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A green school amid a cold desert

A classroom at Ladakh's Druk White Lotus School. (IANS Photo)This is a story filed by Madhusree Chatterjee of IANS, which has been captured by:

and many other online news channel.

Shey (Jammu and Kashmir), July 9 (IANS) Barely 15 km southeast of Leh, the hilly headquarters of Ladakh district in Jammu and Kashmir, lies one of India's most innovative "green" schools that operates on solar power and draws on natural elements to provide "sustainable education" to poor children.

The eco-friendly futuristic architecture of Ladakh's Druk White Lotus School. (IANS Photo)The earthquake-resistant Druk White Lotus School, made of local sandstone, poplar and willow wood, steel, glass and solar panels, straddles a sandy stretch of cold desert in Shey village, flanked by barren mountains.

The school, a seat of education that blends the traditional Ladakhi culture, Buddhist philosophy and modern learning modules, is the winner of three World Architecture Awards - for the best "Asian Building", the best "Green Building" and the best "Education Building".

Last week, the school won the prestigious British Council for School Environment award for the most "Inspiring Design".

The Druk White Lotus School caters to 506 students - 260 boys and 246 girls - from the villages of Ladakh where modern education is still a dream.

“We wanted to impart quality education to the poor but intelligent children of Ladakh, who are grounded in Buddhist philosophy and local culture. And we needed a school for it,” Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of the Drukpa Buddhist sect, which owns and manages the school, told IANS.

The school comprises building blocks that trap sunlight through glass panels and solar discs.

The classrooms use natural light. The rays of the early sun filter in through a row of light vents facing the east, the noon sun pours in through a column of overhead light shafts and the evening sun bathes the rooms in a golden glow through glass panes facing the west. The light shafts are complemented by tall French windows that open out to the east.

The solar panels outside harness energy from the sun to keep the turbines running.

“We commissioned the solar generator in 2008 because Ladakh has nearly 300 days of clear sunshine,” said Philip Cornwell, first chair of the Drukpa Trust, London, who helped raise funds for the school through international charities.

The award winning features of the school, Cornwell said, were the ventilation improved pit latrines that did not need water “in a desert environment”, passive solar heating devices and “trombe” walls that trapped heat and released them slowly through narrow spaces between the facades, a gravity feed water system that pumped snow-melt water from a depth of 30 metres and anti-seismic wooden rods and steel support structures to withstand earthquakes.

“A double chamber system allows the toilet to function as composting pits to produce natural manure, while the trombe walls of the school residences are coated with a dark heat-absorbing material and double layers of glass to trap and store heat throughout the year into the classrooms and dormitories,” Cornwell explained.

The school also offers a carbon offset investment programme to visitors flying in to Ladakh to reduce their carbon footprints by investing in the school’s solar generator system.

The school was set up in the mid-1990s as a kindergarten education facility after some villagers requested the 12th Gwalyang Drukpa to build a “modern English medium school” for their children.

“We set up the Drukpa International Trust in London in 1992 and started raising funds with our Indian counterpart, Druk Pema Karpo Education Society. Two young architects, Jonathan Rose and Duncan Woodburn, implemented the design conceived by Gyalwang Drukpa,” Cornwell recalled. It was completed in 2001.

The school over the years has expanded to Class 7 and will have Class 8 by 2010.