architecture : urban : visual culture

Sun-dried mud and sunshine - Solar School in the Himalayas

Balázs Szelecsényi, Emese Bárdi, Balázs Irimiás, János Kacsó and Anna Fehér (Csoma's Room Foundation) have been active in the region of Tampa village for 10 years now. Their present design has not only delivered local students a place to study but can also serve as a prototype for future constructions, as it is mainly made of local materials.

The project was requested by Tanpo village community, in the remote valley of Zanskar river in Ladakh, the Indian Himalayas. The main architectural challenge was to provide a viable environment for educational purposes, without burning fossil fuel in the Himalayan winter. Probably due to the small percentage of the ladakhi population inside India, no Ladakh-specific school standard plan has been developed for the region, the same buildings are being built as the ones on lower altitude areas of Jammu&Kashmir. These buildings, lacking heating and insulation, are not suitable for winter use at 3800 meters altitude above sea level. Thus, the Himalayan region suffers from a forced winter break lasting 3 months.

Sun School in Tanpo - architects: Balázs Szelecsényi, Emese Bárdi, Balázs Irimiás, János Kacsó, Anna Fehér


The local community of Tanpo village had a regular sponsor to finance their teacher for the winter education since 2011, but they had to hold classes at altering locations in different living rooms. Csoma's Room Foundation, an NGO registered in Hungary, has been active in the region since 2008. They started out as a monument conservation project based on volunteers, later developing into a social enterprise focusing on education and sustainable development. A sight to Sky, an NGO from Singapore, the Title Sponsor of the Tanpo Solar School, has been organizing medical missions to Ladakh since 2015 with volunteers.

Sun School in Tanpo - architects: Balázs Szelecsényi, Emese Bárdi, Balázs Irimiás, János Kacsó, Anna Fehér


The Tanpo Solar School is the second school designed and constructed by the Foundation. The program was to request a solar room providing shelter for 25-30 kids during winter daylight hours. The simple geometry and the robust volume was devised to enter into dialogue with the highly functional approach of the local architectural context and confirm the traditional values of the community. The location was chosen together with the people of the village, considering the optimal access from the houses and flood-prevention, on the upper embankment of Zanskar river.

The design attempts to achieve a low ecological impact by the use of locally collected construction materials like stone, pebble, and mud. The beams and planks came from lower areas of Ladakh, and glass, having no traditional substitute, was the only material that came from an industrial source. The foundation is merely 30 cm deep: shallow by western standards, but following the local tradition that proved to be sufficient for centuries. The lower part of the wall is built of stone to another 30 cm above ground to reach the inner floor level. The upper wall structure is built of two layers of 30 cm sun-dried mud bricks with locally sourced straw insulation between. The mortar was the same mud used for making bricks.

Sun School in Tanpo - architects: Balázs Szelecsényi, Emese Bárdi, Balázs Irimiás, János Kacsó, Anna Fehér


The huge window facing almost South has a double glazing, a simple, yet unused (for financial considerations) technique by the locals. The two opening window panes help the ventilation necessary on sunny days. The corridor on the North acts like an extra insulation towards the coldest direction that never gets sunshine. The corridor has a window to the West for proper light, shelving and washbasin on the left, and a long bench to the right. The classroom has some shelves and a wall with a pattern of protruding wooden sections to provide nailing possibility for a board and some posters. The roof features a hidden water drainage with a hidden pyramidal slope and double spouts to the Eastern and Western sides.

The building gets warm very soon after sunrise, thanks to the large windows acting like a greenhouse, and cools down soon after sunset, mainly through thermal radiation through the same windows. However, the teaching only lasts during daylight. The project aimed to become an open source design, available for reuse, and serve as an inspiration to the locals. The community was involved with construction throughout the process, the principles of planning have already begun to spread in the region.

Sun School in Tanpo - architects: Balázs Szelecsényi, Emese Bárdi, Balázs Irimiás, János Kacsó, Anna Fehér

Balázs Szelecsényi, Balázs Irimiás, Emese Bárdi



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