Post-disaster space: the altered architecture of Durbar Square, Kathmandu
The project examines the altered architecture of Kathmandu Durbar Square following the April 2015 earthquake. Kathmandu Durbar Square is one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a medieval, unwalled palace square located at the heart of the city.
It consists of 61 buildings, pagoda-styled temples and monuments, covering approximately five hectares of land. The Nepal earthquake in 2015 affected most of the buildings and monuments of which 11 structures had completely collapsed and the rest were subject to varying degree of damages.
The project sets out to study three aspects of the disaster. One, map the extent of damage witnessed in various heritage buildings and monuments and grade the level of destruction. Two, through the embodied affective experiences interrogate sensory registers. In particular, the loss of buildings and spaces is interpreted as an assault on the individual as well as collective identity given these buildings and spaces carry significant religious, emotional and cultural value. This explored and explained the extent of damage; and how do people view the violent reengineering of their city? How do people remember buildings and spaces and how what is remembered shapes reconstruction? Third, the project considered the institutional dynamics that governs the post-disaster rebuilding in a developing, donor dependent country.
The project evaluates our relationship with city’s architecture and its symbiotic relationship with people, culture and religion. A place captured in people’s imagination and their sensory registers is an overlooked, but a critical element of inclusive and effective rebuilding, especially in a deeply traditional city. At the heart of the project is an interactive user-researcher experience as the monuments in Kathmandu are considered living heritage with deeply intertwined tangible and intangible heritage. The project was delivered collaboratively user communities, priest communities, local government and UNESCO. What emerged were differences in the basic understanding of architectural heritage and how one responds to change, particularly in terms of what heritage is; what is unique and; why it is unique.
Impact of Research
Heritage is a key component of contemporary urban regeneration policies. Natural disasters are becoming more frequent with far-reaching impact on cities. Natural disaster disproportionately affects lives and livelihoods through the damage they cause on both tangible and intangible heritage. The research is embedded with, and informed by, knowledge-exchange with public bodies and NGOs. The historically-informed and methodologically innovative approach to the post-disaster heritage of the built environment empowers a diverse range of user groups — local councils, public bodies and third-sector `heritage' organizations — to develop a more sophisticated knowledge of the ways in which local communities understand and value the buildings and spaces that they inhabit. A number of heritage advocacy has emerged, for community-led heritage reconstruction, underpinned by my research, leading to campaign changes in the reconstruction policy of landmarks such as Kastamandapa. In addition, there has been spin-off advocacy to save Ranipokhari and Tundikhel for their historic value. The research is widely published in media significantly bolstering heritage awareness in the community. This project led to raising awareness of Kathmandu’s history as part of a broader attempt to re-connect indigenous citizens to the city`s past. The researcher was invited to join the Save Heritage campaign, to guide the long-term future of pro-community reconstruction campaign, across the city and the nation. A single-authored book is currently under preparation titled ‘Decoding Kathmandu’ Edgar Elgar 2021, including two Journal papers.
Major grants and funding
Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Research Award
BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grants SRG 2015-16 Round – Grant No. SG152355
Forthcoming. Geopolitical meddling, Geopolitical meddling, Governance gaps, and Heritage subjectivities: The perils of heritage-making in the post- disaster reconstruction in Nepal, Environment and Planning C
Forthcoming. (Re)adaptation of historic urban spaces in post-disaster recovery. Cities
2019. Kathmandu locals are fighting ‘injustice’ to save their city’s heritage, years after deadly earthquake April 25, Conversation UK
2018. Ruptured space and spatial estrangement: (Un)making of public space in Kathmandu, Urban Studies, 55(12), pp. 2780-2800.
Shyam Sundar Shrestha / Sweta Amatya
Nepal Engineering College
Changunarayan, Bhaktapur, Nepal.
G.P.O. Box: 10210, Kathmandu, Nepal
UNESCO, Kathmandu PO Box 14391, Tel: +977-1-5554769
Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
SDG 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Find out more
Keywords associated with the Research
Heritage, post-disaster, sensory registers, architecture
Further relevant info
- Regressive Planning: “Public space” To “Parking Space”?, New Spotlight Nepal, 1st January.
- 2017. Diminishing Public Space. ‘Kathmandu Post”, Kantipur Media Group, 24th July.
(Available at: http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2017-07-24/diminishing-public-space.html)