Alchemy and Architecture

A message from the architect.

There is a pervasive misconception that design - and therefore architecture - is expensive.

It isn’t. In fact, architecture as a discipline is a lot like alchemy. Though we cannot convert lead into gold by design, we can turn wood, stone, brick into our buildings, the very fabric of our lives.

Great architecture goes even further. We can design two dollars out of one dollar. We just have to be creative. There’s always a way to do more - more space, more light, more fun - but we have to find it. We can make better, safer, and stronger without breaking the bank if we look closely.

Above all, we can make beautiful. Inhabitation is improvisational, and great architecture increases the freedom and opportunity a orded by daily life. It is a tool for liberation and celebration: a place for anything and everything.

I am not an alchemist, but I am an architect. There is more to be done here than a concrete box. We can make more from less, more from the same, and more from more.

The ensuing pages describe our design model for new Diyalo schools, from inception to completion. It’s how we plan to do more. It isn’t alchemy.

It’s architecture.


There is no “one size ts all” solution to global construction. Across the globe, different people build with different materials through different techniques.

Before we design, we dive deep into our surroundings. We can find the right way to build by looking around us. Choosing the right approach keeps material transport costs down, takes advantage of immediate local labor and construction knowledge, and helps us work towards solutions for specific climatic and situational problems.


In order to ensure that our design is right, we've mapped out geographic and climatic conditions for the entirety of Nepal using data from NASA, the World Bank, and the Nepali Census.

We've carefully calculated the efficiency and efficacy of our proposals across multiple disciplines. We aren't just artists. We’re economists, environmental scientists, anthropologists - and most importantly - we're educators.


Our goal is to literally think outside the box.

Classrooms are places to learn; to be inspired; to teach; to play; to connect. A tight budget doesn't condemn us to banality or brevity, nor does it permit us to skimp on safety or integrity.


At some point, we decide what our school will actually look like.

It’s one thing to assemble a structure, and something entirely different to make a place where kids, teachers, and communities will grow. We plan for our schools to last, rather than be replaced. Our school must look the part it plans to play.


We aren’t designing from outerspace. Because we are out in the field collaborating with our partner communities, we ask them what they think and give them the opportunity to interact with the design process.

After all, we work for them.


Behind every great building is even better engineering, and we’ve worked out ways to maximize safety, minimize cost, and improve building health through passive and natural systems. We recapture "implied" spaces, converting them into both programmed and unprogrammed areas that might otherwise be unnoticed.

Some simple, smart decisions can reap immediate bene ts while also investing in future returns.


We specify every detail of our designs and make sure to prepare our drawings to communicate our exact plans to our Nepali partners. Measure twice, cut once.


We work locally with Nepali contractors to ensure the school is built according to plan. As often as possible, we source our materials and labor locally to keep the dollars we spend in the economies of our partner communities.

Improving Academic Infrastructure in Nepal Leads to Better Education

According to the data, design matters. Basic infrastructure isn't enough; through design, schools can be built at a lower cost with better return on investment. Be it by increased longevity, disaster preparedness, or thoughtfulness in space plan and purpose, we’re just better off when we plan ahead.

High quality academic infrastructure leads to


better attendance1

Changing our floor plans generates an additional


more enclosed area2

Changing our floor plans requires


fewer wall materials3

Building materials are selected improperly:


of of schools built from seismically unsafe materials4

Schools lack basic facilities beyond rooms:


schools without priority minimum enabling conditions5

Schools don't even have places to read:


of schools are without bookshelves6


1. Missing in Action: Teacher and Health Worker Absence in Developing Countries (104)

2. Square to hexagon, perimeters equal

3. Square to hexagon, areas equal

4. Safer Schools, Resilient Communities: A Comparative Assessment of School Safety after the 2015 Nepal Earthquakes (3)

5. Ministry of Education, 2016

See Architecture Come To Life

Join our movement to transform education in Nepal