Thursday, October 22, 2009

Greenhouse Completion!

With only a week left, we dedicated ourselves to the goal of seeing the first seeds being planted in the greenhouse while also installing an irrigation system and finalizing the classroom area. We started with the most important goal, and began to gather fertilizer for the very sandy soil.

With the help of one of the Young Drukpas, we arrived at a local village near the school where we were able to buy and bag some fresh cow manour for the job.

As you can imagine, it wasn't the most pleasant experience, but you could tell it definitely had some good nutrition for the plants.

The next day, the Young Drukpas joined us again to help mix the soil and the newly unloaded fertilizer, and to also plant the first seeds in the greenhouse.

We asked the expert advice of the Young Drukpas on what plants to grow in the greenhouse during the summer season. They listed and seeded the following plants: Radish, lettuce, spinach, and parsley among others. Half of the beds were planted with spinach sprouts so that the children could see the harvesting of them in only four weeks while the seeds would take two months till their time to be harvested.

The next task was realizing the irrigation system. The largest problem with the greenhouse was its location. Placed in an open area out and away from the school, there wasn't a water pipe or hose anywhere close to the structure. Instead of trying to lay pipe through the rock filled landscape, we decided to give the greenhouse its own independent system.

The plan was to install two 500 litre tanks at the end of the greenhouse with a nozzle and optional hose to flood the beds when needed. The tanks give the school the ability to have a constant supply of water for the plants in reserve with the option to refill them when the solar pumps and water are available.

The position of the two tanks was located above the two compost bins we had constructed earlier. This raised location will allow for a gravitationally enforced irrigation system, four feet above ground level. The structural frame underneath the tanks would have to be designed to hold 2,200 pounds when the tanks are full.

After incorporating the compost bins into the design for increased structural support and a few leaky connections, the water tanks were mounted and tested.

With the irrigation system being proven a success, the only step left was to finalize the classroom area. We had a chalkboard ordered to size by a local craftsman in Leh and delivered on the last day of our stay. With that, the greenhouse was officially finished!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Fountain Design First Proposal

Biography – Phuntsog Angmo

Angmo is a ten year old Ladakhi girl who lives in Thiksey. She has attended the Druk White Lotus School since she was nursery age. Her father is a doctor and a singer and her mother is a housewife. She has a younger brother, Jigmat Dorjay, who is 8yrs old and also attends the DWLS. Both Angmo and Dorjay ride the bus to school each morning. English is her favorite subject at school and she enjoys reading books from the school library. Angmo learned Budhist prayers at school during the morning ritual. She likes the idea of having more gardens at DWLS. She especially would like to see more fruit trees and flowers, of which roses are her favorite. When she grows up, Angmo would like to be either a nurse or an air hostess. Her favorite places to travel are Durbok, Tangtse, and Leh. Her hobbies include, watching TV, bicycling, playing, singing, and dancing. Angmo’s favorite festival is in Losar. She also travels to Shey Palace every year for its festival.

Angmo and I met on the last day of school at the DWLS. She asked me if I would be her pen pal and we exchanged addresses. We then interviewed each other in English. She is quite fluent and spoke casually and freely. When I didn’t understand a word, she would write it out for me and as I wrote out the questions to ask her, she read along. For a 10 year old, like most DWL students, Angmo is extremely curious and bright. She is a great example of Ladakh’s promising future and the influence the Druk White Lotus School is having on the youngest Ladakhi generation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pergola Update

The prototype pergola is complete:

And it creates shade:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cititizen Interview

'the cook'

Punchok Namgyal has been our cook for the last three weeks of work at the Druk Padma Karpo Institute. Namgyal was born in Kargil, just Northwest of Shey. At the age of 15 he moved to Leh, leaving his one brother to care for his parents. He visits once a year with his wife and two daughters. Cooking at the school for Namgyal began upon its opening. At the age of 62 he has more energy than one could imagine, dancing and singing across the kitchen as he cooks some of our most memorable meals.

