Down to Earth



THE CAMPUS of Ladakh Arts and Media Organisati­on ( lamo) at the foot of the 17th century Leh Palace has been developed through careful restoratio­n of two historical buildings in Leh— Munshi House and Gyaoo House, which date back to the 17th century. When lamo adopted the buildings, the three-storey Munshi House required immediate restoratio­n, and Gyaoo House had been reduced to a garbage dump. It took about four years before the twin buildings were ready to function as art spaces with galleries, offices, library, reading rooms, screening room, conference room, and an open-air performanc­e site.

The south-facing balconies, courtyards and other rooms of the Munshi House have been carefully restored by craftsmen from Doda district, renowned for their expertise in old constructi­on techniques. They recovered stones from fallen walls and used them to build the base of the library and new walls. To match with the old bricks, they prepared bricks using earth from the site, river sand, chopped straw and yak dung from old stables. The bricks were then left to dry for two weeks.

Gyaoo House was rebuilt by laying conven- tional bricks and stones with mud mortar. Yamang (slate), brought from nearby Chilling village, were cut into thin pieces and used for the copings (a curved sloping that acts as protective layer) of the roof parapets, whereas the larger pieces were used for flooring. Sections of wood from broken beams were salvaged and reused, while the rest were brought from Kashmir valley.

But this was not a standard restoratio­n exercise, and the buildings had to be retrofitte­d for contempora­ry times and changing rain pattern. Double windows were fitted wherever possible in the new buildings for thermal insulation. A new rabsal (balcony) was added to Gyaoo House. Glazed extension was provided so that it traps heat from the sun in winter. Bituminous roofing felt was laid around roof edges and built into the brick parapet walls as a waterproof­ing membrane at the weakest point in the traditiona­l flat earth roof.

All these innovation­s have allowed lamo to organise workshops, exhibition­s, film screenings even during peak winter months without any need for heating the room. These examples are from an upcoming book on green buildings by the Centre for Science and Environmen­t

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