Art and the city

Material Information

Art and the city Demolition of traditional structures in Kathmandu in the name of urban planning will be tantamount to cultural suicide
Added title page title:
Demolition of traditional structures in Kathmandu in the name of urban planning will be tantamount to cultural suicide
Gongal, Devendra Nath ( Author, Primary )
Place of Publication:
The Kathmandu Post
Publication Date:
Copyright Date:
© 2015, Kantipur Digital Corp


Subjects / Keywords:
Reconstruction and development ( SWAY )
Nepal -- Economic development ( LCSH )
Nepal -- Repair and reconstruction ( LCSH )
पुन:निर्माण तथा विकास ( SWAY )
Authenticity ( SWAY )
Authentication ( LCSH )
मौलिकता ( SWAY )
Reconstruction policies ( SWAY )
Nepal -- Economic development -- Government policy ( LCSH )
Nepal -- Repair and reconstruction -- Government policy ( LCSH )
पुन:निर्माण सम्बन्धी नीतिहरु ( SWAY )
Newspaper op-ed ( SWAY )
Fine art ( SWAY )
Temporal Coverage:
20150425 - 20150902
Spatial Coverage:
Asia -- Nepal
28 x 84


General Note:
Published in: The Kathmandu Post (© 2015, Kathmandu Post) --
General Note:
एशिया -- नेपाल
General Note:
Asie -- Népal

Record Information

Source Institution:
SOAS University of London
Rights Management:
© 2015, Kathmandu Post
Resource Identifier:
SP150902A1 ( SWAY )


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Full Text
Art and the city - Oped - The Kathmandu Post
Art and the city
Demolition of traditional structures in Kathmandu in the name of urban planning will be tantamount
to cultural suicide
- DEVENDRANATH GONGAL (/author/devendra+nath+gongal)
63 f *
Sep 2, 2015-
Inthe 50s, 1 created an image ot Kathmandu from the information gathered through available
literature and the senior district folks returning from Kathmandu, mesmerised by the beauty of
the valley settlements. The ambience of the dense clusters of residential buildings, the temples,

Art and the city - Oped - The Kathmandu Post
the residential squares organically embedded with the surroundings, and the many festivals
OWre unique and fabulous experiences of the cultural legacy of Kathmandu. But they also
expressed their frustration about the narrow lanes, the dilapidating buildings, the series of
maze like residential squares full of filth, and wished an earthquake (in lighter vein) destroyed
everything to make way for a new and modern Kathmandu. For some, the monstrous debacle
of April 25 and May 12 is providing an opportunity to create a new Kathmandu Valley in
tandem with the slogan of ‘New Nepal’. Some politicians and urban planners are prodding city
authorities to demolish Kathmandu’s core areas and construct a modern metropolis. Others
are encouraging authorities to demolish what has remained of the urban architectural
ensemble which represents the cultural legacy of Nepal. The Kathmandu Metropolitan City
(KMC) is also preparing an urban house-pooling project to build a new Kathmandu. If this
happens, it will be the first ever incident of its kind in human history, where cultural heritages
are deliberately demolished in the name of modernisation.
Urban planning
The planning of Kathmandu is not just a technical matter, but an artistic and a cultural
endeavour as well. The urban house-pooling approach is a hybrid form of land pooling.
Kathmandu Valley is not an ordinary place. It is an inimitable treasure of Himalayan art and
architecture. Despite its remoteness, a unique cultural tradition developed in this secluded
location of the subcontinent with distinctive architecture and urban fabric.
(https: / / www, ctznbank, com/)
For rhe planners in Nepal, land pooling has been a panacea for all planning issues. This is a
planning tool applied for agriculture land readjustment in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. In land
readjustment, the land parcels get the simplest geometrical shapes that simplify irrigation
systems and boost productivity.
The Executive Wallet
Your business essentials in a slim leather case
The proposed urban house-pooling is a tool generally used by corporate business houses that
buy and demolish old neighbourhoods to construct new building blocks for profit. However, in
urban house-pooling, the land and building rights are surrendered but are not sold. In

Art and the city - Oped - The Kathmandu Post
principle, the beneficiaries of the development projects will be the original house owners. The
(Ky.C is assuring that people that this project will have buildings with traditional facades, wide
roads, residential courtyards, and temples. It sounds so sweet to the ears, but to quote Henry
Kissinger, “theoretical preconceptions do not necessarily provide practical remedies”.
Let us try to apprehend the legacy of Kathmandu’s core that some planners want to eradicate
forever. Material heritages in the Valley developed with symbiotic cohesion with immaterial
parts of human development. The significance of the buildings here is attached to the
environment that they are in, and that they create. Second, buildings are not interpreted with
their material parts but the ambience that they create with the life in and around it. Third,
settlements are not a compilation of physical entities, but the social cohesion they create and
the culture they sustain. The basic ingredients of Kathmandu’s culture are the inherited
architectural legacies and the ethos that made it possible. A prominent Nepali architect, Biresh
Shah, considers the urban legacy of Kathmandu as a “marvellous achievement” of Nepalis.
So, the demolition of the traditional structures will be a culture-quake after the infamous
earthquake, tantamount to cultural suicide. It is not convincing that the legacy that was created
over hundreds or thousands of years ago can be challenged or recreated within a decade or so
by using urban house-pooling. Even a meticulously developed Las Vegas type of Kathmandu
will be a far bigger predicament than the present problem.
In Kathmandu, we have experienced the mitigation of the infamous foul smell that was quite
prevalent in the olden days; better drainage and healthier water systems, and cleaner
courtyards in the city’s core maintain its traditional character. This proves that the
regeneration and revitalisation of urban cultural heritage can be achieved through sincere
efforts. Moreover, many individuals and communities have embraced the modern ways of life
while preserving their traditional characteristics. Restaurants, lodges and houses with modern
amenities are springing inside such neighbourhoods through local efforts.
Inimitable charm

Art and the city - Oped - The Kathmandu Post
The communities in the core areas are undergoing an implosion caused by decades of
(totqgligence which have sapped their spirits. The recent earthquake has provided an opportunity
to strengthen these communities and preserve their cultural legacies without manipulating
their weaknesses and financial constraints.
As Lloyd Grossman says, “Our heritage needs to be supported, protected and regulated not
because it is a problem, but because it is of such immense value.” The best option would, thus,
be for the government to provide sufficient funds while the planners and the municipality
extend their support to the inhabitants with heritage awareness programmes and concrete
actions that balances preservation with modernisation. Separating groups of vulnerable houses
and rejuvenating them will ameliorate the city’s core without any morphological upheaval.
Using urban house pooling for expediency will could have culturally irretrievable
consequences. To quote Gerard Toffin, “If Nepalis are not careful, Kathmandu Valley is likely
to lose its links to the past and its inimitable charm.”
Gong al is ex-chairperson of Society of Nepalese Architects (Sona)
Published: 02-09-2015 08:35
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Pride and prejudice