Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya, located in the historic precinct of Patan, adjoining the Patan Dhokah as been a beacon for archival endeavors in Nepali literature. It is a receptacle of literary and cultural treasures. It hosts the largest archives of Nepali literature in the country and has an active documentation of historic books and documents. The trust of MPP found ABARI,a design-build firm, in their quest for Nepali designers to re-build this monument of sorts, and in the effort be able to uphold their values of preserving the vernacular in the architectural language of the new building.
The Rana style building that was adversely affected post the 7.8magnitude earthquake in 2015 was built with Nepali burnt bricks and decorated with plaster of Paris trimmings. Its characteristic library look was emphasized with the minimalist grid windows that looked out into the manicured gardens. “When we set out to rebuild the historic building we had to pay homage to its previous incarnation, so we decided to build on the same foundation and reuse some of the historic bricks, with the historic Bikram Sambat dates still evidently etched on them!
The old surely set the foundation for the new in this case” shares Nripal Adhikary, founder and chief designer of ABARI, the architectural practice that’s responsible for designing and building this historic space. They have a reputation of building with natural, locally sourced materials rendering them in a modern perspective. “The theme of the building was to filter light into these archives and set a stage for visitors to admire the sheer numbers of books and artefacts they’ve conserved over the past decades. It was surely to be earthquake friendly and took a revolutionary new turn when we decided to have a separate structure to support the roof and have self-supporting light weight walls”, shares Kamal Maharjan, project architect and lead supervisor of the construction of this conservatoire.The design is inherently made of bamboo, the preferred choice of in house designers and engineers at ABARI based on their decade long research on this wonder grass.
When quizzed why they work with bamboo and earth, Nripal shares,” Asia has a great bounty of bamboo varieties, yet lack of knowledge and research, and the lobbies of cement and steel industries has pushed natural materials to the fringes. The biggest challenge in setting up an industry involving natural materials is to create and sustain a supply chain. We have been able to identify a few districts in Nepal ideal for growing and producing bamboo suitable for construction and over the past five years have been working with farmers’ cooperatives to build a network of bamboo producers, eventually buying back from them. The benefits of fostering and working with bamboo is multifold.
It is known to have the strength of steel without the heftiness. It also has a property no other natural material or man-made technology could have; of being able to sway and shift during an earthquake or turbulent winds and come back to its original (upright) position. This made it ideal to have the entirety of this structure be designed with such a versatile, carbon neutral material but other contextual necessities such ashumidity levels for books and thermal insulation during extremities of seasons for human comfort earmarked a shift in our design approach.
Earth is known to best regulate humidity and temperature and have porosity that allows for ‘breathability’ in a space. We wanted to promote and showcase an ancient building system that has evolved in mountain communities all over the world and still exists in upper Mustang. We wanted to celebrate and revive rammed earth!
It is essentially load bearing construction and has dual benefit of not needing heavy vertical reinforcements and has inherent solar passive thermal properties. Its known to store solar radiation and slowly release it overnight garnering interiors cool in summers and warm in winters.”
The company has been a pioneer and specialist in contemporizing the ancient technique of rammed earth walls. The core of the complex is comprised of rammed earthwalls and the offices are designed around it, for a more constant thermal comfort; whilst the archive has a more light-weight breathable wattle and daub wall construction that is inspired from the Terai region’s vernacular language. The archive has a dramatic double storey which is best appreciated when one is looking down at it from the split-level balcony.
The entrance to the library is punctuated with the unmistakable feature of ABARI’s spatial designs, a bamboo staircase! It has beautiful detailing and floats effortlessly to the split level upper storey. The material palette is truly a celebration of earthen colors with pastel shades of earth paint on the wattle and daub walls, from deep reds to subtle yellows. And the golden hues of the bamboo are offset with the black angular metal junctions. This joining technique was developed over years of research and was found ideal in Nepal’s context where one could construct a large space using pre-fabrication systems. It played a pivotal role in the speedy yet steadfastresurrection of the library to ensure the books and articles are restored safely at the earliest.
The library has been functional for the past two years and has been appreciated by the staff and visitors for its customized spaces with quiet corners and the filtered sunlight. The chamber with the collection of books is adorned with small windows at strategic locations to ensure there’s plenty of light and ventilation, whilst the façade has dramatic glass windows which invite the passerby to enter and explore the space. There are no embellishments owing to the minimalist design approach, which deftly highlights the bamboo and soon becomes the subject of discussion.
One of the highlights during the construction process as recalled by the designers and foundation members alike, was when the late chairman, Kamal Mani Dixit addressed this new take on the building as a Chapel of Light. He appreciated the marriage of the modern take on fenestrations and the classical look of a cathedral in the double height space of the library.
It stands singularly proud of its new-age design yet blends effortlessly into the soft hued brick and tiled roof neighborhood of the colloquial Newari architecture. It represents a promising future for conserving, preserving as well as contemporizing all that is traditional, cultural and vernacular.