Preserving the Iconic
Preserving the Iconic
Nepal may be renowned ten folds for its rich cultural heritage with its traditional and historic architecture in their most authentic and primeval forms. Amidst the ever growing contemporaries, these antiquities have stood the test of time and still stir much curiosity and interest in people around the world. However, such a feat was only possible after Nepal was opened to the outside world during the 1960s when a plethora of artists, architects, art lovers, intellectuals, photographers and the likes descended the multi-cultural kingdom to have a chance at the esoteric and unexplored. Hence, it should come as no surprise to remark that Nepal isn’t short of exceptional expatriates who have made a prominent mark on many fields including architecture.
A modern giant of Nepalese architecture
Carl Pruscha, an Austrian architect, is frequently adorned as one of the instrumental figures who brought to light the cultural heritage of Nepal to the world stage. He prepared an inventory of culturally important locales in Nepal that eventually became a base for UNESCO world heritage site. He was extensively involved in Kathmandu’s urban planning during 1970s and had also opened a small architecture studio that produced some of the exemplary buildings in the history of Nepalese modern architecture.
A Restored Gem: Tara Gaon Museum
Among his renowned range of works, is a small complex called Tara Gaon Village located at the heart of Kathmandu, yet tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city life inside the quite premises of Hyatt Regency Hotel. The complex was originally built as a hostel in 1970 for foreign visitors, researchers, young artists who planned on staying for several weeks or months in the capital. It was once closed down in 1990 and abandoned for many years before being restored as a museum by Saraf Foundation. The museum clutches a similar theme of preserving the invaluable documents that are the contributions of the expatriates to Nepal which now stand as the only mirror to the ancient glory of Nepal’s history.
Tara Gaon exhibits a niche of architecture that is a solitary trademark of architect Carl Pruscha’s design. The building envelope depended on exposed brickwork in its entirety speak eloquently of his endeavour to establish a contemporary architectural idiom reminiscence of the basic fabric of vernacular architecture such as construction and material elements. The arch vaulted brick works that mound the once residential quarters with recurring amalgamation and interplay of basic geometric shapes such as circles, triangles and squares reflect a modernity yet to adorn the cityscapes of the capital but still evocative of traditional Nepalese dwellings. His deliberate intent at boycotting the use of cement plasters at the time when such an aesthetic signified a middle class dwelling was his ovation to the traditional brick culture of the capital. The comprehension of the locale and the abiding culture isn’t lost in this testament of modern architecture, only fittingly expressing a transformation that juxtaposed well with the existing order.
The circular windows that visually frame out of the drum roofed houses planned in such closed quarters playfully intertwining with each other and separated only by the quadrangle spaces; stand out as a paramount of what makes Tara Gaon such an intriguing piece of work. We can tangibly experience the spatial connection of interior and exterior spaces in its vicinity through these unique features. Each of these buildings does not quite share a mutual volume of design but yet they stand as an integral part of a whole that is inseparable. It is essential to comprehend that his designs create strong public spaces outside of the mass as it binds the physicality of these buildings together.
The complex consists of seven buildings with small scale amphitheatre openly accessible around the compound. The landscape is bordered with lush green lawns and trails laid in both brick and stone pavements. There are essentially three galleries inside the village premises viz. Bodhisattva Gallery, Pathibhara Art Gallery, Dorpal Antiques & Apperals. A cafe ‘Flavor’ and Event Hall are the rehabilitation activities added to other recently preserved quarters.
The Centre for Economic Development and Administration (CEDA) building is an independent centre located inside the sprawling premises of Tribhuvan University at Kirtipur, south-west of Kathmandu City. It is another of Carl Pruscha’s break through designs that has graced Kathmandu Valley for three decades.
Steps and stones and bricks
Unflinchingly modern in its bold play of bricks in all its basic geometric forms, it somehow stays true to the cultural assessment of the tradition of the locality even so. Carl Pruscha has taken the inspiration of the design from ‘Mandala’, a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism. All the squares and circles are the result of a thoughtful inclination towards the unbending spirituality of the people. However, his intent hinges on moulding these traditional forms into contemporary facets that speak of a league entirely of its own.
The administration block is inhabited within a square form while the circular form seems to have been reserved for the conference hall. His most intriguing part of the design can be seen in the block that stands independent of the other two blocks inside the premise. Mimicking the terrain landscape of the valley, he has given the building a triangular slope form. It parades a sense of unbroken flow of natural terrace to the artificial. There is a heavy interplay of daylights within the building that creates abundance of naturally day lit spaces and consequently throws off beautiful sharp shadows as well. The unique design volume actually governs the intensity of light penetrating the building. Such a playful display of lights compliments the dynamics of the planning and shows off every nook and cranny as an art form. The design definitely plays a two way part. It allows the light to define the spaces and the spaces to define the lights.
As simple as the outer envelope of the building might seem only deepens the meaning of intricacy hidden beneath the facade. In all honesty, the planning is nothing like anything that had ever been attempted in the valley. The straight shoot of steps that lead to the eight consecutive stories lit by clerestory lights above is a fascinating sight to behold. Likewise, the work of stone and brick is well-played in all corners. The building was originally intended as living quarters for the invitees and each quarter has been separated by a centre lining staircase placing them on both sides; all in a single geometric shape of a building.
In the present state, CEDA building survives in an injured form with its flaying wooden door jambs and openings and occasional efflorescence effects on the brickworks. The building exudes a haunting ambience that lingers about while exploring the depths. The abandonment has not yet weakened its strong structural form, blessedly enough; however, it hungers for care and rehabilitation. Obviously, for a building that still speaks volumes when it comes to a design that unique, the need for its preservation speaks a lot more.
While our traditional architecture roar for a conservation and preservation efforts every now and then and which we oblige to perform with emotional surge; we somehow negate the need of preserving some of our modern buildings that are iconic to the Nepalese architecture. Such is the case of CEDA building while Tara Gaon is a perfect paradigm of the rehabilitating effort to preserve these bands of buildings and a statement to the society of architecture in regards to the priority and empathy that needs to be awaken within the people and its government.
Bansri Pandey. Carl Pruscha, SPACES September-October 2010 issue. Kathmandu 2010