with a population of over 1.3 billion people, india is home to the second most populated countries in the world. consequently, distributing public resources among 3.2 million square kilometres of land becomes a difficult and controversial task. ladakh is one of the most sparsely populated areas in kashmir and as a result, no school standards have been developed for the region — instead, the same buildings are built on lower altitudes. these buildings, lacking heating and insulation, are not suitable for winter use at 3800 meters above sea level. thus, the himalayan region suffers from a forced winter break lasting 3 months.

the school’s location was chosen together with the village, considering the optimal access from the houses and flood safety on the upper embankment of zanskar river



the local community of tanpo village had a regular sponsor to finance their teacher for the winter education, but ultimately had to hold classes at various 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. sight to sky, an NGO from singapore, the title sponsor of the tanpo solar school, has been organising medical missions to ladakh since 2015 with volunteers.

the main architectural challenge was to provide a viable environment without burning fossil fuel during the harsh himalayan winters, for educational purposes



the tanpo solar school is the second educational facility designed and constructed by the foundation. the program was requesting a solar room providing shelter for 25-30 kids during winter daylight hours. its simple geometry and the robust volume was devised to get in dialogue with the highly functional approach of the local architectural context, and to provide a confirmation for the community of their traditional values. the location was chosen together with the village considering the optimal access from the houses and flood safety on the upper embankment of zanskar river, while attempting to achieve a low ecological impact by using locally collected construction materials, like stone, pebble and mud.

the upper wall structure is built of two layers of 30 cm sun dried mud bricks



the beams and planks came from lower areas of ladakh, and the glass was the only material that came from an industrial source, having no substitute. shallow by western standards, the foundation is a mere 30 cm deep, however 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. additionally, the mortar was the same mud used for making bricks.

the northern façade



the two opening window panes help the ventilation necessary on sunny days, while the corridor facing north acts as 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 pyramidal slope and double spouts to the eastern and western sides. the building gets warm very soon after sunrise as a result of the large windows acting like a greenhouse, and cools down soon after sunset, mainly through thermal radiation through the same windows, but the teaching only lasts during daylight. 

the foundation is a mere 30 cm deep, shallow by western standards, however following the local tradition that proved to be sufficient for centuries

thermal insulated glazing

the huge windows facing south are doubly glazed, a simple, yet unused (for financial considerations) technique by the locals

entrance corridor

protruding wooden sections in the mud wall



project info:


project name: tanpo solar school
architecture firm: csoma’s room foundation
completion year: 2017
built area: 64 sqm
project location: tanpo village, zanskar, ladakh, jammu&kashmir, india
photographers: balázs szelecsényi, brigitta kovács, borbála bagi, szilvia odry
architecture: balázs szelecsényi, emese bárdi, balázs irimiás, jános kacsó, anna fehér
project developer: csoma’s room foundation
project title sponsor: sight to sky, singapore
project contractors: village community of tanpo and zangla, csoma’s room foundation volunteers



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: lynn chaya | designboom

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