Construction of such a grand edifice in a very strategic location of the Hanumandhokha Palace complex indicates the influence of the ruling Rana regime and their desire to illustrate the power through an identity different from preceding rulers. The inscription on the western façade of the Gaddi Baithak where the long title of Chandra Shamsher has been engraved shows the power of the Rana regime during the ruling of the Shah Kings.
Till the mid 19th century, Nepal had very limited interaction with foreign nations; it was during the reign of Jang Bahadur that the diplomatic relations with European countries was developed. With increasing foreign diplomatic relations at the end of the 19th century, the need to receive foreign delegates by the head of state became important. The construction of the state function hall must have been a priority leading to the initial construction of Lal Baithak. However, recorded history of the state hall came only with the construction of Gaddi Baithak in early 20th century.
The main purpose of Gaddi Baithak was to provide a place for formal meetings where foreign delegates and diplomats were received by the King. The Royal throne was kept in this Hall giving this historic hall its name: Gaddi Baithak. Along with its political significance, Gaddi Baithak played a major role in showcasing the living heritage of the valley to the foreign delegates. It is very interesting that with the relocation of the Royal Palace to Narayan Hiti, the use of Gaddi Baithak for the formal meeting discontinued but the use of Gaddi Baithak to greet the Kumari by the Head of state before the Chariot festival has continued till date. And this has become the new identity of the Gaddi Baithak.
THE LEGACY OF NEW ARCHITECTURAL STYLE
Architecture has always been the classical means for authoritarian regimes to engrave their identity into history. With the construction of Gaddi Baithak in neo-classical style, the Rana regime contributed their own architectural identity within the building ensemble of Hanumandhokha Palace. The colonnaded balcony towards the southern side and the large stairway leading to the main hall from the west façade as found in the original design, exemplified a new architectural style, scale and construction system in Nepal. The introduction of Neo-classic architecture also initiated the use of lime and metal as new building materials in Nepal which was limited to decoration and finishing. However, the major structural elements were still composed of the traditional materials including brick, mud mortar and timber.
Gaddi Baithak is embellished with Greek and Roman details The ornamentation built in situ in brick masonry covered with a white lime stucco finish. However, in the interior there is extensive use of colors in its ornamentation. Pressed tin ornamentation appliqués, cornices, wall cladding as well as ceiling tiles has been used along with the cast iron balustrade for the staircase and balcony. The interior lime plaster details have been painted in blue, green, gold and orange shades. A polychromatic stained glass window was used to form the backdrop for the royal throne. The main hall is embellished with Venetian mirrors, crystal chandeliers, large painting portraits and a heavily carved wooden decorative piece.
One of the major changes to the building since its origin is the demolition of the main staircase leading to the hall from its western façade which was replaced by a balcony.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE GRAND EDIFICE
The main hall of Gaddi Baithak is rectangular measuring 34 metres by 9.2 metres and a height of 10.5 metres high with a gable roof. At the east and west ends there are mezzanine balconies overlooking the main hall space. The three major staircases on the southwest, northwest and southeast corners give access to the mezzanine balconies as well as the ground floor. The ground floor is composed of four bays providing the base for the grand hall above.
The entire structure is built as a load bearing structure with brick masonry in mud mortar with intervals of lime mortar layers. The large columns on the southern and western façade also built in brick masonry are tied to the main structure using large wooden beams. The use of wood as structural elements requires continued inspection to monitor deterioration. Moisture in terms of capillary action from the ground and rain water penetration from the terraces and roof are the main culprits for degeneration. Gaddi Baithak has been facing such issues due to lack of inspection and regular maintenance.
IMPACT OF 2015 EARTHQUAKE
CCTV footage from the east end of Basantapur Square has captured a glimpse of the destruction caused by the earthquake on the 25th April 2015. It was at 12:20:44 that the southern parapet wall of Gaddi Baithak collapsed towards the square. The two meter high freestanding parapet above the colonnaded balcony completely collapsed along with one of the columns and the southern wall of the stairwell. Major cracks developed on the pediments of the remaining two stairwells.
In contrast, the interior structure of the hall survived with minimum damage. Horizontal cracks were developed on the piers of the southern wall which is composed of large openings and movement was seen on the gable walls. In addition, the western mezzanine ceiling was damaged by a collapsing wall and few of the tin ceiling tiles of the main hall fell. Major damage in the interior was to the magnificent crystal chandeliers. The ground floor had very little structural damage but with poor ventilation the wooden structural elements were rotten. No major damage was caused to the wooden roof trusses either.
The damage to the building clearly indicates that the parts exposed to the weathering due to rain were where the major damage could be seen. The interview with the contractor responsible for the yearly painting of the Gaddi Baithak before Indra Jatra indicated that the building had leakage from the terrace long before the earthquake and no major restoration work was carried out. So, it pointed towards the critical issue of lack of regular maintenance of this heritage building. This further leads to the question of how we want our historic building to be restored or rebuild; to ensure the longevity of the monuments to use new materials requiring less maintenance or sticking to traditional techniques which require a more elaborate maintenance plan.
RESTORATION OF GADDI BAITHAK
Gaddi Baithak, built in neo-classical architectural style with very high and massive brick masonry walls was complex in terms of its structural repair. Hence, the Department of Archaeology raised the need for structural assessment of this hisutoric building. This was when Miyamoto Global Disaster Relief Fund (nonprofit engineering experts) with its expertise in seismic safety showed its interest for the structural repair of this historic building. With funding from the “Ambassadors Fund for Cultral Preservation” of the U.S. government, technical support from Miyamoto Relief and monitoring and guidance from the Department of Archaeology, the structural repair and restoration of Gaddi Baithak project was initiated in September 2016.
