Nepali Times
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Grand Designs


Nourished by its fertile soil and the hard work and creativity of its inhabitants, religious architecture flourished in the Kathmandu Valley. Rival Malla dynasties of the Valley's medieval kingdoms ploughed profits from the trans-Himalayan trade and agricultural surplus into the elegant temples, bahals and grand town squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur.

Today, this extraordinary architectural heritage is confined only to the city cores.

But a new generation of Nepali architects are integrating the traditional silhouettes and textures of the Kathmandu Valley's Newari architecture into their new designs. This combination of tradition and modernity doesn't just help conserve Kathmandu's unique architectural heritage, but also results in buildings that are elegant, affordable, suited to the climate and aesthetically pleasing. Nepali Times talked to some architects and restorers and asked them what designs they considered appropriate for the Valley.

Sujata Tuladhar: Transcending time

Centuries since Hanuman Dhoka Palace Square was built, it is still an important public space in the city, apart from being a place of artistic beauty and grandeur. The square is host to a thriving informal economy with buyers and vendors bustling about the area. The raised Dabali in the plaza are widely used as platforms for political meetings, concerts and festivities, and the steps of the temples are handy seats.

For Sujata Tuladhar, the enduring use of Hanuman Dhoka over the ages has made it a perfect example of public space that transcends time. "Spaces are as important as the buildings and any collection of structures that can sustain their use for so long is an example of good design," Tuladhar says.

Prabal Thapa: Blending new and old

The house that Prabal Thapa has designed for Surya and Babyka Joshi in Bhatbhateni is a perfect example of a modern building combining traditional influences. The exposed brick facade meant there was no need to paint the walls, which age well and add an earthiness and russet warmth to the house.

Inside there are telia tiles on the floor, the stairs and on the terraces. The house is not opulent, but exudes elegant simplicity. "Whatever decorations are there, they have been built into the construction material. There are no extra design features," Thapa explains.
All living quarters face south, to catch the winter sun, and traditional awnings shield the windows from slanting rain. "I wanted a modern house that also draws on the wisdom of traditional architecture," Thapa says.

Rabindra Puri: Modern traditional


For Rabindra Puri, a good house is one built with traditional wisdom that has evolved over hundreds of years of understanding and practice. His Namuna Ghar and Toni Hagen House in Bhaktapur (pictured left) are exactly that. Built with mud, brick and wood, they are very much what houses in the Malla period would have looked like.

"Traditional houses like these are most suited to the climate and terrain of Kathmandu," he says. But inside, the kitchens and bathrooms are bright and elegantly simple, and furnished with all modern amenities. Puri has added a playful touch with wash basins and bath tubs made of copper vats instead of porcelain. Telia tiles have replaced synthetic flooring, and provide not just good insulation, but are also much cheaper than marble or vinyl.

"It's a misconception that mud houses are not strong or suitable for modern living," he says. Puri restored an old house that had been turned into an ugly cement plastered block back to its original splendour, and named it after Swiss geologist and Nepal expert Toni Hagen. The Hagen House is not ostentatious or aggressive, and blends into the Bhaktapur urbanscape. The harmony of its proportions, and Puri's attention to detail, add to the overall charm of both houses. Since Namuna Ghar is made of mud, it is cool in summer and warm in winter.

Puri maintains that good architecture need not be expensive. Paying attention to the orientation of the house and use of local materials can cut costs and heating and cooling expenses. "A three-storied traditional house can be built with Rs 2 to 3 million," explains Puri, "and it will also be stronger."

Dipak Man Sherchan: Practical elegance

Compared to the high-rise apartments coming up all across Kathmandu these days, Indreni Apartments in Bhatbhateni looks strikingly different. The six-storied building is on a more human scale, with spacious interiors and a simple, traditional brick façade that anchors it to Kathmandu's skyline. This is very much a 'Dipak Sherchan style', used in the other buildings he has done such as Heritage Plaza and numerous residences. "I like using local materials, bricks are durable and we don't have to paint the walls every few years," he says.

The overhung roofs not just give the apartment building a distinctive Nepali look but also shield it from rain. "I feel buildings should reflect the architectural heritage of Kathmandu, the buildings should carry influences of Newari architecture not just because they look good but because they are suitable for the place," Sherchan says.

Sherchan's designs are augmented with modern aesthetics subtly, keeping the climate in mind. He says: "You don't want a fixed glass façade just for the sake of looking modern, you have to think what it does to your energy bill."

Bibhuti Man Singh: Old, new school

The bricks from the old palace dated 1909 have been used in the new building which brings up the glory of the past.

When asked to pull down the old Rana-era palace that was St Xavier's School in Jawalakhel, and design a new one to replace it, Bibhuti Man Singh knew it was the most challenging task he had ever undertaken. The alumni had a nostalgic attachment to the building's familiar façade, but the 100-year-old structure was falling apart. "Apart from durability and functionality, I had to also take into account the emotional attachment of Xavier's students," he says.

