Kopila Valley

Rammed-earth School

Surkhet, 2019

The Kopila Valley school is located in Surkhet Valley of Mid-Western Nepal. The new buildings house sixteen classrooms, a library, a computer lab, an administration wing, a kitchen and cafeteria, a science room, and an open-air classroom.

The classrooms emulate the vernacular hillside dwelling in form and thermal consideration. Southern verandas shade the interior spaces from harsh heat gain throughout most of the year, while large openings coerce southwestern prevailing winds through the classroom interiors.


The administration offices and cafeteria block are positioned as a visual and acoustic buffer along the property line at the street, provide security, and filter people and views into the site. By placing the service spaces along the road, the most valuable, sheltered interior space was devoted to educational programming.

The classroom blocks are placed to create a sense of enclosure for the campus; the upper block with optimal solar exposure capitalizing on the site’s hillside presence with views down into the valley, the lower block favoring prevailing winds and creating a strong formal axis with the futsol field and cafeteria. The library and computer lab is positioned more centrally, tacked onto the main circulation promenade. Following the property line to the North, the slight rotation of the upper school’s monolithic rammed earth mass gives the upper school its own identity, and a powerful and resolute presence on the site. The science lab and open air classroom is tucked to the south, and is carefully placed to avoid existing trees. This single story rammed earth and open-air first floor classroom is concealed in a green shroud of papaya and mango.


The classrooms feature load-bearing rammed earth walls with a diaphragm consisting of steel I-beams and c-channels, giving the classrooms a contemporary interior. The architects and project team focused on reducing the amount of concrete and cement use, and made most decisions balancing budget, ease of construction and procurement, use of local materials, and the project’s total embodied energy. After structural timber was priced out, steel was preferred to concrete. The rammed earth walls contain about four and a half percent cement, and the floor slabs throughout are just two and a half inches thick. Two thick concrete tie beams band the two story-classroom walls together, and ensure a responsible and safe stance towards the region’s well-known seismic potential.

Designed with a number of ecologically responsible features, the selection of construction material and construction techniques have been chosen to suit the local climate and geology. Focus on energy efficiency and management of waste and water has been incorporated. The use of both passive and active solar power also contributes to making this an environmentally friendly and sustainable ‘Green School’. The campus is a leader in sustainable construction and quality education, the students and faculty able to interact with and learn from key parts of the various systems.

With their new Green School, Kopila Valley wanted to make a serious commitment to environmental responsibility. The school combines passive solar design, passive ventilation strategies, active solar power and solar cooking, rainwater harvesting, and black and grey water recycling.

Active Solar

Insufficient and unpredictable power supply from the national grid demands an alternate backup energy supply, a photovoltaic energy management system is an easy way to guarantee the classrooms have power during operation hours. The 25.1 mW system is installed with an on-grid connection, which will eventually allow the school to sell their excess power back to the grid.

KVS provides lunch and an afternoon snack for all of its students and staff, accounting for about 500 meals per day. The prior school facility went through an excessive amount of LPG cylinders per school year. To achieve energy independence and promote a cleaner cooking philosophy, Kopila Valley opted to install a concentrated solar cooking system. The average daily radiation profile in Surkhet allows for all meals to be prepared using the system.

Waste-water Treatment

The biologicalprocess of wastewater treatment removes the majority of contaminants from wastewater or sewage. After processing through an anaerobic baffle reactor and settler, and a series of reed beds, grey water becomes fit for re-use in toilets and cleaning, and black water fit for the campus’ irrigation.


The solid waste from the wastewater treatment system is used to create biogas. Biogas burns very cleanly, and will be used to power the Bunsen burners in the science lab classroom. The biogas-slurry that comes out of biogas systems is also rich in nutrients, and is used as fertilizer for the school and adjacent farm’s plants and vegetables.


The interior learning environments are complemented by a landscape design which focuses on various types of spaces that are critical for development: active, experimental, gathering, individual, and ecological. The planted slopes are meant to fortify the hillside and more effectively manage storm water. Managing the quantity and quality of storm water is crucial in the mid hills of Nepal, especially during the long monsoon months. This not only helps to control flooding and erosion but useful for ground water recharge and for maintaining adequate moisture content in the soil. The planting scheme also provides fodder for the campus’ adjacent animal husbandry programs. On the farm, each class has ownership over a crop plot and can learn about the native plant species, local ecology, and harmonious agricultural practices.


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