via AD : Leh-Ladakh has always been on India’s map as the emplacement de l’exotique. But one man’s dreams and efforts to change the educational and cultural landscapes of the mountain peoples and the Himalayan countries, has taken root in the form of SECMOL (The Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh) and HIAL (Himalayan Institute of Alternatives).
Part of this initiative is to break away from conventional thinking and approach, and engage and encourage learning through practical application. The Sun and Earth Natural Building Festival, an international natural building festival organized by HIAL and the first of it skind, is a step in this direction.
It brings together experts and interested participants from around the world to share and learn how to build with locally available natural resources like earth, stone and using the energy from the sun. Sonam Wangchuk, the multi-faceted educational reformist and engineer-innovator—the real life Phunsukh Wangdu of the Raju Hirani film 3 Idiots—is the man behind SECMOL & HIAL that organized the festival.
Deepthi Radhakrishnan interviews festival co-ordinator and organizer Faiza Khan to learn about the festival.
Faiza Khan holds a degree in architecture from Rachna Sansad Academy of Architecture, Mumbai and then went on to pursue her Masters from the Barcelona Institute of Architecture. She and her partner, Suril Patel, also an architect, are currently travelling across India, learning and sharing their knowledge and creating an experiential library of vernacular built forms. Eventually, they plan to start their own architectural practice
Deepthi Radhakrishnan (DR): What was the impetus behind putting together the first international natural building festival?
Faiza Khan (FK): For the last five years SECMOL, with its 23 years of experience in natural building construction, has been organizing the earth and solar courses with participants from around the world. This year the event was celebrated as an international festival at the upcoming university, Himalayan Institute of Alternatives (HIAL), Ladakh toward the last week of July.
DR: What went on at the international natural building festival?
FK: World leaders in the field of earth architecture, earth plasters, bioclimatic engineers, as well as architects led a series of hands-on workshops on earth building techniques like rammed earth, cob, adobe, straw-clay, various earth finishing like, flooring, roofing, and passive design principles for climate responsive buildings. The idea was to gather experts from varied fields of natural building, and run parallel, hands-on workshops and lectures so that participants can observe and learn from different directions and spread the learning in their respective places of application.
DR: What is specific to Ladakh that makes it a suitable location for the festival?
FK: Ladakh landscape is filled with varied coloured barren mountains and strong solar radiation. In old times, Ladakhi lifestyle consisted of sustainable building methods and living practices. We see remains of ancient earth construction, and passive solar techniques can be applied on that to overcome the cold winters. Ladakh offers a great location to combine both sun and earth and to learn about them. It is also the birth point of Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh—a university that will help educate the masses for sustainable mountain development.
The festival not only helps create awareness about natural building methods in the community, outsiders and among government officials but also helps them realise the strength of earth constructions and how passive solar techniques can be used to maintain 12-15 degrees even during harsh winters.