The result is an impressive building that very much retains the look and the feel of the old palace, but inside, it is much more functional, airier and brighter. The Rana Gothic façade in front contrasts with the back, where Singh has used more modern influences.

"People have taken a fancy to skirt roofs and tympanums that are purely decorative," Singh explains. "But a school building must first of all be safe, bright, and well-ventilated, with lots of open space.  It should retain a sense of history, while being functional."

Kai Weise: Beyond buildings

"Every building should make a statement that goes beyond its functionality," says Kai Weise. And the Coffee House building that he designed for  Hotel de l' Annapurna is a statement on its own. The Coffee House is "having a dialogue" with the main hotel without taking away from the essence of the hotel building, he explains. There is also a generational transition here: the original hotel was designed by Weise's father in the 1960s and was a modern building for its time in Kathmandu.

Weise has used some of the elegant and simple elements of his father's design in the Coffee House.  The elevation is just right, not to overshadow the lower three-storied hotel, and is an imposing presence along Darbar Marg. 
A good building is one that exudes clarity, proportion and minimal ornamentation, says Weise, adding: "Every single bit of the house needs to dissolve into the design."

The inside story, PAAVAN MATHEMA
They deserved to be preserved, KUNDA DIXIT
The house that Rabindra built, MOHEINDU AMIRAN CHEMJONG

1. Johann
Very informatif and well-reserached article by Rubeena Mahato. Thank you Rubeenaji and Nepali Times. Nepal could easily go through an architectural renaissance if only the middle class was better educated in design and aesthetics and started demanding simple, functional and elegant buildings instead of the malignant tumors we see all over Kathmandu these days. And also the architecture and civil engineering schools should also be teaching the richness of Malla period architecture and how to incorporate them in a modern design. All the examples are model houses, congratulations to the architects featured.  

2. R RAI

I am extremely delighted to read this fantastic article. I agree with Ms Mahato 100% that we should go for "elegant,affordable,suited to climate and aesthetically pleasing" houses/buildings.

I'd like to particularly emphasize the last attribute "aesthetically pleasing".

Architechts mentioned-Tuladhar,Thapa,Puri,Sherchan and others deserve our appreciation and cogratulations.Yes, buildings should reflect the architechtural heritage of Kathmandu valley.

I must say ,sadly, we are increasingly seeing buildings,houses and Malls which totally lack aesthetic sense, and are sore to eyes(for an example look at the facade of a Mall in Sundhara!!!).


3. ypaf
to care about aesthetics such as these, first, one has to feel belonging to the place. many in the city now just don't. they feel foreign to ways and culture here, and are too opportunistic to care to belong or worry about such things as building aesthetic.

4. Sargam

This is quite an inspiring write-up about the present building tendencies in the valley of Kathmandu which suddenly has crowded my mind with so many souvenirs of the recent past.

We ain't architects but we can see basic geometric shapes that architects use in building. As architecture is the science of building, the architects understand the Newton's law of gravitational force and its interactive affects upon mass. And we notice that they use normally four basic geometric shapes in designing houses and buildings. They are, namely, square, triangle, circle (or arc) and rectangle that every individual learns at his early period of schooling.

A combination of shapes in design, as a basic geometric shape is transformed into three-dimensional object such as: a triangle and a circle together may become a cone, a square can become a cube, and a triangle can be transformed into a pyramid etc. Those persons interested in architecture must learn how to work with Autocad 2000, (2D and 3D) for Design aided by Computer (DAC).

Nepal's one of the greatest contributions to the specific field of Universal Art and Architecture was the widespread forms of pagodas that the architect Arniko (8th century) could export to Lhasa during his Trans-Himalayan travels, then later on to China, Korea and Japan by his disciples while modeling the faces of religious temples across Asia. And they evolved according to the specific local vision of the country concerned through the ages.

There was a time Nepalese boundaries stretched from Kashmir in the West to Sikkim in the East. So why those who have traveled a little bit can observe the influence of Nepalese art and architecture in these areas outside Nepal.

These days there is a hip as well as a fascination to copy the western architecture every where in Asia, and it concerns mainly China, as it is.

Of late, I saw a hallucinating reportage on the telly over how Chinese have become expert in imitation. How a Chinese multimillionaire, a real estate developer, Zhang Ynchen, successfully built a replica of the Chateau Lafitte, of which the original is located in the north-west of Paris, but the said replica is even enhanced by adding two wings picked up judiciously from the Palace of Fontainbleau in the suburb of Beijing (cost 50 million dollars approximately.)? If you google Chateau 'Zang' Lafitte, Beijing you will have its splendid photo as real as the original one which seems perfectly adapted to Chinese new lifestyle.

