Post-earthquake reconstruction: Originality can be preserved while rebuilding houses

Krishna Dulal,a resident of Jhor in Tokha Municipality-1, Kathmandu, still remembers his old house. The floor-to-ceiling kitchen, upper-floor storage, bedrooms, living room and pooja room on the ground floor and smell of ghee throughout the house are still in Dulal’s memory. “Now the house has become a history.The house was destroyed by the devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015,” he said. Like Dulal, there are many people who have traditional-style and eco-friendly homes in their mind.

Heritage resident to preserve originality
Before the earthquake, most of the houses in Bungamati, a historic heritage settlement, were in traditional structure. The houses were constructed with local stone, clay and wood. An artistic window (Ankhijhyal) was the main attraction of Newar Community. The devastating earthquake completely destroyed around 746 houses of 900. Nowadays, houses with traditional structure can be seen limited in the area.

The government has declared core settlements of Bungamati as heritage settlement. Amir Raj Shakya, Chairman of Lalitpur Metropolitan-22, said that it will be difficult to approve the house construction maps until they meet the set standard. He said that wooden doors and windows Ankhijhyal that reflect traditional Nepali architecture and red-colored brick should be used while constructing the houses. People are not allowed to plaster outer wall and use aluminum windows. Chairman Shakya, however, said that people can modify the interior of the house.
“The house construction maps will the approved by taking into consideration the exterior design of the house,” he said.
Likewise, the 2015 earthquake destroyed more than one thousand houses out of 1,416 in Shankharapur Municipality-4 (former Sankhu VDC).

Prior to the earthquake, most of the houses were in a four-story traditional style. The houses constructed with stone, clay, brick and wood are seen seldom these days.

The National Reconstruction Authority has declared Sankhu of Kathmandu, Khokana and Bungamati of Lalitpur and Gorkha Durbar, seven-storey Durbar area of Nuwakot and Bhimeshwor Temple area of Dolkha as the heritage settlements. Their construction standard is different than normal houses.

Authority spokesperson Manohar Ghimire said that the authority has given utmost priority to maintaining the originality of any settlement’. However, settlements declared as heritage settlements have lost their originality due to the lack of timely formulation of policy.

Formation of concrete jungle
Cement, steel, gravel, aluminum windows and doors are commonly used in the houses built after the earthquake in Bungamati. Arguing the declaration of heritage settlements, people of around 100 houses have floated their differing views over the decision, Chairman Shakya said. “We have not given grant money to the people who have constructed the houses against the government set standard,” he said. It is ridiculous that the ward office itself has also not followed the criteria. The office has used aluminum windows and also constructed shutter on the front of the building.

Shankarapur Municipality Chief Suman Shrestha said that the people of 200 houses, destroyed during the earthquake, have constructed modern houses against the government’s set standard. They even didn’t get government’s grant for building the houses against the government’s policy.

Kathmandu, also known as a religious city andDharmasthali, Tarakeswar Municipality-3 have lost their historical identity. The earthquake destroyed around 100 houses in the Newar settlement.The traditional-styled houses were replaced by concrete houses. Now, the settlements look like concrete jungle. Tarakeswar Municipality Deputy Chief BhagwatiDotel (Dhital) said most of the houses except some have constructed RCC buildings.

Khokana and Tokha of Lalitpur, Sankhu of kathmandu, five-storey palace of Nuwakot, Gorkha Durbar Square of Gorkha and Bhimshwar Temple area of Dolakha have been declared heritage settlements. According to the Department of Archeology, the heritage must be at least one hundred years old andmust be preserved in their original design.
The government, however, has not paid attention towards the houses constructed in other settlements. For instance, there used to be two to three-storey houses in Tokha Municipality-1 (former Jhor VDC) made up of clay, stone and wood along with Ankhijhyal. The houses were painted red and white. But, we can rarely see those type of house these days in the area. People have constructed four to five-storey house using cement, steel and aluminum after the earthquake.

People, who cannot afford to build such houses, are still living in shanties. The concerned authority had demolished 846 houses of 900 houses badly damaged during the earthquake. The demolished houses were old and constructed in traditional style. People have constructed around 400 houses with the money provided by the government as relief fund.

SrikrishnaAdhikari, Chairman of Tokha Municipality-4, said that the construction of 400 houses have been completed. Other houses are being constructed while the people, who do not have money, have not started constructing the houses.

Concern about originality
One should keep in mind about the traditional style and originality while constructing the house.
Veteran culture expert and littérateur Satya Mohan Joshi said that people should give priority to the traditional Nepali style while constructing the houses. “To preserve the tradition does not mean going to the cave like stone age. It means that Nepali traditional style should be taken into account in the new creation,” he said.
At a meeting of National Assembly last September, the Sustainable Development and Good Governance Committee presented a proposal of public importance on constructing physical structures so as to reflect Nepali origin. Dr. Bimala Rai Paudel drew the attention of government towards the disappearance of the original art and culture in the houses due to globalization and increasing attraction to modernity after the post-earthquake reconstruction. In addition to that, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation and Urban Development was directed to implement necessary criteria and procedures for the use of the traditional and cultures while renovating or reconstructing public infrastructure.

