Hope in adversity

Modern methods of design and construction cannot contend with the intricacies of traditional structures


Hope is what fuels one’s motivation to move on and keep struggling even when it is not clear what the odds are of success. The devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015 has placed the colossal task of reconstruction on the shoulders of the Nepalis. Millions of people have been affected to varying degree with loss of family, property, source of income and in many cases the entire living environment.

Hope is the blade of grass that grows out of a crack in the concrete pavement. People who have undergone

ordeals of depravation and hardship are picking themselves up and beginning to piece together their lives. The hardy communities have mostly managed by themselves to use the meagre means at their disposal to rebuild their livelihoods. Some have had to cling to the hands of benefactors who have introduced crutches to the injured bodies and souls. There is hope that warmer days will give respite to the adversity and allow to prepare for the devastating summer rains.

Hope is praying to the small shrine by the roadside, daubing the deity with vermillion powder and placing a flower at the base. The reverence given to the gods reflect the ancient knowledge that links them to the natural phenomena. The lesson has always been to understand how better to live with nature than attempt to defy this untameable force. Our modern response has become blind faith in calculations based on assumptions often losing sight of reality and the wider perspective. There is hope that we understand and respect traditional knowledge accumulated over centuries as we venture towards an uncertain future.

There is a feeling of affinity towards something that is different in the uniformity of one’s environment which makes a given place unique. The settlements however seem only to be considered to be an agglomeration of houses. The simplified procedure of rebuilding based on catalogues of house designs will ensure that the entire central hills of Nepal are dotted with model houses. These are prototypes prepared in the offices of designers around the world, perfect award winning designs. There is hope that despite the largely well intentioned interventions in the rehabilitation of the settlements, the communities are able to restore the familiar elements that make their settlements unique.

Hope lies in the knowledge and skills of the artisans. The exclusive monuments built by Newari craftsmen are

understood to contribute to the outstanding universal value of the cultural heritage of Kathmandu Valley. This is

a global acknowledgement of the significance of these monuments. Modern methods of design and construction cannot contend with the intricacies of traditional structures. The architects and structural engineers have

accumulated knowledge, but without the skills to actually handle the material they seem to be lost in theoretical labyrinths. We have contractors bidding for restoration projects who have probably only been pouring concrete. In the meantime the artisans with knowledge and skills are without work, sitting sidelined by a system of ignorance and greed. There is hope since we still do have the possibility of reinstating the artisans and ensuring that the true glory of our monuments are restored.

Hope lies in those who speak up against systems that destroy things that they were established to protect. A very wise man once taught me the difference between ‘doing things right’ and ‘doing the right thing’. We hide behind regulations and administrative procedures which protect us from the judiciary as we watch our settlements transform into concrete

ghettos and our heritage turn into grotesque degenerated replicas. There is, however, hope when the community stands up with a vision to rebuild the traditional settlements. There is hope when the community demands its heritage back.

(The author is an architect and can be contacted through paharnepal@hotmail.com)