Namgyal regularly cooks three meals a day for the resident kids of Druk Padma Karpo Institute, and enjoys every bit of it. Cooking has been something he has done all his life and has learned a variety of cuisines from his mother, such as Ladakhi, Tibetin, and Chinese. Culturally and traditionally, families in Ladakh are born into their occupation. During the last two weeks of work at the school, we were served a more "exotic" menu from what the school is used to (some would say "hallelujah"). Namgyal's days would begin as early as five `o clock in the morning. Breakfast was at 7:30am consisting of bread, butter and jam, butter tea and hot water. On occasion we would get eggs, that’s if we were good. Lunch was routinely some kind of stir-fry vegetables along with Dal, a Ladakhi barley dish. Dinner was always a surprise, momo’s (similar to potstickers), breadrull (similar to springrolls), and tokpa (soup) was an appetizing way to end the day. It has been a wonderful opportunity to experience Ladakhi cuisine and culture through Namgyal. The gathering of 29 of us three times a day to enjoy this cultural experience one way or another was a way to take a break and regroup, especially after working on five independent projects.

The campus' kitchen is very extravagant, compared to what the area is used to. Namgyal loves his kitchen. To the lower right of where Namgyal is boiling water in the image above is the dish washing sink. Originally, Arup Associates (Architect) designed the kitchen sinks to be placed similar to a western sink, waist height and near cabinetry. As a result, Namgyal and the women (his helpers) weren't using the designed sink, and found other “innovative”, or practical ways to practice how they would culturally wash dishes as well as do other things in a modernized kitchen. Arup had to redesign and install two sinks that were lower to the ground in order for the user to squat on their knees and wash dishes, exactly what they were more accustom to. There are no fixed appliances in this kitchen. The stoves are single burners, individually hooked up to separate propane tanks. The most familiar feature that we can associate with is the island situated right in the middle of the kitchen. The usual activities take place here, cutting vegetables, socializing, and drinking of tea (for us, wine). Directly above the kitchen island is a large skylight. Interestingly, this aspect is religiously common in Buddhist temples. The skylight sits directly above the altar or Buddha shedding a vibrant beam of light, and creating a focal point.

Another interesting observation in the kitchen is the use of the floor as a drain. The transport of large heavy hot pots to the nearest drain is a struggle for an average five-foot Ladakhi. Instead, they use the floor to drain rice, water, or left over pots of soup-based foods. They then take brooms and sweep the excess out a 1” diameter hole in the wall, which then drains to the outside irrigation. Plumbing is scarce, there are no septic tanks, instead they irrigate the greywater out to the street, creating a stinky smell. (potential sustainable system, minus the smell) The same goes for disposing of trash, it is collected in a pit right outside the kitchen and left to burn. Although these practices are foreign to what we are used to, it is a way of life for people in Ladakh and a means of living, given the available resources and knowledge at hand.

*Warning – The use of "us, we, I" refers to the group of 29 (+/- 1) students that have shared in thoughts and conversations related to the topic. Do not be disturbed, alarmed, nervous, or take otherwise.

Superheroes teach kids in Ladakh

In addition to thinking about architectural solutions at the Druk White Lotus School, we're also trying to help teach ecological technologies to the kids. The school is using some great sustainable strategies such as solar panels, trombe walls, and composting toilets. For our greenhouse design, we also added compost bins to help close the food loop. What better way to explain the science behind these designs to the kids than to enlist the help of Batman and Spiderman? Max and Hussein have been storyboarding, drawing, coloring, and compiling informational books and posters and tailoring them to be specifically about the school. They're looking fantastic and we'll put up more images of some of the raw drawings and the finished pages soon. Here's a sneak preview....