Negligence of original and traditional architects
Losing originality is also a distrust of the traditional architect. Experts in the area said that traditional architects are excellent. Historian, Archaeologist and Head of Social Science Department of the Nepal Academy of Sciences Dineshraj Pant said, “Our original and traditional architect is very good.” He added ‘We have neglected it, the fact is if our architect is weak, theTaleju Temple, built in 1620 B.S, is still standing tall. The earthquake of 1890 and 1990 even did not cause much damage to the temple.’

Sudha Shrestha, Architect Department Head at Pulchowk Campus, said, “The structures that were built in traditional style by using clay and wood among others are not only strong but also scientific, healthy and environment-friendly. The earthquake destroyed the houses as they were too old and not maintained.” She further said that the houses built by old architect, which were repaired time and again, are still intact.

She said that the architect of the old houses is our historic property and they should be preserved at any cost. Shrestha said that though modern houses look strong, thy are not environment-friendly. Modern houses built by using cement, steel and concrete are cold in winter and warm in summer.

She has an inexplicable experience in explaining the importance of the ancient architect to the people.Shrestha suggested that the architectural department should work on building houses with traditional style to preserve the settlements likeBungamati, Khokana, Chapagaun, Sunakothi, Badegaoun, Techo, Siddhipur, Sankhu, Tokha, Bhaktapur, and Kirtipur.

According to Shrestha, when 32 types of map designs were made public for the reconstruction of houses after the earthquake, the traditional architect was ignored and civil engineers were given top priority. “We have local resources like stone, timber, quarry and chawali to construct the houses. But the priority was given to imported materials like cement, steel, concrete, zinc sheet and aluminum among others,” she said.
Spokesperson at the National Reconstruction Authority Manohar Ghimire said that local resources should be used as much as possible to construct the houses.

He, however, said that when building the houses outside the heritage settlement, people can use any kind of design they want. But. the houses should be earthquake resistant.

Originality can still be preserved
Cultural expert Satyamohan Joshi saidthat the houses should be constructed in Nepali traditional style by maintaining their originality in the heritage settlements. “Traditional Nepal style houses is our property and it is our duty to preserve them,” he said, adding, “Nepali heritage will be removed from the world heritage list if the people did not preserve the traditional architecture and infrastructure.”
The reconstruction campaign has also raised awareness among the people about the importance of originality and traditional style. That is why, the concerned authority had taken initiative to protect the traditional style after it started disappearing after the earthquake.

The Shankharapur Municipality had also promised to provide one lakh rupees as financial incentive to construct traditional houses with traditional architecture in the heritage area. Bhaktapur Municipality has been providing financial support of 35 percent of the total cost to timber, bricks and shingles to the people who built private houses within the old city area to preserve the traditional style and architecture.

The MadhupurThimi Municipality, which made the slogan ‘Our Art Our Culture, MadhipurThimi Our Property’, exempted the revenue to pass construction maps of the houses if they are built in traditional style by maintaining the originality.

Lalitpur Municipality has allocated Rs 1 million to provide financial assistance to the people of Bungamati if they construct houses in traditional style. But, it has not been decided yet how much should be given as the working procedure is being prepared.

There is lack of skilled workers who build original and traditional style houses and the construction cost is also high. Architect Engineer Sudha Shrestha suggested the people to use environment-friendly design of Tarai, Hills and Mountains while constructing the houses.

Bhaktapur Metropolis Deputy Chief and Architect Engineer Rajani Joshi also suggested that religious, cultural, social, economic and cultural aspects should be taken into consideration in order to create a township in a planned manner according to the land use policy and the house.

Ghimire said, “Integrated master plan of the heritage settlement and the promotion of cultural heritage settlement are underway”. The suggestions of Shrestha, Joshi and others should also be incorporated while making the master plan.

Prof. Dineshraj Pant said that when building a small house or more than a 3-storey house, local architects and technicians should be given priority to preserve the old art and originality. He said, “We have 100’s of books in our archives explaining about the techniques to build the house by using old technology. They should study and uncover the old techniques. The Institute for Engineering Studies should include these books in their curriculum and should teach the students about the traditional style.”

For Index
According to National Reconstruction Authority, 524,642 houses were reconstructed as of December 1 after the devastating earthquake of 2015.

The grant agreement was signed with 780,490 beneficiaries for the reconstruction of private housing. The government has arranged to provide subsidy of Rs 3 lakh per household for earthquake affected people. The first installment of the grant amount is Rs 50 thousand and 98.48 percent earthquake victims have already received the grant. The second installment of the grant amount is Rs 150,000 and 621,126 have received the grant so far. Similarly, 24,642 people have taken third installment of Rs 500,000. Out of 4,929 beneficiaries in risky settlements, 4,204 have been relocated to safer places. Likewise, the authority said that 8,286 out of 8,744 landless earthquake victims will be provided with housing facility.

Around 9,000 people were killed and 22,309 were injured in the devastating earthquake of 2015. The earthquake caused complete damage to 2,673 government buildings and partial damage to 3,757 governmental buildings.
Likewise, 6,257 private houses were completely damaged and 28,599 houses were partially damaged. Similarly, 133 heritage sites were destroyed including Dharahara, temples of Basantapur Durbar Square, Krishna Mandir, temples of Bhaktapur Durbar Square and Swoyambhunath in the earthquake.

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