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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Concise History of Nepalese Architecture

(Extempore recorded in Kathmandu and text scripted thereafter, so never mind some pronunciations)

This is the summary of presentation done in Bhutan Institute of architects Thimpu, Bhutan in Feb 2012 and myself practicing architect in Kathmandu and the general secretary of Society of Nepalese Architects giving this presentation here, Hope You like it.

When we talk about the history of Nepalese architecture it is so rich and full of color, you know why it is because of its people. This country speaks more than102 dialects and it has a big strength of community it has more than 100 different ethnic groups scattered around. This country’s landscape is also very vivid the lowest parts sits at 250m above sea level and highest part culminates at the pinnacle of the world that is Mount Everest we call it Sagarrmatha.

Talking about the history of Nepalese architecture it goes back to as far as the prehistoric period. The very visible entities or the artifacts that we have dated artifacts is at 257 BC with the inscription of pillars at Lumbini and Patan Kathmandu by Emperor Ashoka of India.

The recorded history of a Nepalese architecture real recorded history starts at 500AD with emergence of Lichchavis Dynasty and the country could produce very profound expression of architecture in that period which started at 500 ended at 900AD with the Thakuri Dynasties coming into the forefront. Thakuri ruled this country from 900-1200 AD. The glorious part of Nepalese traditional architecture happened during Malla Dynasties stretching for more than 600 years ended up with the invasion of Shah’s at the later part of 1700 Ad and they continued ruling the country till it was really liberated in the beginning of 2000 AD.

The modern architectural movement in Nepal started after the so called democracy in 1950 but here let me put things into chronological order so as to explain the details of evolution history of our architecture. As I have already mentioned the earliest recorded history was around 257 BC with the inscriptions at Lumbini and Lalitpur. Lumbini is very revered place of Buddhist and Buddhism and that was the place Gautama Buddha was born. It has a treasure of architectural heritage and it is one of the best religious site you can find in the world.

The Lichchavis were able to produce the very important architectural expression at ChanguNarayan on the eastern fringes of Kathmandu. ChanguNarayan Temple was constructed at 4th century and it is one of the seven structure cited by UNESCO as the world heritage site around Kathmandu valley. This is piece of a monument which clearly illustrates the highest level of achievement the architecrual skills of the craftsman and the indigenous community of architects and the builders of that period in the Kathmandu valley.

Second revered site in Kathmandu constructed during Lichchavis period lies in Swaymbunath that is also in a hillock is one of the ancient religious complex. But it has a different style of architectural expression which is Stupa. It consist of a dome at the base above which a cubicle structure painted with the eyes of Buddha looks in all four direction as if they are guarding the city.

The epitome of Thakuri Dynasty in terms of architectural expression is Kasthmandap Temple Though this temple was renovated by King Laxmi Narshimma Malla around 16th century. It is said that this temple was built by the trunks of only one tree. The glorious part of architectural expression in terms of heritage happened during Malla era in that period Kathmandu could get three distinct Durbar Squares. That is Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square and Bhaktapur Durbar Square. This period has certain influence of Shikara architecture also which is evident with Krishna Mandir at Patan. But this period could give us the very distinct of architectural expression in terms of Pagoda architecture with Taleju Mandir at Bhaktapur and different monumental structure around Kathmandu Durbar Square and Patan Durbar Square. But in this short note I might not be bale to cover all of the things but let me put some of the elements of architecture which clearly illustrates highest level of expressions of that period.

Let me start with Pagoda here, Pagoda form is very alluring it starts with the square form at the base and many a times it sits at a pedestal an the Pagoda form gets diminished as it gets higher culminating at the pinnacle with the GAJUR we call it. This symbolizes the connection with GOD at heaven which also resembles mountain to a very large extent.  The other parts of element in our architecture expression is the craftsmanship in the form of wood or the metal that we clearly see in the overhang of the Pagoda and or in the detailing at the façade at the opening levels. So this few basic forms gives a very distinct heritage I would rather say the expression of Nepalese Architecture which still evokes a lot of passion and gives a sense of maturity when we think about the people and the craftsman and the thoughtfulness of the emperors who ruled the country in that period.

Modern movement of architecture in Nepal started in 1950 but before that let me go into a bit of Shah Dynasty which started at 1800, but I do not think it has finished but still the movement has changed and it has taken a dynamic proportion with the evolution of contemporary architecture. During Shah Dynasty there was a bit of influence of colonial architecture with British Empire in India. In that we could see the some of the best examples of colonial architectural expression in Nepal at Seto Durbar, Singh Durbar and to some extent in Dharaha constructed by Bhimsen Thapa’s time, he was a prime minister then.

The modern architectural movement in Nepal started in 1950 with few aspiring foreign architects who practiced during that period, Robert Wiese was one of them and he did Annapurna Hotel and international architects like Lui Khan also did some buildings here like Family planning Building at Kathmandu was done by him and it also illustrates the influence of new form of architectural expressions but he was alos very fond of bricks. That building is still a monument when we talk about the influence of foreign architects in Nepal. And during 80s and 90s we got this International Airport and Naraynhiti Palace in Kathmandu. With the induction of Tourism in Nepal we started seeing the blending of heritage with the modern expression in Hotel’s like Taragoan Regency, Fulbari resort and Dwarika hotel in the earlier part of 1900 or may be earlier part of 2000. These architects were importing the traditional forms of elements and embedding them with contemporary forms. But in one or two places like Dwarika Hotel Kathmandu these elements of architecture has been put across very nicely in the façade as U can see in the picture on the right.

And that movement could really produce some of the new forms of expression in terms of expressing heritage in the contemporary forms in the buildings like ICIMOD and Mountaineering Museum in Pokhara. And As the new architectural thoughts emerged we started seeing the induction of only the shapes in the new forms of expressions by the younger generation like Laxmi Bank in Kathmandu and also in Krishna Tower in Kathmandu Itself.

So the architectural history of Nepal has emerged into has taken a different forms expression with the as the newer kinds of materials started emerging but the influence of glass architecture is also seen at the present context but the fact is the shapes and the scale of proportions are still being guided by the heritage to a very large extent. The inclusion of heritage architectural forms into residential architecture, commercial architecture and hospital architecture and many other architectural relics can still be seen but if one uses the brick and uses some kind of sloping roof or elements that resembles the continuity of the architectural patronage  established by our forefathers but nowadays other forms of architecture too like Himalayan Bank Building at Kamaladi, Silver Valley Apartments at Kathmandu. These buildings deviates form the root of our thought into a more profound forms of contemporary architecture in Nepal. Hope we shall import the elements of architecture from the history and blend it with contemporary thoughts and forms of the modern times so as to give a much better meaning and expression to continue thinking beyond in terms of future.

 I can imagine with the building like this will help the country to be placed into a newer dimensions in the years to come, Thank you. 

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Professional Architect,ardent supporter of innovative and indigenous low cost green technology for the benefit of the common man. 

Presently working with many different type of Apartments,Commercial buildings, Housing and corporate building projects, including one on floriculture producing roses which purely relies on the sun and the soil but in an enclosed environment. 
We have applied for the pattent of our designs with the local authority,large scale production of this idea needs our consent.We shall appreciate all the DIY projects for philanthropic use and funding.