DWLS Dragon Garden in Shey, Ladakh, for the Druk White Lotus School

The architectural layout of the Druk White Lotus School, designed by Arup Associates, is based on a mandala. In the Sanskrit of the Rig Veda, the sections were called mandalas, meaning ‘cycles’ or ‘chapters’, rather as TS Eliot divided his Four Quartets into sections. The Rig Veda poems are often described as hymns and were receited by nomads on ritual occasions. When the nomads became settlers special places, including temples, were designed for rituals and they too became known as mandalas. Hindu and Buddhist sacred places, including stupas, are therefore said to have a mandala plan. In Tibetan and Ladakhi culture, which are Vajrayana Buddhist, a mandala is interpreted as a diagram which represents the geography of the cosmos.
The Druk White Lotus School (DWLS) was built in the desert outside Shey, the former capital of Ladakh. The buildings are nearing completion in 2012 and the next stage is to convert the school surroundings from desert to garden and landscape. Since the school was made under the auspices of the Drukpa Lineage, making a ‘Dragon Garden’ is appropriate. ‘Druk’ means ‘Dragon’ and ‘Druk-pa’ means ‘Dragon-person’, with the Lineage led by the Gyalwang Drukpa. What form a ‘Dragon Garden’ might have is yet to be determined.
The above video shows a school ritual (a morning assembly) taking place in a Dharma Wheel at the centre of the DWLS Mandala. Note that the children sitting beside the monk are using their hands to form the mudras. My impression is of kindly, enthusiastic and warm-hearted children – and I wish I had a similar impression when looking at school children in london.
Mandalas can take many forms and can be made in many ways. The below image shows coloured sands used to make a sand mandala.

A Vajrayana sand mandala shows the geography of the cosmos - 'Buddha-land'

A model of the mandala section of the plan for the Druk White Lotus School, by Arup Associates.

Arup Associates mandala plan for the Druk White Lotus DWLS School in Ladakh

7 thoughts on “DWLS Dragon Garden in Shey, Ladakh, for the Druk White Lotus School

  1. Peter Shep

    Greetings again Tom.
    Interested to read your comments on Ladakh — I’m hoping for visit mid 2013.
    It seems to have become of bit of a publicised issue. Change is inevitable, and over-romanticism unhelpful, but its a microcosm of similar issues in many parts of the world where change is needed but becomes imposed. Sensitivity required. Commerce gain takes over. You know all this. 🙂
    Anyway, my note was regarding the mandala idea. Whose idea?
    And you will know that Kenzo Tange’s Museum of Asiatic Arts in Nice is an honestly modern, well-executed mandala plan
    peteshep 🙂

    PS Architecturally the School development is looking fine.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Visitors to the DWLS school are welcome – and in mid-2013 there should be at least one resident landscape architect on site for you to talk to.
      The mandala is an ancient Hindu idea which was taken up and adapted by Buddhists. The idea for using a mandala for the Druk School came from Jonathan Rose, then at Arup Associates and now at AECOM. At present, the desert setting makes the buildings far less impressive to visit than they are in photographs. We hope this will change!
      Thank you for the link to Kenzo Tange’s Museum in Nice. I like it – and am pleased to see what looks like a happy relationship with the landscape from him. The only projects of his I have visited are the park in Hiroshima and the development plan for Lumbini, both of which I think are very badly judged from a landscape point of view.

  2. Peter Shep

    Yes, thanks for those Tom 🙂
    At present I’m writing up most recent trip — nearer you.
    Eight out of nine new photo-Sets with the suffix ” – 2012″ are now open on flickr. Mainly architectural.

    New Zealand landscape design (as apart from large conservation):
    There may be interest in some of these schemes:

    New Year best wishes,
    Peter Shep
    Random architectural travel; hover and click:

    P 🙂


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