Spirit of Place - Spirit of Design 2011 has been selected: NEPAL. We are joining forces with an established consortium of ongoing humanitarian and education programs in the Namje and Thumki villages of eastern Nepal. These remote villages comprise a rural and disenfranchised Magar community with a traditional agrarian economy, craft and building heritage, and cultural identity that is under threat due to rapid globalization. Take a look:
Since 2001, international Peace Corps volunteers have worked closely with village residents, and several international grassroots organizations and NGOs including Greening Villages Movement, Greening Schools Movement, Living Earth Institute, and the Phul Maya Foundation. Projects have included new school construction, clean water infrastructure, and sustainable agriculture education.
Beginning in January 2011, undergraduate and graduate architecture students from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC will explore the culture, history, and ecology of a village site and develop the design for the ‘legacy marker’ which will be built with local Nepali builders and village residents in summer 2011. In addition, the students will explore and envision models for schools, libraries, guest houses, and other rural community spaces through a full-semester studio, which, can be built in future phases within this community and/or other parts of Nepal.
Nepal is undergoing an extremely rapid and haphazard phase of modernization as a result of globalization. Hundreds of villages are losing their cultural identity in the transformation into concrete communities, as there are few demonstrations of alternative visions and ideas for architecture and community space. Not only will Spirit of Place build this spiritual marker (which will reflect the Magar cultural heritage of Nepal), but students will also design models and renderings for schools, libraries, community spaces and other structures which could have an echoing effect across the region, helping to protect and promote the cultural heritage and environmental spaces. It is a highly unique educational opportunity that will create a new force to preserve the spirit of Namje and Thumki for the future.
Spirit of Place/Spirit of Design will bring students from schools of architecture and design, all from different countries of the world, to design the project during the spring 2011 semester at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Following a January site visit to the villages for planning and consultation with community residents, Spirit of Place program instructors will lead the students into an immersion of Nepali and Magar history, culture, in order to design an evocative space to reflect and celebrate the spirit of the unique site.
During the design process, students will develop metaphoric designs based upon Nepali culture and mythology, expressed in a modern idiom in a variety of media. The students then create their own poetic and sculptural interpretations, and then further refine these into detailed architectural models: both physical and in electronic media, as well as in working construction drawings. Opportunities for public exhibits of the student design work will be sought in Washington and in Nepal.
In summer 2011, the students will be joined by local artisans to construct the Spirit of Place installation in Nepal in 9 days.
The impact of this education on the students is invaluable and life-changing. Their study of the history of Nepali architecture and the importance of religious and cultural metaphor in creating the historical architecture will enable them to be a part of creating a new international architectural language. Additionally, the students will focus on exploring appropriate technology, local architectural techniques, and conservation practices for construction. A significant goal is to learn about designing architecture that is environmentally benign in a modern world without losing cultural history and authenticity. Subsequently, a record of vanishing Nepali architectural design and building techniques will be preserved hand in hand with the emerging design idioms.
New Models for Culturally Responsive Design: Benefit to the Villages of Namje and Thumki
Currently, global architecture, especially in Nepal, has become a sprawling and misguided landscape of construction in search of a soul. Modern development is severely lacking not only in ecological responsibility and historical literacy, but more importantly in Nepal, the reinforcement of its sacred cultural metaphors. Globally, we are witnessing a rapid exhaustion of ecological and cultural resources. Even more disconcerting, new construction is taking its toll on the human spirit, the rich ancestry of indigenous peoples, and their sacred geographies. There is a compelling need in our emerging global culture to develop and record a new aesthetic archetype that speaks to these issues. The Spirit of Place building expeditions have continually sought remedies to this cultural and environmental problem for over fifteen years.
This year, the benefit to the Nepalese villages of Namje and Thumki of our expedition is manifold. Building an improved design alternative based upon their historical architecture is crucial to avoiding the pitfalls of soulless modern construction currently rampant in Nepal. The project at its core is developing an innovative modern architectural language for Nepal based on its sacred past. In addition, local Nepalese will be working side by side with an emerging generation of American architects. Both groups will be learning from each other during the experience. More importantly, this expedition ensures that a built project will be left behind as a clear icon. As a design critique with its built manifestation, the project will be a clear milestone of change for others to emulate and from which to measure the built progress of the future.