Himalayan school design wins architectural award

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16 Nov 2016

A design for a Nepalese school originally established by Sir Edmund Hillary won third year Bachelor of Architectural Studies student Carson Drain the inaugural sustainability award recently.

Bachelor of Architectural Studies student Carson Drain the inaugural Jasmax sustainability award with this design for a school in the Himalaya, originally built by Sir Edmund Hilary.

The award was established by Jasmax who will sponsor it for five years.

Drain’s design for the challenging project was informed by his love of humanitarian work.

“Originally the site was the first school that Sir Edmund Hillary built in 1961. He built a collection of them as part of the Himalayan Trust and this was the first one I looked at. I talked to my grandfather and it turns out he knew the guy who was running the school, Jim Strang, who is teaching the Nepalese teachers how to teach the New Zealand curriculum.”

Drain interviewed Strang, including the interview as part of his exhibit in the EXIT end of year show, along with a model of the school and concept plans.

The concept design shows the inaccessibility of the school, high in the Himalayan sherpa village of Khumjung.

Social sustainability was a strong focus of the design. The site also demanded this – at 4000m, four to five days walk from the nearest road, the project demanded collaboration, reuse of materials and sensitivity to the social fabric of Khumjung Village, essentially a Sherpa village, with a mix of wealth and poverty and different religious views.

“Everything you bring, it has to be carried in. They have an airfield nearby but it's only for light materials. So I've got different aspects of the community coming together to create something that is owned and operated by the community.

“For example the materials they've got out there, the sherpas have to bring them up. Then how the men would be able to assemble the design, the children and the elderly would be able to help create the structure and the women would be able to weave the panels for the internal spaces.”

Drain's design maximises solar gain to capture the sun's warmth as there are no resources available for heating the buildings.

The current school is a traditional bricks and mortar building that has been partially destroyed by earthquakes. “They predicted that due to the Himalayan fault, there will likely be another earthquake in 10 years, so that is an influence into my design, how to seismically protect it.”

To do this, Drain used the concept of a Gabion basket; a steel basket that holds rubble and stone and has more flexibility than traditional building methods. Also improving on traditional design, Drain would open the building to the south to make the most of solar gain and capture heat. In the resource-challenged villages, warm buildings are given a low priority, but with good design the children could be warmer while they learn.

Drain plans to travel to Scandinavia next year with a view to studying his Masters there, attracted by the excellence of Danish design and the country’s leading practice on sustainability in architecture. His long term plan is to lecture in architecture at university level.