INTRODUCTION___In the summer of 2011, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Nepal. The local architecture struck me with a certain level of authenticity that I feel is missing from most contemporary buildings. My thesis is an exploration and expression of regionally and culturally specific architecture. Through analysis and design, this thesis seeks to prove the legitimacy of the following statements: Architecture is an expression of our wonder with the physical environment and human nature. Architecture is the opposition and harmony of natural and cultural systems. Architecture identifies with place through its regional and cultural specificity.
As a means for exploring these statements, a site was chosen near Tansen, Nepal for the design of a school. The architecture of a school in this setting should express an appropriate relationship between the physical and the human; the natural and the cultural; the local and the global.
Initial studies explore the ways in which local culture inhabits the landscape. These studies show that habitation is closely tied to the region's topography, water supplies, and solar access. Indigenous pathways, agriculture, and building methods reflect locals' true understanding of the place. Given the rural nature of the site, further analysis of a rural Nepali house gives us a deeper understanding of how indigenous culture relates to the landscape and its materials.
The appropriation of materials in traditional buildings is analyzed from Levi-Strauss' structuralist perspective. Through this anthropological framework I suggest that building materials communicate cultural messages through a process of opposition, mediation, and transformation. Indigenous culture's use of local materials (stone, clay, wood, bamboo, and grass) mediates the opposing characteristics of these materials as both raw/refined, natural/cultural. The symbolic meaning of earthen materials (stone and clay) and the means of mediating these materials, the roof form, are essential elements in defining architecture specific to Nepali culture. The use of raw, regional materials, the properties of these materials, and the resulting architectural form/spatial layout communicate essential messages in Nepali culture which have great influence on my school design.
SITE RESPONSE___The site offers unique opportunities for architectural response. Toporgraphy has been altered by the site's agricultural use as water from an adjacent spring is controlled for irrigation. The Southwest corner of the site and a hillside separating the lower terraces and upper field remain unaltered and are the most suitable locations for a building proposal.
Given the seasonal changes from wet to dry, the architecture requires water collection and storage for future subsistence. In response to this condition, massing and form of the proposal incorporate water retention systems into the experience of the architecture.
The architecture was initially conceived as an extension of the existing terraced topography with a series of gathering spaces centered around water collection pools. Massing was subsequently streamlined into a singular form extending perpendicular to the hillside, adjacent to the rice terraces, minimizing disturbance to the existing hillside. This strategy closely links circulation through the school's multiple levels with water collection from the roof form. The experience culminates in a large assembly area at the lower end of the school which is flanked by two water retention basins.
CONSTRUCTION METHODS__Materials and assembly in this project express a relationship between local and global cultures. In developing a new and authentic design solution, consideration was given to the ways in which non-indigenous materials are implemented. Because non-indigenous materials are not processed locally, how are they classified by Nepalis in terms of the opposition of nature and culture?
The design proposes the use of a concrete superstructure to support traditional wood-framed floor and roof elements. Structural bays are proportioned to support the use of locally processed lumber. Corrugated steel used as roofing and as a rainscreen protects a system of panels constructed from the traditional stone and clay mixture. Large roof overhangs allow the stone and clay panels to be revealed in acknowledgement of both the natural weaknesses of the material and its cultural and regional significance.
Status: School Project
Location: Tansen, NP