Preserving the Himalayan culture : a Himalayan heritage memorial in Nepal
The idea of going into the Himalayas for a thesis project stemmed from my fondness of the history of mountaineering and interests in architecture as a testimony of cultural adaptation and transformation. The desire of designing something in the mountains has been haunting me since the early stage of my academic pursuit. At the very beginning, I fantasized to design a memorial for climbers who died on Mt. Rainier, the highest mountain in Washington State. Following my participation into the Mexico Design/Build Program and Portugal Summer Program, however, I realized that architecture always has an intangible component, which reflects the identity and the culture of the local people. Moreover, in the process of modernization and globalization, which dominates the development of most developing countries, architecture also evolves to reflect changing values of a society. Such cultural encounters challenged and enriched my understanding of architecture as a mere activity of creating space. What is the correlation between architecture and culture? What is the cultural dimension of a space? Is it possible to reflect in architecture the transformation of a culture? And to what extent will this be possible? These questions all lead back to the very fundamental question about the meaning of space. The focus of this thesis was then shifted to address such inquiries, with the image of mountains still lingered in my mind. It was during these quest that I read “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, an account of a tragedy of an expenditure to Mt. Everest. Further literary research revealed that the indigenous culture of the Himalayas had undergone drastic change in its recent history. While a lot has been written on the impact of mountaineering and the following trekking tourism on local culture, their impacts on architecture were seldom investigated. Seeing this as an opportunity to embrace my longtime interests, I proposed to set the vernacular architecture of northern Nepal as the subject of my thesis. This journey far away from home turned out to be a rewarding experience and brought me into a place where the wrestling of modernization and cultural preservation occurs everyday. For many trekkers, traveling in the Himalayas signifies a spiritual pursuit. For me, it is a journey to investigate the spirit of its built environment and the meaning of space. It also allows me to rethink some of the basic concerns about architecture. Like the mountains, these fundamental concerns are always there, and always inspire further pursuit.
- Architecture