Danielle Herzenberg shares her experience participating in Basic Initiative’s summer program:
This summer five intrepid Interior Architecture Graduate students decided to roll up our sleeves and head to India where we could get some hands on design and building experience. Our work site was located at the Druk White Lotus School, a small, remote Buddhist school high in the extraordinary Himalaya Mountains of Ladakh. We met up with a team of forty other architecture students through BaSiC Initiative – a Research/Design/Build program headed by Sergio Palleroni that aids developing communities around the world through sustainable architecture. The school was built by Arup Associates under the patronage of the Dalai Lama and 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..
This year, students were selected from around the USA and Canada to collaborate through designing plans and charettes to build a much-needed Visitor Centre for the School. Using traditional Ladakhi mud-brick construction techniques, the building 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 and diffuse light from the window far into the space.
The four weeks spent in Ladakh were packed with exciting and grueling work. Some days were spent pouring concrete until sundown, making window frames without power tools, and balancing on crude scaffolding to complete the final rows of mud brick. However, it was all worth it when we saw our beautiful building come together and our designs turned into real, tangible forms. It did not take us long to come together as a group and pull every last ounce of energy towards the service of others.
Danielle Herzenberg is a graduate student in the 3-year Master’s of Interior Architecture program.