Being born in the Pyrenees from a family of trekking lovers, Amandine Lepers learned soon to enjoy hiking and nature. Her parents divorced when she was a child, so she spent her childhood “divided between two places”, getting used to travel and go back and forth between two different environments.  Her family encouraged her to study what she liked, that’s to say arts and architecture. Her father, manager at Hydrotherm Ingénierie (Hydrothermal Engineering), used to ask her to do some concept design. Her mother and stepfather, both doctors, realized the peculiarity of architectural field when they attended Amandine’s degree presentation of her thesis: “A bridge of filters: architecture as a catalyst”.  For this innovative and visionary project, Amandine received the French Architects Union Prize. She then used this money to take part to a mission in Zanskar (India) with other fellows from Architects Sans Frontières, where she completed a book.

Beyond-borders engineering

Amandine had decided to take part in the Erasmus Program well before starting the architecture school: “What attracted me the most to this school was the opportunity to go abroad after three years! If somebody had told me to stay in Toulouse for five years, I never would have stayed there!”. Studying at Louvain-la-Neuve Polytechnic School in Belgium helped her developing new technical and structural competences and completing her former artistic and anthropological educational background. Her inspirations were a mix of engineering – like Marc Mimram’s bridges and soil experiments – her connection to the mountains (her model was architect Laurent Chappis, who practiced trekking many years before designing Courchevel ski resort), and of course world’s most innovative architects such as Antonio Gaudi and Frank Gehry.

In the Himalayas

Amandine had what it took to join international activities: competences, an innate longing for freedom, a taste for adventure and a very sociable personality. In brief, after her first trip to Zanskar she decided to settle there. After meeting with locals she landed on construction sites, improving housing conditions and even building a school for 19 local nuns. Nowadays, when the good season arrives she guides tourist groups along the mountainous paths. Before becoming a guide in her spare time, she has walked for kilometers at the foot of the Himalayas. After meeting the French hydrologist engineer Caroline, they started a collaboration for a film and other architecture projects. Caroline is also the founder of no-profit association “Thigspa”, meaning water drop. In contrast to large-scale humanitarian associations, Thigspa is quite small, meaning that there’s not much administrative work nor a structured hierarchy. Its actions are carried on locally and are totally no-profit. The professionals involved in the association earn their living thanks to other activities such as conferences, production of cards, films and information. In Zanskar Amandine Lepers aims at working as close as possible to people: “We have knowledge and methods…we received a theoretical education, but we often forget human contact: this is why I decided to stay there. We can achieve the same result without stress, without all of those norms or deadlines…”.