by STIRworldMay 24, 2023
In the last week of July 2023, one news made the headlines and turned the whole world's attention to it. "The era of global warming has ended!" It sounded a bit relieving but the second part of the sentence gave rise to an alarming call. "The era of global boiling has begun." The world is almost getting comfortable in using the term 'global warming' without defining it, making it the next corporate replacement for greenwashing. When UN Secretary-General, António Guterres announced to the world that “Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning,” the headlines that followed seemed more sarcastic than concerning. It seemed as though the world was more curious about the addition of a new term in our vocabulary, 'global boiling'. Working towards making a difference, are initiatives such as the Mountain Architecture Dialogue (MAD).
A resilient effort from the architects and designers from the mountains of Nepal to bring together a younger generation of practitioners to continue the necessary conversations on what climate change means to the mountains and the role architecture plays in this. The Himalayan countries have, in the last few years, witnessed the implications of global warming in the mighty mountains. From unprecedented summers, rainfalls, floods, and earthquakes, there has never been a day in the lives of the people living in the mountains, when the results of climate change have not been prevalent. In realising and accepting that these are a result of manmade activities and not a ‘natural’ calamity (contradicting the dictionary definition of these events), the first Mountain Architecture event was held in 2014 as a part of the CLIMATE + CHANGE initiative by ICIMOD, Nepal. This was the first platform then in the context where a ‘different way of doing architecture’ was presented. Following in their footsteps, on July 28-29, 2023, architects Pasang Sherpa, Sabina Shrestha, and Prof. Anne Feenstra took the initiative to host MAD, a two-day knowledge exchange and collaboration event in the Kathmandu Valley.
With the aim to raise awareness and influence the design community in Nepal, through the two-day event, MAD brought forth an architecture and engineering pedagogy with transformative evidence. Under the different categories of the discussion, many young and experienced architects and designers presented their projects, research, and learning of working in the mountains and for its people. The design and make solutions that were at the helm of the talks can help communities in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya range and contribute to paving the way for a resilient, harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature in the mountains we call home. The event included an exhibition that celebrated the transformative power of contemporary mountain architecture, a series of presentations and moderated platform discussions, and four 'get your hands dirty' workshops. The workshops provided the attendees with the opportunity to have first-hand experience with construction techniques such as earthen structure techniques, double wattle and daub walls, bamboo structural details, and up-cycling solid waste into building material.
Spread across various segments, the presentations discussed the urgent need for a more climate-responsive and sustainable architecture in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region. Moderated by Niraj Joshi, the Kick-Off session witnessed Prabal Thapa of Prabal Thapa Architects (PTA) and Kartikeya S. Bisht from HAP start the conversation on mountain architecture through their projects in the context and experiences of creating it. The Materiality session, moderated by Hemendra Bohra, focused on the specific performances of materials and included a presentation by Nisaz Shrestha from Supertecture and Jeenus Shrestha from SMA. While Nisaz talked about the studio’s work with utilising unutilised materials such as glass bottles, windows from earthquake debris, recycled plastic etc, Jeenus discussed the unique materials of the mountain regions including slate, Gneiss, Jhingati tiles, copper, yak wool, felt, etc.
In the Outdoor session was the presentation by Anu Kumari Lama on the relationship between the outdoors, landscape, and mountain architecture. The session moderated by Ghana Gurung of WWF also had Reshu Aryal Dhungana raise the question: 'When to start the MAD conversation on sustainability.’ Following this, the Plan It! session, moderated by Prof. Ajay C. Lal, brought forth an interesting discussion on the policy and federal planning of these initiatives in Nepal through the presentation by Shuva Sharma. This was then hypothetically discussed in light of Rabita Shakya’s mountain retreat project. Rumi S. Maharjan moderated the Pro-People session where Himanshu Lal and Phinjo Sherpa passionately talked about the need for building for humanity and how architecture can lead to community empowerment. Winding up the series of talks for the first day was the Practice what you preach session, moderated by Pasang K. Sherpa. The session had Sapana Shakya and Sarosh Pradhan discuss the importance of implementing these research, debates, and theories into practice.
The second day widely introduced young practitioners from around the country to the building materials and techniques of contextual architecture which are considerate, responsible and responsive to the environment. The talks for the day included a Cross-Section discussion moderated by Anisha Karn where Biresh Shah and Prof. Sangeeta Singh put forward the relevant dialogues on today’s built landscapes and sustainable developments in the mountains. Furthermore, the series was concluded with a M.A.2101 session. Under the moderation of Eliza Sthapit, the conversation was a strong call of action to act on the current conditions of the landscapes through presentations by Kunda Dixit and Prof. Feenstra.
With MAD 2023, Feenstra and team showered light on the very relevant, but vaguely discussed topics of mountain architecture. While environmentally-sensitive landscapes are still at the peak of the tourism bubble and rapid developments, architecture knowingly or unknowingly is playing a significant part in the impact it causes on context and its people. Supporting the SMA’s initiative to voice these concerns, the event also saw supportive guidance extended by many renowned architects including Kengo Kuma, Bijoy Jain, Marta Maccaglia, Omer Selcuk Baz and K-Studio.