In 2015, the South Asian country of Nepal endured the most deadly earthquakes of all time. Within half an hour, the seemingly cutting-edge urban region was one with the soil. However, in the center of Lalitpur city, a bamboo and cob library proudly stood above the concrete debris. This humble building was developed by Abari, a practice aiming at replacing unecological, tech-savvy construction with traditional wisdom.
Nripal Adhikary, the firm’s founder, specializes in the art of using sustainable materials and believes in the contribution of local communities.
In a conversation with SEA, Adhikary reveals the resilience of age-old Nepali abodes. In the central hills of Nepal, a typical farmer’s abode is built using thick stone walls and structural timber members. Unlike the prefabricated concrete buildings, the stone walls are capable of withstanding seismic undulations and the timber members kept the wall planes intact. As time passed, timber became an uneconomic option and the stone dwellings were replaced by concrete buildings decreasing stability during earthquakes. Therefore, Abari works extensively with bamboo ensuring the safety of colloquial dwellings.
Adhikary believes,’ Bamboo is the backbone of Nepal’s rural culture.’ Classified under the ‘Non-Timber Forest Products’, bamboo dominates all phases of life and plays a role in the leisure of young and old alike. Newly planted bamboo is an edible snack, whereas mature bamboo is used in construction. Despite being a lightweight building material, bamboo has high tensile strength and is an effective medium for maintaining thermal and moisture levels. In monsoons, Abari focuses on the cultivation and treatment of bamboo used for building schools and homes.
Following are a few examples from Abari profile of different projects:
1. Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya
Apart from schools in rural regions, the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya is Abari’s most celebrated project to date. Situated in the city of Lalitpur, this long-established Nepali archive was amongst the few buildings withstanding the 2015 Nepal Earthquake. Exhibiting a series of random punctures, the gable roof rectangular module appears refreshing on the outside.
On the inside, the visitor finds oneself appreciating the intricate geometry of the lean, cylindrical framework The double-height ceilings of the library pave the way for natural ventilation whereas multiple small openings illuminate the space. By using salvaged materials, Abari has challenged and set new notions for modernity.
2. Batlimar School
Situated in the vicinity of the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake, the Batlimar school is amongst the few structures to survive the dangerous catastrophe. Hence, the schools designed by Abari have emerged as a paradigm for institutional buildings in Nepal. Adhikary suggests integration of a covered play area with classrooms reaps dual benefits. The shelter serves as a multi-purpose arena for developing skills and adds value to education.
The firm’s speciality lies in blending traditional building materials with modern mechanisms. Therefore, the design includes north light inlets, a roof insulation system, and rainwater collection schemes promoting sustainable environments.
3. Pharping Café
Constructed as an addition to the Ripa Siddhi Monastery, the Pharping Café is a quiet retreat for meditation and solitude. Rendered in pastel shades matching bamboo, the two-storeyed building is fabricated using yellow clay available in Nepal.
The retreat’s large glazed doors and windows admit light and offer a pleasant view of the pine trees in the vicinity. The sacred sanctuary allowed Adhikary to realize the dynamic nature of bamboo evident in the form of tubular bamboo roof truss, interwoven bamboo flooring, curtain blinds, and light-weight bamboo roof tiles. Thus, Abari establishes solace in a modern fashion by using traditional materials.
4. Naomi and Narayan Residence
Impressed by the earth houses in Auroville, the clients Naomi and Narayan were amongst Abari’s first patrons of earth and bamboo abodes in Nepal. Therefore, the firm designed a house using rammed earth and the Bambusa Balcooa Bamboo. Growing 25m tall and a hundred and 150 mm thick, the long length of the species makes it an ideal choice for construction.
The open plan of the residence, passive light and ventilation techniques, and use of refurbished materials are a notion of Abari’s sustainable endeavours. The uniqueness of the residence lies in the revival of the age-old Colombian Bahareque technique, renowned for its resistance to earthquakes.
5. Rural Homes
Post the earthquake in Nepal, an urgent need arose to establish shelters for the civilians. Under these dire circumstances, Abari promoted the use of local materials and worked relentlessly towards the improvement of traditional systems. For improving stability the firm adopted the ancient wooden band system, suitable for earthquake-prone zones. To ensure the permanence of earth walls, the firm suggested extending the overhangs of roofs.
Furthermore, the abodes were illuminated by north light, well ventilated by multiple openings, and maximizing thermal comfort. By sharing their valuable insights with the community, Abari has upskilled the craftsmen in the art of building homes.
Abari begins proposing solutions by studying the community. This process involves an extensive analysis of the people, their culture, and their conventional building styles. Instead of replacing the redundant or scarce materials, the firm believes in replacing them with more equitable options. Often, the research-based organization works intimately with the craftsmen upgrading the knowledge passed down from one generation to another.
With sensitive endeavours towards preserving the identity of Nepal, Abari has established itself as an emerging, tactful school of thought.
Abari. (n.d.). Connecting crafts with PEOPLE, PLANET and SHELTER. Story – ABARI. Retrieved August 24, 2021, from http://abari.earth/our-story