PROJECT OF STANDARDISED SCHOOLS : MELA
2015+ Rural locations in Nepal (in approval process)
MELA Standardised School Project is designed for rural areas in the hilly districts of Nepal. It aims to inspire with the use of improved traditional technologies, locally sourced materials and focus on minimizing environmental impact. The design of the building hopes to excel from the existing standard of make-do, cheap and functional, the three criteria that often satisfy a successful building project.
The school is laid out for prospective learning/teaching innovations and seeks to fulfil the desire for novelty and contemporary architecture with sensitivity, small-scale and cultural consideration.
EXISTING RURAL SCHOOLS
Even before the big earthquakes in 2015, rural schools were generally sparse, substandard and lacking funding and teachers. The tremors brought many of the poorly constructed buildings down. The influx of foreign investments after the earthquake helped to rebuild a number of the schools to a safer standard, but the needs in many other locations still remain.
The classrooms are often overcrowded with 40-45 children in a room of 16 to 20m2 1), which greatly decelerates dynamics of classes. Where schools exist, walking distances may take up to 2 hours each way. Children living such distances from the school usually attend only in dry season, as the terrain gets impassable and dangerous during monsoon. Younger children are sometimes kept at home until the age when they can walk long distances. I locations with no schools, people would try to send children to live with relatives in a city.
The changing demographics also presents a challenge. Population in Nepal doubled from 1980 to 2018, from 14.5 million to 29 million 2). Youth literacy rate in 15-24 years age group in 2018 is around 85% 3) Most rural schools also cannot provide the full scope of formal school education, which is now 12 years 4) (primary and secondary), which limits their students from further educational options.
1) This means 0.35-0.5m2 per student; recommendation by Department of Education in Nepal is min. 1m2 (source: Giridhar Mishara - Safer and Child-Friendly School Construction in Nepal).
2) source: World Bank
3) source: UNESCO
4) Formal school education in Nepal officially spans a period of 12 years, at the successful completion of which a student graduates with a certificate of Higher Secondary Education (10+2). However, since the majority of the schools in the country have not been upgraded for the lack of funds and resources to the 10+2 level, the old high school system with national level School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examination at the end of 10 years still persists. This system consists of the primary level of grades 1–5, lower secondary and secondary levels of grades 6–8 and 9–10 respectively. (source: 25.10.2013)
RURAL BUILDINGS AND SKILL BASE
Nepal possesses rich and exquisite traditional building heritage suited to the local materials, climate, economy and way of life. Traditional rural houses are simple and elegant, usually made of mud bricks, wood, stone and straw, and are regularly maintained and renovated. Repainting and repairing the house is one of the many annual cultural rites.
In some locations, traditional architecture preserved the know-how of earthquake safety. In others, it has been lost and seismic-proof measures needed to be reintroduced into the building design. After the big earthquakes, this perceived ‘un-safeness’ of traditional construction techniques together with the higher maintenance requirements were the major factors behind the massive demand for imported materials. These days, traditional materials and technologies are being supplanted by cement and other energy-consuming market products. This brings along architecture which is at times alien to the rural lifestyle and removes the traditional cornerstone from the picturesque and architectural character of the settlements.
The project is founded on these four key premises:
Opening more primary schools in strategic rural locations and upgrading existing schools to a higher standard will help to provide children with better access and education.
Establishing sufficient and quality rural educational facilities would help to reduce urban migration and promote the self-esteem of the respective region. Even if this will never be the case for tertiary education, quality primary and secondary schools could contribute positively to this issue.
Use of these improved technologies in buildings with contemporary forms will contribute to bringing a more positive perception of these technologies and materials by the local population.
Use of low-emission local materials keeps pollution and carbon imprint of new constructions to a minimum. Modelling this will help to bring awareness of the issue, together with available solutions.
We work with technologies such as rammed earth, wattle and daub, earth bricks and bamboo that are all vernacular in one part of Nepal or another. We draw on research in improving these technologies to be more durable and require less maintenance, such as additives, soil analysis and manipulation of its composition and insecticide treatment for bamboo.
Seismic-proof structures are a key aspect of the design. Lightweight roof structure, RC ring beam at slab level, thick monolithic rammed earth walls with vertical reinforcement and corner buttresses are the main seismic-proof features.
Monsoons and winds usually represent the greatest periodic environmental change for buildings. Large roof overhangs are designed to shelter the building from direct rain exposure, while elevated plinths and appropriate drainage protect top soils it from water runoff and groundwater saturation. Well designed overhangs are also key for passive solar principles (shading hot summer shining & allowing low winter rays to penetrate)
More than a shelter. Children have to want to come to school in order to feel relaxed, and therefore ready to learn. Outdoor areas, shaded seating and playground are as important as formal classrooms.
Minimal import of materials. In the challenging geography of Nepal, transport of materials is usually highly complicated with limited opportunities for use of vehicles. Ethical sourcing of materials and low environmental impact are also hard to ensure when sourcing from chain sellers.
The desired improved educational opportunities will, clearly, not be brought solely by the manipulation of the built environment. Our vision for the teaching style is one that is non-coercive, non-competitive, respectful, joyful child-oriented. Besides the general education agenda, teachings in rural areas have to be adapted to the village life - containing practical information in farming, sustainability and environmental awareness, communication and conflict resolution and other relevant areas.
The project was initiated in 2009 as an entry in 2009: Open Architecture Challenge - an international competition initialised by Architecture for Humanity (USA). The proposal draws on the experience of Czech architects and their teacher-volunteering in a rural school in Nepal. The competition entry was shortlisted as one of 8 finalists from 400 submissions worldwide. At the end of 2010, we ran a learning and research workshop for the team members in bamboo and earth constructions in Nepal. In October 2012, construction of the first building begun in Anaikot.