Elements of design

Manish Mudvari
In the Kathmandu Valley, there is a fascinating blend of traditional and modern contemporary architecture. Some may call it dirty architecture without parity in design work, but some are still in favour of the architectural scenario in Nepal. The debate for and against contemporary design styles in the Valley is a hot topic among architects. The school favouring traditional architecture—including traditional Newari Malla style architecture—is not completely submissive to the modern style designers and their crafts. Still somehow, when people are involved in the design of their own houses they prefer those that accommodate easy lifestyles, which are only catered to by contemporary styles. What is right and what is wrong is always a question of personal moral ethics—this involves architecture, urban planning and professions too.

Everyone is still in awe of the design of the palaces designed during the 104-year Rana regime in Nepal. People still cherish the sculptures and voluminous Rana-style buildings scattered around the Valley as well as in places away from the hustle bustle like Kalaiya and Palpa.

Those old designs, and what we mean here by that are the few traditional styles of architecture, are filled with modern height and planning consciousness. These structures skilfully fuse traditional architecture with modern lifestyles. The exquisitely carved antique woodwork set against simple modern surroundings is almost nullified these days with the construction of high-rises. Modern builders still have their eyes upon the impressive detail in traditional houses of the Valley.

The buildings that need a specific design style like monasteries are adopting have stuck to the same old style. But there is room for growth even in these classic designs. The incorporation of modern elements in typical designs certainly add to the architectural flair, though this is very rare.

Many building are ‘add on’, with additions made over time. They must change over time as an adaptive method for the buildings and their users to grow with changing demands. Old buildings had low ceilings. That is why those, which were later converted to museums and other adaptive uses, were later redesigned for convenience or dismantled and re-designed in eclectic modern styles. The staircases in old houses were also somewhat clumsy and narrow, modern ones are highly elaborate like wide spiral staircases. The lack of wide, flat terraces also added to the grievances of residents of the traditional Newari style houses which have now been improved with these elements at different levels of elevation. Some designers even propose using rooftop designs for making gardens. Steep ladders in traditional-style homes also created some havoc for residents forced to use them. And one-way ventilation with windows on only one side of rooms also posed some difficulties. The architectural and planning scenario of the nation is improving day by day. Challenges lie ahead of us to build public consensus and create harmony in the overall building scenario to develop flexible space designs within restricted building limits.

source: The Kathmandu Post (2011),13 April 2011

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