The role of the RWTH Aachen regarding the project of Sani Zanskar

Building a medical health care centre with winter school in the North Indian Himalayas (Ladakh / Zanskar)

The seminar Technical interior work and Design offered by the architectural faculty of the RWTH Aachen is dealing with integration of technical equipment in buildings. The main focus is on resource-saving building and its effects on architectural design.

In Summer 2006 our seminar was contacted by the Förderverein Sani Zanskar which wanted to find out if it would be possible for the students to create designs for the building of a school and medical ward within the framework of their seminar work. These designs were to be used by the association as the basis for realizing the building.

There were two reasons for us to go ahead with this project, i.e. dealing with buildings in extreme climatic conditions is part of the curriculum, on the one hand, and quite suitable, on the other hand, for illustrating building-physical interrelationships when accentuating individual (climatic) parameters.

The second aspect is the quite attractive perspective for the students to deal with a task during their studies which has a good potential to be realized without having to compete with local architectural offices (since there are no such offices there).

The seminar has meanwhile been successfully completed. In four groups, sixteen architectural students have prepared designs for the school building and health care ward with a special focus on passive sun energy use. Solar energy is available in abundance in this valley situated in a height of 3700 m and besides the hardly suitable cow dung – fire the only available energy source. There is no firewood. Thanks to the cooperation with other university institutes, the feasibility of the study regarding sun use conceived by the students could be confirmed within the framework of a thermal simulation.

During the next months detail planning will take place before the first plans will be sent to Ladakh. In July some students will travel with the Förderverein Sani Zanskar to India to support the building of the centre on a voluntary basis and without being paid.

Detailed description of the project

The school and health care building in Sani (Ladakh / Zanskar) is to accommodate a one-room school and a hospital ward on a surface area amounting to 150 m². The aim is to erect a building heated by sun energy which is providing an agreeable temperature level even in Winter and will thus allow to use the school all year round, and which is also offering enough space for basic medical health care.

While the classroom with its huge glazing is converting sun energy directly into heat and is thus offering a very moderate room climate towards the middle of the day, is cooling down at night, however, due to the huge glass surface, the other rooms have been equipped with Trombe walls. These store the energy generated by the sun and release it to the room evenly distributed over day and night. Thus a steady temperature level forms.

An important aspect of the design is the underlying strategic idea to divide the building into different construction phases to be able to react to the local conditions which are quite difficult to calculate.

In addition to the entrance area, sanitary unit, classroom, school kitchen and living room for the caretaker, there is a hospital room in the house and also a treatment room in which severely sick people can also be hospitalized. The building may be extended so that taking the needs of the coming years into consideration, an extension is possible on both face sides.

The materials used are selected according to the aspects of local availability and acceptance. Thus mainly clay and eel basket as well as natural stones are used, the plaster is also made of clay. Wood is also used, it needs to be transported from far away regions, however, just like the single glazing, since Ladakh and Zanskar hardly possess any wood resources. The techniques employed need to be quite simple and functional so that the local population may carry out repairs themselves and thus sustainability is assured to a large extent.