Here is one way to court disaster: enforce almost no building codes in a nation projected to lose 76 percent of its infrastructure in its next major earthquake. When a 7.8-magnitude quake struck Nepal on April 25, 50 percent of the buildings in the affected region northwest of Kathmandu were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. Intriguingly, one structure left wholly intact was a building halfway through construction.
Meet the world’s first seismic-proof, self-sustaining orphanage and public library, built with a double exoskeleton of 300mm concrete. The Lali Gurans “ziggurat”by New York–based MOS Architects now shelters 20–30 locals who were displaced by the earthquake, but its mission is to ultimately house 50 orphans rent free and become an educational hub for adults and children. The building rests on a two-layer raft foundation, where one subterranean layer of concrete reduces the contact pressure of the building, thereby allowing it to move during a quake while stilling the load above it. The structure progressively cants inward to further absorb tremors.
“In general it’s about compressing things at the top but in some ways making the form look somewhat domestic,” explained architect Hilary Sample, who co-founded MOS with her husband Michael Meredith. “It could sort of be recognizable as a roof instead of just a very strict institutional building.” A grid of columns and beams forms the exoskeleton, which will be left mostly exposed without a brick infill to allow for light and ventilation, and to inspire the notion of openness. Otherwise, floor-to-ceiling glass or fixed drip irrigation planters will be used to plug the gap in lieu of walls. “We wanted to have very large openings and a double-height space for some of the more public aspects of the project like the library, the community dining hall, and then also even the walkways,” said Sample. “So, in general, the project is about four floors—or it looks like four floors—but they’re actually mezzanines inside that make it more like eight floors.”
Commissioned by Christopher Gish, founder of Seeds of Change Foundation, the self-sustaining building generates its own food source for 50 orphans and 12 staff members, while rainwater amassed in three large cisterns is channeled through a UV filtration system to provide drinking water. The middle two floors will be devoted to dormitories, while Gish envisions classrooms at the top floor to provide educational programs for children and online degree programs for adults. “All the kids go to local schools, but we do want to supplement their education with other resources…so we’re focusing primarily on books and digital books,” Gish says, adding that the local education curriculum is severely “outdated” by international standards.
After becoming paralyzed as an innocent bystander in an out-of-control police chase, Gish has traveled the world to help those who are similarly debilitated, whether physically or by circumstance. Neglected children have been his focus. In the capital city of Kathmandu alone, the number of street children hovers between 1,200 and 1,500, many of who inhale neurotoxic carpet glue to quell hunger pangs.
Gish insists that Lali Gurans, designed to withstand a seismic impact of up to 8.0-magnitude, sustained no damage after the earthquake earlier this year. “It was completely unharmed, and it’s actually being used as a sanctuary for people in the area,” he said. “No need for maintenance, either. Now we’re focusing on finishing what we started.” A further $540,000 in funding has yet to be secured. Pending cash inflows, Gish hesitates to specify a timeline for the building’s completion. Gish and Seeds of Change executive director Peter Kitzes plan to ride bicycles from Colorado to California to raise awareness, and there is talk of launching a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.
To tamp down running costs, the building generates its own energy. Fifteen 175W panels mounted on the roof supply electricity, while 16 and 19-foot solid-dome anaerobic digesters provide gas for heating, cooking, and lighting. Meanwhile, MOS minimized the high-energy cost of producing Portland cement for the exoskeleton by replacing up to 40 percent of the limestone typically used with fly ash. The building will be hung with 300 vertical planters fed with bio-slurry and graywater to moonlight as shade, ventilation, and grow vegetables and herbs.