For the documentation, assessment and structural repair design and project implementation planning, it took almost a year. The repair and restoration work was completed in June 2018 in eight and a half months. As this project was done in close collaboration with the steering committee and technical sub-committee formed under the Department of Archaeology, the implementation was done as per the Public Procurement Act and and as per Code of Federal Regulations (2CFR 200 and 600). Pachali Bhairan and Manakamana Nirman Sewa Pvt. Ltd. was selected as the contractor and was on site seven days a week along with site supervisor and engineer Mr. Bibek Pradhan from Miyamoto Relief to get this project completed on time. Mr. Bibek Pradhan mentions the timely completion of the project was achievable only by the efforts of both the engineering and contracting team who had been open to discussion for any problems during the implementation of the design intervention as per the site conditions.” Being a part of this Gaddi Baithak project which was tendered, I have an impression that it is possible to do quality work and on time with the tendering system but selection of appropriate contactor and site supervisor play a critical role in this process.
One of the major objectives of the Gaddi Baithak structural repair and restoration project was to improve the building performance during similar large earthquake in future with targeted structural interventions. However, these structural interventions were designed in such a way to strengthen the building without compromising the architectural and historical integrity of this grand monument. A major challenge was to implement this intervention in the building with minimum damage to the original structure. Maila Maharjan, the chief of the contracting company remembers one of the most difficult situations “We tried to convince the engineers that the diaphragm in the hall was not implementable as it had very less working space but in discussion with the workers, the engineers came up with the solutions and it was finally done.”
For any collapsed masonry wall, rebuilding was done with additional horizontal wooden wall plates at the interval of 1 metre. To improve the structural integrity of the southern balcony, wooden A-frames were embedded within the parapet wall and a diaphragm was created at roof level. Similarly to improve the seismic strength of the main hall, new diaphragms were provided at cornice level. Though there was no damage to the roof wooden cross bracing were added to improve the distribution of seismic load. The horizontal cracks on the applied columns of the hall were repaired with minimum dismantling of the original structure. Steel reinforcing bars were wrapped around the applied column and tied to the main masonry pier behind. To avoid the out of plane damage of the masonry wall of the stairwells, steel tie rods were used to hold the masonry together during an earthquake.
The damage to the Gaddi Baithak during the 2015 earthquake also affected architectural components and during this restoration project these elements were restored after proper documentation. The stucco decorations completely were recreated using molds and casted. The damaged column capitals were built in situ using brick and lime mortar and finished with lime plaster. The interior pressed metal components damaged by the earthquake were salvaged, repaired, reinstalled and repainted wherever necessary. However, with extensive damaged components, new elements were reproduced in brass and were installed and painted. Considering the authenticity of the original painting of the ornamentations, only the very heavily damaged elements were repainted. The crystal chandeliers although heavily damaged, have not been restored considering the need for specialized expertise for its restoration.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES OF RESTORING THE GADDI BAITHAK
The guidelines provided by the Department of Archaeology for the rehabilitation and restoration of the historic monuments affected by the 2072 earthquake encourage the use of salvaged materials as far as possible. However, with the collapsed materials already removed and dumped as debris, there was need for procurement of new bricks, wood, mud mortar and lime mortar. Considering the need for similar quality of materials and time constrain, the contractor brought salvaged materials from other sites. The large beam that was replaced on the southern balcony was brought from the Rastra Bank demolition site. Most of the required bricks were salvaged from various other sites.
The emphasis on the use of traditional materials and skills was vital to this restoration project. The traditional skilled craftsmanship of carpentry, mason and plaster and stucco décor work was provided by the contractor who ensured minimum damage to the original structure while integrating the interventions to the building. As the Chargé d’Affaires Peter Malnak said at the inauguration ceremony, “The collaborative efforts among government, communities, and heritage experts – both Nepali and American – presented an opportunity to restore and seismically strengthen the iconic Gaddi Baithak. While respecting traditional restoration methods and supporting local livelihoods, the project successfully showed how restoring neo-classical buildings in Kathmandu can be both possible and cost-effective. The U.S. Embassy is proud to support Nepal government’s post-earthquake recovery and reconstruction efforts
The restoration of Gaddi Baithak has also been a great opportunity to carry out detailed documentation of a Neo-classical historic building in Kathmandu. During the restoration of this historic building which survived two major earthquakes, it was interesting to discover the interventions done after the 1934 earthquake.
Its partial rebuilding, major structural repair and improvement along with the restoration encourage us to use similar methodology for the restoration of the historical monuments from the 20th century which has been damaged by the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.
FUTURE OF GADDI BAITHAK
It was identified that the damage during the earthquake was amplified by the poor maintenance of the building, hence along with the restoration of this historic monument, a sustainability plan has been prepared to ensure its regular use and maintenance.
Mrs. Aruna Nakarmi, chief of the Hanumandhokha Palace Museum is delighted that the annual opening of the Gaddi Baithak for the Kumari Jatra chariot festival will be continued this year. However, for its regular maintenance and cleaning she emphasizes the need of opening the building to the public either as a part of the museum or at least opening once a week with pre-booking guided tours of this magnificent architecture marvel.
DG of Department of Arcaheology, Mr. Bhesh Narayan Dahal agrees that Gaddi Baithak should be used regularly possibly as museum. However he emphasizes, with the ownership of the building under the Home Ministry who is responsible for the yearly management during the Kumari Jatra festival, negotiation has to be done in Higher Ministry level. He assures that efforts will be made from DOA with formal letters sent to the ministries to proceed the dialogue for the opening of Gaddi Baithak to general public.
It will indeed be despairing to see this historic monument kept closed after the extensive restoration work that has been done. Hope the concerned authorities will work towards negotiating the proper reuse and management for Gaddi Baithak in near future.