Design Build Program, BaSiC Initiative

As part of Professor Sergio Palleroni's longstanding BaSiC Initiative and in partnership with ARUP Associates, students from across North America participated in a design/build program to create a new and much-needed Visitor Centre for the Druk White Lotus School in Ladakh, India.

The Druk White Lotus School (DWLS) is a primary and secondary school under the patronage of the Dalai Lama, and founded in 1992. It sits high in the Indian Himalaya among one of the last remaining mountain societies where a traditional Tibetan Buddhist way of life still thrives. The school was started at the request of the Ladakhi people, who wanted a school that would help maintain their rich cultural traditions while equipping their children for life in the 21st Century.

Top: Photo of the Visitor Centre interior in progress; Bottom: Panorama view from building site


In the summer of 2010, students spent five weeks in the region collaborating with ARUP in the second phase of charrettes toward improving and preserving the life of the Ladakhi community at Druk White. It was determined that a Visitor Centre was a much-needed addition to the school, in order to educate guests on the workings of the school without disrupting the children's daily routines.

Upon entering the Visitor Centre, guests are greeted by a large corner window with a view to the Naropa Monastery and the spectacular mountain range surrounding the valley. A custom-made cabinet that draws upon traditional Ladakhi furniture styles acts as a semi-transparent partition between the entrance and the gallery space; which will hold Ladakhi artifacts, information on the school, and student artwork. Guests entering the gallery are greeted by the light of four skylights, which illuminate the hand-made mosaic inlayed into the floor. The back wall of the gallery is day lit using a "wash wall" technique in which an extruding, angled partition helps to bounce light far into the space.

Top to Bottom: Plans, sections and elevations of the DWLS Visitor Centre

Clockwise from Top Left: Lighting study; Floor mosaic in progress, designed based on techniques used by Buddhist nuns in the Naropa Monastery; finished mosaic ready to be placed into floor; final lighting study


The design-build process was a transformational one - physically making one's designs come to life in an off-the-grid environment was both humbling and inspiring. We often stood in awe of the artisans and builders who were immensely more competent at the construction techniques we attempted. It was an honour to learn in this way, and we are so grateful to the school's students, teachers and faculty, the DWLS builders and the nuns of the Naropa Monastery for this opportunity. 

A film by Steve Kovacs documenting the Basic Initiative Design/Build in Ladakh, India 2010

Video tour of the completed Visitor Centre at the Druk White Lotus School

The photos and sketches that follow document the town of Leh, Ladakh, the students of the Druk White Lotus School, and the environmental context in which the school is found.

From Top: Sketches of Leh Palace and Leh's Old Town; Photos of the interior of Leh Palace

From Top: The daughter of one of the DWLS's builders; students of the DWLS on break from class; panoramas of the vistas in Ladakh

Completed: 2010