Furthermore, China has become an appreciable wine producer through the process of transfer of technology, and Mr. Zang Ynchen became an important vineyard owner in the vicinity of Beijing. Which is why, he collected different tools, that were unused for years because they were replaced by some mechanical modern tools more handy.

This trend ain't new because erstwhile many rich Americans when they used to buy some castles in Europe they used to simply pack them wholesale to transfer the same by cargo-sea-carriers to their homelands. Otherwise it is the migrating populace that brought with them the new styles. Las Vegas in Nevada is the place where one can see the cluster of replicas in miniature from Europe and Egypt.

The White House is also the replica of the Chateau de Rastignac, a neoclassical country house located in La Bachellerie in the Dordogne region of France. It is believed that Thomas Jefferson while visiting Bordeaux Architectural College in 1789 was influenced by the drawings of Mathurin Sarlat. Thus he simply shared the influence with George Washington before the beginning of construction of the White House. You can verify it easily if you google 'The White House replica of Chateau de Rastignac'.

Those who could visit some famous monuments in India like Taj Mahal, Kutub Minar, Lal Quila, the Stupa in Sarnath, Ajanta Alora caves, Jaipur Palace, Udaipur Palace or in southern India places like Mahabalipuram, Madura, Mana Madurai, Tiruchirapalli, Bangalore etc. know exactly what difference is there in the expression of Art and Architecture. You can verify in situ and de visu the foreign influence of Persian art and architecture in Taj Mahal, Kutub Minar, Lal Quila etc. whereas in southern India they have nicely developed the Dravidian art and architecture of pure Indian traditions.

In Europe we are dazzled by the Schonbrunn Palace and Park at Salzburg in Austria, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the splendor of the Versailles Palace and its floral Park in France along with the Buckingham and Windsor Palaces in the GB. Main difference between English and French landscape architecture is the way each of them proceed with gardening, i.e. the former lets garden go wild whereas the latter trims every where by giving a clean-shaven aesthetic aspect.

Folks travel from one place to another all around the world to visit what they don't have at their homeland. So why the more the architecture and monuments are typical and unique of their genre the more they are sought after by the tourists to pay a visit with their demanding curiosity. A bit of imitation does no harm, but the local touch is more praiseworthy, though.

In today's global world what really obviates the need to be different is the impression at the eye of the beholder. At the same time folks appreciate to be a bit exotic by adapting the Chinese ancient art of Feng Shui. This is the environmental science of the 21st century. If an architect doesn't know what is Feng Shui, he becomes outdated and almost unfit to embrace new trends. And if he constructs houses and apartments without respecting Feng Shui for interior designs with the appropriate placement of household furniture by adapting the novel panoply of arrangement according to the codified principles, for sure, he won't be able to sell them right.

Moreover; there are new materials available with much better insulating quality, soundproof and separate accommodation for Jacuzzi and digital room.

Fair enough, Feng Shui is related with the way to live in awareness of our consciousness, surpassing the confines of time and space. Undoubtedly, as all alert individuals know it that we live surrounded by the earthy electromagnetic forces, may that be insignificantly feeble, we require to search the simple process to find harmony by means of canalization as well as adapting our behavior, for instance, to get into beds by putting our heads toward the north direction and at the same time taking care of our chi to bring balance against opposite forces as it is normally believed that the terrestrial forces travel from north to southward.

Arguably, the claims for better conveniences to fight out the consequences of urban sprawling habitats and crippling inconveniences in daily movements for lack of public transports made available by the local and national authorities, the vigilant architects as well as landscape environmentalists must rise to the occasion to ameliorate the livelihood of the stakeholders, keeping in mind the social nexus while conceiving then constructing new habitats always south oriented to respect the sunshine and hygienic achievements of the inhabitants.

Every human being once in a while goes off making a beeline for searching nectar in the land of opulence for the sake of honey making, but every time when he is back into his envelope he feels far better notably if it is his own skin.

5. Hans
So Karl Weise has designed the Coffee House. Sorry, Mr Weise, I fail to see even a remnant of a design. Are you still training on the job?

6. Carl
Actually the Coffee Shop is a refreshingly simple, light and elegant structure. Jealous are we, Hans?

7. Anand
The new houses & buildings that are springing up around Hanumandhoka Dubar Square look so out of place near that world heritage structure. They just seem an eyesore and one can tell that they are made by the average joe contractor & architect. I wish that they hadd incorporated local architecture in their buildings.

8. Hans
Carl, no, I am not jealous since I am no architect. Yet I do have minimum requirements to tickle my palate. Keep learning, there are lot of very cool designers out there. And remember one thing, in Nepal everything is about copying.

9. KiranL
I agree with Hans that in Nepal everything is about copying. But that is not necessarily a negative thing. If someone copies a good school curriculum, follows the good example of someone like Jumla's apple-grower Mr Mahat, or copies the design of a simple, environment-friendly and function house design, what is the problem? Let's copy more! Kiran

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)