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