When we went to Nepal a week ago to present our plans for rebuilding school campuses and hospital, we saw firsthand that, 10 months after the devastating quake, Kathmandu is still suffering and gripping from its losses. Many buildings such as schools and hospitals are still rendered unsafe for use, but most especially clean water is still scarce. We always had to bring water with us because it was difficult to find clean potable water in places around Kathmandu. More and more we felt that our work is becoming more meaningful and more urgent as we got to experience the situation and context on ground. It is with humility that Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture were invited by Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation to take part in this effort to rebuild a nation.
Project Hope was born. The Master and Founder of Tzu Chi has put together the best architects, planners, engineers, designers, project, project managers, contractors, consultants with skills and the heart to carry out Project Hope, not just for this generation but also for the future generations.
Our role is to help bring Nepal well into the 21st century, while making the buildings we are designing safe, inclusive, and universally accessible, and more importantly keeping in mind that it should preserve the Nepalese culture and heritage. We were instructed by the Master to design the schools and hospitals to last a thousand years.
We are designing five schools: Padmodaya, KanyaMandir, and Shree Adarsha Higher Secondary school; Shadara; and the Patan Multiple Campus. Our key guidelines are people, planet, prosperity, culture, history and heritage, and Spirituality. The Master also believes that education will alleviate poverty and bring together people of various income classes, faith, culture, and race.
Schools are part of the foundation of society. The architecture of the building not only serves its function as a classroom but it inspires and instills a sense of culture and a sense of community.
The first duty is that the structure of the buildings should withstand a magnitude 9.6 earthquake, one that has not yet happened, much more than the requirements of the building code. We cannot afford taking chances and wait for another earthquake to come. The surrounding area should also be disaster ready, but at the same time promotes a balance between nature and the built environment. We were generous in providing more open spaces in the design, which will also serve as “lungs of the city.” It features parks, open fields that serve a ground for a play area and an evacuation area. This also helps integrating the different buildings of the campus, that there is a sense of common area for the entire community. There is also an option to convert some of the open spaces into a vegetable garden to promote food sustainability to the school community.
To promote sustainability, the schools also maximize natural lighting and passive ventilation so that energy consumption would decrease. Part of the design is being able to adapt to the temperature of Nepal. Controlling the temperature of the environment inside the building is important for optimal activity.
Another important concept is that there should be a strong sense of entrance, arrival, strong sense of place, and hopefully pride of place. We applied the art of place-making in the design of the schools. The architectural concept was inspired by the pagoda roof and latticework to show the rich culture of Nepal.
Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital
We are also tasked to design a hospital that is family-oriented and a strong focus on cancer treatment. We integrated landscaping into the design, considering that plants and greenery helps in the recovery of patients while lightening the atmosphere of the hospital. The patients should feel relaxed when they enter the hospital rather than feel that they are coming into a facility for the sick.
The roof deck features a therapeutic garden that is accessible by patients in hospital beds and wheelchairs. There are stairs, elevator, ramps, and ample spaces for accessibility of the differently-abled.
Another consideration in the design is the proper placement of the lobby from the emergency and operating rooms in the ground floor. Patients coming from the emergency room should not cross the lobby and have direct access to the hospital facilities, especially the operating room.
The vision for the hospital is that it becomes a model on how to design a hospital that not is only for the severely sick but a place of wellness and healing. Hospitals should not necessarily be grim, but a place for serenity and peace.
Project Hope will be an educational and memorable chapter in our professional and personal growth. It is a venue for us to explore our capacity to give and love others. To helps those in need, especially the poor and the victims of disasters and calamities.
It challenged us to do our best in planning and designing the schools and the hospital. It gave us the opportunity to put into practice the teachings of the Master, and the mission and values of Tzu Chi and our own Christian faith. Also same with our faith, Tzu Chi encourages practicing generosity, kindness and compassion especially to those in need. This noble interfaith initiative by Tzu Chi will make us better architects, planners, engineers, and designers; better Christians and better persons. As encouraged by the Rotary International, we should always strive to be “A Gift to the World.”