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Construction starts on Denizen Works' Nepalese teahouse

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Construction has begun on a £120,000 earthquake-resistant meditation centre and accommodation block on a mountain-side plot in Nepal, drawn up by previous AJ Small Projects finalist Denizen Works 

The 200m² ’teahouse’ is being built in Phortse, a farming village 3,840m above sea level in the Khumbu Valley, which was hit by a major earthquake in April 2015.

The scheme has been designed to be built easily from local materials. It will house sleeping quarters, a dining hall, kitchen, showers, office and a meditation centre serving both the local community and trekkers scaling Mount Everest.

The project, which can be adapted to other sites in the region, is backed by the Little Sherpa Foundation, a philanthropic organisation which works to transform the lives of poor and vulnerable children whose parents lose their lives while working as sherpas.

Foundation founder James Lamb approached Denizen Works after seeing the practice’s House No.7 on Tiree on the Grand Designs programme two years ago.

He said: ‘Nepal was devastated by massive earthquakes in 2015, destroying many buildings and killing nearly 9,000 people. The rebuilding of homes was an obvious priority but in the clamour to complete work before winter arrived everyone resorted to a “quick fix” approach, which was very understandable in the circumstances.

I wondered if it was possible to build an earthquake-resistant and eco-friendly building which local people could afford

‘I was in the fortunate position to take a more considered approach, and wondered if it was possible to build an earthquake-resistant and eco-friendly building which local people could afford.

‘Our hope was to produce an inspirational building to locals and tourists alike, which will also demonstrate to local builders an alternative style of building in this area. This is exactly what Denizen Works has achieved, and as far as I know this will be the first of its kind in the Nepal Himalayas.’

Tim Lucas of engineer Price & Myers said: ‘The challenge for the structure was to find a way of helping enable an architecturally interesting form in a very remote area that must also resist seismic loading and be built with relatively low-tech methods. Our approach involves using a simple eccentrically braced timber frame for the accommodation building. The circular meditation room has a dome-shaped roof and oculus with a rendered masonry finish.’

He added that the design featured ‘a framework of linked steel tubes within the walls that are based on geodesic geometry. This allows the steel tubes to be transported to site by helicopter and yak, and bolted together to form a reliable frame that can support the weight of the masonry render and resist seismic loads.’

Work is expected to complete in November this year.

Courtesy of james lamb and the little sherpa foundation

Courtesy of james lamb and the little sherpa foundation

Architect’s view

Phortse sits on a south-west-facing slope in Sagarmatha National Park, and is characterised by tiered plots enclosed by stone walls. All of the buildings are orientated towards the south-west, and are predominantly constructed of stone with metal corrugated sheet roofs.

The concept was developed as a response to this built context, with the main accommodation block conceived as an inhabitable wall. In plan, this volume hugs the south-west site boundaries to form a protective barrier to the elements and create a sheltered courtyard for the meditation centre. The communal dining hall, containing the kitchen and office, forms the northern boundary to the site, leaving the eastern boundary exposed to views of the Himalayas.

To the accommodation block, the pitched roofs are clad in corrugated sheet metal which wraps down to form the wall cladding, providing a robust and durable face to the harsh landscape. Small, deep-set windows puncture these exposed facades, with vent panels provided to the protected courtyard elevation. A sheltered colonnade wraps around this elevation and is clad in timber to provide a softer, tactile surface to this facade.

The central meditation space, inspired by the stupas found throughout Nepal, is a single volume, 7.5m in height. The concrete shell enclosing the space is perforated by small, clustered apertures, which are open to the elements to heighten users’ connection to the outside.

Dome elevation

Dome elevation

Project data

Location Phortse, Nepal
Type of project Teahouse and meditation centre
Client The Little Sherpa Foundation
Architect Denizen Works (Murray Kerr, Andrew Ingham, Charlotte Airey, Thomas Latjes)
Engineer Price & Myers
Start on site March 2017
Completion November 2017
Gross internal floor area 200m²
Total cost 15.7 million Nepalese rupees (£120,000)

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