The Jhingati Ghar

Jhingati Ghar stood looking below at other houses

There have been a number of speculations regarding the sustainability in cities- how it has been a great challenge and how it is almost impossible to acquire the ‘old’ sustainable ways. The industrial revolution and post modernism have not only changed the cities, but modern adaptation of technology has expanded their roots to small settlements outside the commercial hubs too.

The architecture of hilly areas of Nepal is scripted to south-facing houses with slope roofs and small openings, usage of locally available materials like stone, mud, timber and thatch. Some have been clever to interject the new concrete construction or framed construction by using bricks and cement. But what are the factors that are revolutionizing the practice of ‘modern’ architecture? And, how is this sprawl changing the scenario? Is this changing the map forever?

People always yell about not having enough documentation of local architecture. It probably wasn’t necessary in the past because people built and rebuilt the way they observed. This scene had quickly changed with the arrival of new technologies like satellite television, radio, internet etc. It didn’t only work in somewhat ‘unappealing’ ways but changed a legacy of a house in a small village of Sindhupalchowk, Nepal.

The construction materials of the original house were stone, thick layer of locally available white mud (plaster), timber and Jhingati (locally manufactured mud-tiles for roofs). The plasters on either sides of the wall were as thick as the wall itself, to adapt to local weather through means of passive solar technology. The house was strictly rectangular, the length thrice as much as width or more, and a number of timber windows on all sides. The ground floor was used for kitchen and animal shelter in the night, particularly goats, first floor for people and the attic on the second floor for the storage of grains and extra furniture. Inhabited by generations of a family, the Jhingati Ghar (the house with mud-tiles roof) was symbolism of the social standing of the family for it was one of a kind in that place.

A couple of years back Jhingati Ghar was demolished after being uninhabited for couple of years due to termite attack, resulting to unstable timber structures. The owner of the house temporarily lived in the nearby house but eventually decided to demolish the building and erected a new structure which would change the name forever. We have the name merely in folklore for the kin.

It wasn’t an easy task but it needed a proper execution. So the owner of the house adapted a different approach, the approach that he had seen in his neighborhood and in the outskirts of Kathmandu. He didn’t hesitate to erect a building, 3 feet wider on either sides of the length of original building, and collect abundant amount of stone, leftover good timber from old building and corrugated iron sheets for the roof. He was even inspired to have a balcony on the first floor, a cantilever to building with no extra support that would add to extra storage space as well as inspect the happening in aangan (space in front façade of building through its length, and sometimes equal to the building’s depth). New materials and technology was readily injected in lieu of modern thinking, and a shining roof was a bonus as it shimmered from the settlement in opposite hill.

It might not always be necessary to keep true to character of one’s living, or continue the architecture one has been living for generations. But it is of utmost necessity to modernize the building in terms of comfort rather than aesthetics. And the factor that cannot be negotiated is the structural stability. Hilly areas are prone to drought and extremes of temperatures, landslides, erosion, and earthquakes, among others.

Jhingati Ghar had a legacy, stories of forefathers, and grandparents narrating stories to their grandchildren of the spots that they are sharing with each other. Somewhere in the modern demands, not only architecture has changed but also the values and norms of the family. The stories once fondly lived are just part of tales now, and with each generation they will keep on fading!