Citizen Interviews

Shoe Shine Boy

Rakesh, a shoe repairer and shiner at roughly fifteen years of age, is from the Punjab region of India. He has been traveling place to place making a living for himself and his family for 6 years now. Not an expert at first, he used a black polish brush on a German man’s white shoe. Needless to say this customer was not pleased as his white shoes were ruined. Rakesh since then has perfected the art of shoe revitalization and is confident that he can “make like new, any shoe”.
This young boy’s family is currently living in Manali. There, both his mother and father sell glass products such as bowls, vases, cooking tools etc. There main market is tourism and is there for suffering as the global economy endures a recession. Rakesh is pleased to have three siblings, one brother and two sisters of which one is married with three children of her own. His other sister is very ill, he expressed while pointing to his head, but remains hopeful that one day he will make enough money to repair her head.
“I school one month…no learn anything” he declared. Rakesh attended school for no more the one month; there he felt his time wasted because he was not making money to support his family. Abruptly after leaving his less important education the child became a begger, but his mother was very unhappy and demanded that he work for his money. Learning English was vital for his capacity to earn a living, without a teacher this task proved challenging. He only new some words like hungry and food, but more interaction with tourists supplied a larger vocabulary and was soon speaking fairly fluent. Rakesh can speak English but can not read or write it. He told me a man from Canada attempted to teach him once, but became frustrated with his progress and gave up. The young man, although illiterate, is capable and desires to learn one day.
The little shoe shiner lives in roughly a 4’x 5’ room with two other individuals that seemed to be family but I think are just friends. Within the room there are blankets and other tattered fabrics covering a dirt floor, out of respect one must remove their shoes upon entry. All along the path to the small room are curious obstacles: crying children in corners, steps made of stone that seem more like a broken ship ladder, duffle bags filled and pilled five high, a hallway with a deteriorating floor waiting to collapse to the level below, and large buckets filled with feces waiting to be disposed of off site. The two story building contains no electricity or plumbing, all lighting at night is from candles and all water is brought in from an outside source. For this the three pay 2000 rupees for one month which currently is about 40 U. S. dollars.
Rakesh aspires to be a trekking and or tour guide. He says that “no one want shoe fix” there is more opportunity for guides. At some point he guided a British lady and her group and was compensated with 5000 rupees. This is obviously more lucrative than fixing and polishing shoes at 100 rupees a pair, so in this part of the world being a guide is like being a doctor.

Written by Ralph Loielo

Citizen Interviews

Standing in the courtyard starting at the water fountain, a small group of girls starts to crowd around our group. After several minutes of giggling and avoiding eye contact, one gains the courage to speak. “Excuse me ma’am.” We all turn around curious as to which one of us they were actually addressing. The small group of girls looks and me and moves nearer. In a whispered voice one little girl asks me “Do you want to do friends?” Being familiar with this trend that was quickly spreading over campus I knew what she was really asking was to be pen pals. After a few minutes of exchanging names and address, standard protocol for pen pals, I decided to take this opportunity to really get to know some more information about my new “best friend”. They call taking your introduction and that is exactly what we did. Here’s what I found out about my new friend.

Name: Tashi Chorol
Birthday: May 12
Age: 13
Hometown: Igoo
House name: Hor
Mother: Yanchan Dolma, occupation: shopkeeper
Father: Tsering Paljor, Driver for Tata Mobile
Brothers: Stanzin Namdol, 10 years old, and Jigmat Chostop, 1 year old
Sister: Jigmat Norzom, 17 years
Favorite pastime: watching TV
Favorite TV program: Tom and Jerry Cartoons
Favorite Summer Activities: Swimming and Sports
Favorite Sports: Football and Skipping
Favorite School Subject: English. She really enjoys learning to speak English.
What do you want to be when you grow up: a teacher for little kids
Favorite Colors: Red and Pink
Favorite Animal: Dog
Pets: Cat named Dolma, Dog named London (He was named by her older brother, Stanzin.
Favorite Flower: Roses, especially red.
Favorite thing about DWLS: changing classes
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor (Softy flavor): orange
Favorite number: 16
Favorite movie: Cinderella
Favorite food: sandwiches
Furthest you’ve traveled: Jammu & Srinigar
Dislikes: Snow, it’s too cold.
Likes: Wearing suits and playing inside. She also likes her family’s garden. They grow turnips, carrots, sunflowers, lilies.
Best friends: Padma Angmo and Tsering Angmo. They are 12 year old twins.

