Two months have passed now. The day I was awakened by the turbulent chimes of the bells, had witnessed the devotion turned into desperation, saw the history crumbling down right in front of my eyes as I lay helpless. The history that spoke to me once, was silent then, all I could hear was a terrifying cacophony. The centuries old architectonic works tumbled down so did the spirit of a young aspiring architect.
The first few weeks we were all striving to help meet the primary needs of the Earthquake victims. Meanwhile thousands of temporary shelters were been built, the government proposing an integrated settlements with a scope of welcoming global architecture.I stood there on crossroads trying to understand the intellects concern about inclusive and exclusive architecture, about the socio cultural values while initiating the rebuilding process, engineers proposals about bringing change in materials and construction scenario of the rural areas. With the monsoon season already starting, it seems like a large void has been created between the immediate solutions and future riots. I understand human lives are a first priority. Saving lives are more important than saving culture and architecture and I will not want to live inside a home built with mud mortar but we cannot turn a blind eye to the socio- cultural aspects being jeopardized. We can see a door open for global architecture, rapid development but can the people be forced to leap into a revolution which took the westerners 300 years?
Architecture or a built environment of a place defines the person’s past, present and future. It is because the humans react and interact with the built environment on a daily basis. People see themselves in it. But the choice is theirs whether to write new stories in the blank slate nature has given to fill in or cling to the past.
There is always a conflict between the natural and industrial materials in terms of flexibility, ecological balance, cost and availability. Industrial materials like concrete and steel being responsible for global warming by 50% but being a reliable and durable means of construction while the natural and biodegradable materials like bamboo, timber, rammed earth, stone being more climate responsive but the cost and reliability being questioned.
One could speculate that our ancestors had the belief of living with the nature or maybe it was by default. They had used the bio degradable materials in their conventional way of construction. The residential buildings were built with such materials because they respected in the theory of impermanence and accepted the defeat against nature gracefully or again we can ponder that they had no other choice. While the materials used for heritages and temples were strong and expensive which needed high level of craftsmanship since heritages are supposed to last longer for the posterity and ordinary people couldn’t afford those materials.
All I wanted to say is that the past architecture was ecological responsive, were self-sustaining. Now as the government opens door for prefabricated houses as physical rebuilding process, the memories and identity of a place could possibly be extinguished. A place can trigger memories of a past, the memories have no chance of existing if the whole geography of the place is being airbrushed out
Bhaktapur, known as the living museum, we would marvel at its authenticity and ingenuity. Now, as the city lies in rubbles, I can’t help but wonder if the same genuineness could be portrayed.
Careful consideration is vital in order to triumphantly rebuild the lost artifacts whilst accepting the nature of destruction. The reasons of failure of structures could be the lack of maintenance, overlooking the life span of the materials and structure as a whole, use of low-grade construction materials and the techniques used, ustable grounds, waterlogged soil, slopy grounds, raising storeys etc.
With the lessons learnt from this great catastrophe and taking in account the flaws of our past construction patterns and also the socio cultural aspects, we need to find a middle way. There needs to be a balance between the conventional and modern way of construction in the process of rebuilding. We need to look at the situation in a different angle.
Nepal being an Earthquake prone area, mud mortar need to be exiled. Bricks and stones are as strong as the mortar is. The brick obtained from the 55 window palace carries more strength than the first class bricks even after 300 years according to Architect and cultural historian Sudarshan Raj Tiwari, so maybe we need to explore the methods used by our ancestors and try to bring more strength to it by modern technologies. The engineers may take a challenge in creating a strong mortar so that even natural resources can be incorporated into the designs. Earth rammed houses can be a hype considering the ecological aspect. The lower floors can be constructed with rammed earth walls while the upper floors could consist bamboo walls covered in mud plaster. It is easier to incorporate traditional techniques and aesthetics by use of light jhingati roofs. The cost of timber is sky rocketing, it is impossible to rebuild with timber as a structural element again, we can maybe replace it with some steel sections in the inside while maintaining the aesthetics in the front facade.
However some changes should be made. Light plays an important role in our daily lives. The traditional houses admit minimal light, the kitchen placed at the top floor. The idiosyncratic beliefs have to be encountered.
Nepal is rich in culture and art. The rebuilding process shall not overlook the socio cultural aspect. We need to incorporate modern techniques and materials as well but the dependency should not be exceed. The formidable prospect of rebuilding is overwhelming but the essence of a certain village, the identity must also be preserved in my opinion but also the lessons from the past must be taken into consideration in providing strength and resilience. Only then Nepal will rise in a true sense.