Eschewing the predominant trend to build in concrete, Nripal Adhikary and Abari favour vernacular Nepali building materials and traditions
Abari has been shortlisted for the AR Emerging Architecture awards 2018
With one of the highest urbanisation rates in the world, Nepal is experiencing a parallel rate of concretisation. It is a story as old as the mechanical age – as agricultural settlements are abandoned in search of more reliable income, Nepal’s growing city centres have turned to the globalised standard for urban architecture, favouring an ideal of currency over a perception of the vernacular as primitive.
Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya
In response to the lack of any government or private agencies being involved in the preservation or promotion of vernacular architecture, Nripal Adhikary founded Abari, a research and design firm that focuses on the use of earth and bamboo in contemporary design. Aside from a deep cultural association with Nepali architecture, earth and bamboo are locally abundant and have minimal embodied environmental cost – still, institutions remain resistant to their adoption. Adhikary explains that the existing institutional bias against the use of traditional materials has intensified since the earthquake in 2015. Generated and perpetuated by both local government and international aid agencies, he reveals that vernacular building traditions are not only perceived to be primitive, but are also regarded as unsafe.
Abari hope to mitigate this fear of instability, and institutional claims of a lack of data, through their research lab for material testing, which they developed with Kathmandu University and the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan. The results of this research are disseminated in projects such as Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya, the reconstruction of a library and archive for Nepali literature in Patan, just south of Kathmandu. This project is significant in proving a level of scale and formality achievable in materials that are generally perceived as having a smaller scope, especially in its role as a public building in an urban centre.
Abari drawing madan
The library’s great span is achieved with a system of free-standing bamboo trusses, which burst through wattle-and-daub walls to hold the roof. Abari explain that the strength and flexibility of the bamboo are what gives the building its resistance to earthquake damage, while the earthen walls regulate humidity and temperature. To this end, a central core of rammed earth stands proud of the rest, its mass a counterpoint to the lightweight and breathable daub.
The structure presents the built, material face of a practice that tends to focus more on comprehensive design solutions, on the holistic potential of earth and bamboo across Nepal: after the earthquake, it developed an open-source guide for both temporary and permanent reconstruction of classrooms and housing. Based on a design of compressed-earth bricks, the guide is bilingual and accessible, going step by step through how to identify different soil compositions – and despite the internet not being quite as widespread in Nepal as it is elsewhere, within the space of two weeks it was downloaded more than 100,000 times.
Abari drawings school
As for the potential of bamboo, in the village of Chitwan, Abari developed a strategy for nurturing rural communities suffering from years of monoculture and mechanised farming. Providing bamboo seedlings alongside training in bamboo-based crafts and sustainable management, they simultaneously stabilised the village’s barren riverbanks with a bamboo forest and installed a new avenue for the local economy.
Although this project was local, and specific – without anything near the reach of Abari’s open-source guides – it illustrates a prototype for an economy that counters the problems the practice identifies as the threat to Nepal’s rural settlements and has a positive vision for the future. It exemplifies Abari’s belief: ‘that one can live a healthy, creative, sustainable and prosperous life by harnessing the resources that surround us’.
Photographs: Ashesh Rajbansh, unless otherwise stated
This piece is featured in AR November issue on Emerging Architecture and the Netherlands – click here to purchase your copy today