After the questions, she wanted to take my introduction as well. We sat on the sidelines of the ongoing cricket game in the blazing sun. I was surrounded by a group of 8 or 9 girls all anxious to hear what I had to say. Tashi asked the questions although there were several suggestions that came from our audience. Some of my responses evoked confused faces while others, especially if we liked the same things, evoked giggling. After spending a little more than an hour, Tashi left school and was gone for two weeks of summer vacation. Shortly before leaving she had promised me that she would be back the next day with a small gift for my birthday which had happened the week before. I thanked her and told her I’d see her tomorrow. The whole time I was thinking this would never happen. Yet, there I was the next day, standing at the same water fountain when I out of the corner of my eye I see two figures enter the courtyard. It was Tashi and her mother, Yanchan. They had brought me a birthday present afterall. I was completely caught off guard and surprised. I had heard stories of how generous the Ladakhi people were but hadn’t really encountered it first hand. Yet, here in my new “best friend” I was able to experience the openness, honesty, and generosity that characterizes the region.

Written by Laura

Leh Water System

The water system in Leh is much different than what we students, living in the U.S., are used to. It is extremely rare that I turn on a faucet and not have a steady stream of clean water flow out. There is a chasm separating my understanding of my tap water, clean enough to drink, and the source from which that water originates. Leh’s water system is not as simple as the ones we have become accustomed. Often the turn of a knob brings only gurgling sounds and a spatter; if you have running water at all. Many families in Leh do not have running water in the household, instead they must head out multiple times a day to retrieve water from…water trucks, community wells,…?. Hot water is another luxury in Leh. If you are able to have a hot water source, it is often sporadic and unpredictable. Municipal water, and the city’s irrigation poses an entire other set of concerns. The town of Leh is not equipped to treat their water, so the water that is distributed to the public is susceptible to many health hazards. The following is an account of my research and observations into Leh’s water system:

-Leh’s water comes from two sources; well water, and snow melt. Wells are dug at two depths. Private residences that have their own water wells, usually dig theirs to a depth of 15 ft. This is the channel for the local snowmelt that travels beneath the ground’s surface. The city digs it’s municipal wells to a depth of 80-90ft, at which depth it can access the local aquafir.

-Ground water is pumped into the city’s large water tank. This tank is placed at the foot hills of the mountains, at an elevation above most of the city’s population so as to allow gravity to feed the pipes below.

-Walking around Leh, I see large water tanks hovering from beyond the parapet of the buildings. These water tanks are fed by personal pumping systems that pull the well water into the tank.This allows water to be stored high and gravity fed, which allows the residents to have a steady supply despite the inconsistent power supply in Ladakh.

-Municipal water spigots are few and far apart, and often placed along the city’s streets. On my short walk from our hotel to the breakfast restaurant next door, I regularly pass by four or five locals standing with a line of water jugs beside them. As many houses do not have their own water supply, they must walk to this spigot multiple times a day, buckets in hand, ready to fill and carry it back home. These spigots are often simply pipe sticking out of the ground with a faucet attached. The water pressure is low and so the simple task of getting water takes a significant amount of time to accomplish.

-Another significant source of water is water trucks. Often waking me up before my alarm, these trucks sound a distinctive horn around 6am. These trucks bring tap water from Chanspa, a neighboring town, and sell it to local residents.

-An additional source of water is local wheelbarrows with metal tanks of water covered with a plastic sheet. Looking down from my hotel window in the morning I see men wheeling these carts around on foot. Residents then come out and dunk their buckets into the water, and he moves onward.

-Irrigation canals wind throughout the entire city. These canals vary in the composition; some appear to be small creeks, some are paved out of stone, and the newest are formed from concrete. The canals that run alongside the busy streets are sporadically covered by metal grating.

