Trust, which commissioned the school, wanted to help
Ladakhi youth negotiate India‟s rigorous national exam system
successfully while allowing them to maintain a deep connection to
the traditional cultures and fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas. It
is exactly the challenge all economically poor communities face: how
to survive in a modern world that increasingly renders traditional,
low-impact lifestyles unviable.
Galeazzi and her design team at Arup Associates chose an approach
that was both innovative and low tech for building the school. The
team prioritized simplicity, robustness, adaptability, and
appropriateness. Given the fragility of the ecosystem, the they
planned for a nearly zero-impact system for water, energy and
The buildings needed to be able to respond to drought, retreating
glaciers and less predictable weather patterns, as well as be easy to
operate and maintain. These principles are in clear contrast to the high-
tech approach adopted in the area in recent years, where buildings
produced are difficult to use and expensive to maintain.
The real challenge for the design team arose each time the analysis
results had to be translated into construction techniques. Designing for
Ladakh, with its unreliable power supplies and consequent limitations
on the use of machinery, meant that materials had to be simple to
procure and buildings simple to build and run.
Because Ladakh is a highly seismic zone, the engineers used the latest
analysis software to develop earthquake-resistant construction. Passive
solar-energy systems, the optimum use of natural ventilation, daylight
and double glazing are systemic.
Most of the materials - stone, mud mortar, mud bricks, timber, and
grass are indigenous to Ladakh. Using these materials enabled to
severely limit reliance on imported products. Trombe walls were
adapted from vernacular practice for the residences This increases the
efficiency of the system and ensures that the rooms are constantly kept
comfortable even when outdoor temperatures drop well below zero.
There is no need of the burning stoves or gas heaters commonly used in
Ladakh households. In a location that would otherwise be a desert, the
water cycle of the site relies on a solar-powered pump that delivers
potable groundwater by gravity feed.
The team was inspired by the superbly rendered mud-brick and
stone construction of the ancient monasteries. The
buildings, designed to recall the region's monasteries, open onto
tree-lined avenues, gardens and small, stone-paved streets or
squares. Weather permitting, instruction takes place out of doors, a
boon for students used to outdoor life.
Architects say that the Druk School demonstrates an alternative to
the crude interpretations of Western design and building methods
that prevail in so much of the developing world and that produce
brutal, ugly and dysfunctional landscapes.
The overall result is a school that a Ladakhi child and parent can
immediately recognize as being connected to their culture and way
of life. It is this sense of belonging that invites them to learn from
the radical propositions that culminate in the building‟s efficiency
and structural logic and that promise survival in a mountainous
region racked with earthquakes, retreating glaciers, and
spontaneous floods. Interpreting these local conditions in a
responsive and appropriate way and furthering innovation and
improvement without depriving the design of its indigenous roots
are the principles of an extraordinary partnership that can provide
a model for other fragile communities and cultures under pressure
RESIDENT ARCHITECT JAKE ARMITAGE WITH CONSTRUCTION MANAGER SONAM
Design for Asia Grand Award, 2009
Award for „Inspiring Design - International‟ from the British Council for
School Environments, 2009
Sinclair Knight Merz Award, 2005
BCCB - Large Consultancy Firm of the Year, 2003
World Architecture Awards, 2002
Best Green Building:
The environmental strategy maximizes the site's solar potential. The heavy
mass of the buildings act as a thermal buffer to mitigate the variations in
external temperatures. All materials are local and, where possible, from
Best Asian Building:
The whole project is conceived as a model of appropriate and sustainable
design. Building materials are mostly indigenous to Ladakh, with careful
auditing of sustainable resource supplies. There is also no imported energy.
None of this is achieved by compromising the quality of the architecture or of
the interior spaces."
Best Education Building:
The teaching and play spaces area arranged around a central tree-planted
courtyard that is divided with low benches that provide seating as well as
demarcating outside teaching areas. The classrooms are well lit and
ventilated+. The simple building techniques used mean that children will
easily understand how the school was constructed. The jury felt this added a
level of richness to the scheme.