The streams twist between the backs of houses and sometimes cross beneath streets. The water source of these canals is usually snowmelt. This means that water may be scarce, if the day is too cold or overcast, or that it may rush and overflow the roads on a particularly warm day. Although these are meant to feed the city’s greenery, residents have found other ways to utilize this free and constant water source. Many residents can be found doing their laundry, or washing their dishes in this water. The lack of municipal protection of this water source allows for multiple avenues of contamination. Animals such as dogs, cows and donkeys can be found bathing and defecating in these streams. The residents themselves sometimes channel their sewage to these open canals allowing for serious health concerns.

-The excess of this water is eventually fed back into the Indus River. There is no municipal water drainage system set up and so the water, mostly contaminated, travels beneath ground, downhill, and finds its way to the Indus.

Global warming is also having an impact on the region the local rainfall has been steadily increasing. Although this seems to be a positive change to such an arid climate, the city cannot support increased rainfall. The earth itself is unsuitable for rainfall, and drains poorly. It is so dry and compact that the water does not fully absorb to nourish it. Instead it just travels superficially across the surface and leads back to the Indus. The irrigation canals have started to overflow with the increase of snowmelt, as they were not created with room for increase water flow. The local construction methods are also not conducive to moist climate. As the buildings are almost entirely made of mud brick, the ever increasing amount of rain and snowmelt will eventually lead to the degradation of the city’s architecture as well as its urban topography.

Written by Angela Previdelli

Tensile Shade Structure


The Druk White Lotus School is located in the high altitude desert of the Ladakh region of the Himalayas, being perched at an extreme height and having little natural relief from solar exposure, the summer months experience high amounts of solar gain. Treks across the school grounds and between buildings are long and current outdoor courtyard space is underutilized due to the daytime heat and high amounts of direct solar exposure.

In the past, high winds that travel lengthwise through the valley have rendered past solar shade structures in the classroom courtyards useless, minimizing their lifespan and usefulness. However, it is a goal to transition the entire DWLS campus into a functional living classroom. Two professional specialists in the field of tensile architecture, Sarah Bonnemaison and Christine Macy joined the design team, leading the student designers in a series of studies, generating design solutions that were simple translations of the basic rules of tensile forces and proper construction techniques. A scaled model of pinned, stretched, and sewn pantyhose was generated based on these studies while creating a geometry that responds to existing freestanding structural elements, resulting in a proposal for a shading strategy appropriate for intermediary courtyard spaces found between buildings throughout the campus. This model was translated into full scale pattern pieces, which lead to the creation of a life-size prototype of one third of the larger structure that was erected and tested for its structural integrity in the nursery courtyard.

Design details are based upon the use of local fabrics and the modernization and re-appropriation of traditional tying techniques like those found in re-bo design, the traditional handmade nomadic tent of the region, while also borrowing layering techniques from contemporary sail design. A pattern consisting of local canvas and jute fabrics from Leh are matched and designed in order to match the five colors of the mandala, a Buddhist form that has been respected within the masterplan of the entire school by lead designers, ARUP Associates as requested by His Holiness, the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa.

The fabric canopy is designed for easy adjustability and mass production, employing three repetitive geometries to be raised and lowered dependant on season. The raising of the canopy during summer months creates usable space for an outdoor classroom, and is intended to be lowered during winter months when harsh outdoor temperatures render uninsulated outdoor space unlivable.

Mass production has begun on the final shading structure to be in place by the end of our tenure here this summer with the help of local tailors, and has involved such battles as nightly sewing circles in order to produce the pattern prototype, as well as severe rug burn scenarios while cutting hundreds of final fabric pieces down to form in due time, frying of power outlets after hours of ironing, and severe pinpricks, and dye leakage. The canopy is to be erected on Friday; a Kingfisher beer garden is scheduled for its initiation on Saturday.

Written by Jersey Wicks