We picked this window up on the way to Bhaktapur in a little town called Pepsi-Cola.... Yes I need to apologise to Nepal on behalf of the west.
This is a traditional Newari style window. It's a touch weathered. But looks fantastic.
I'm not sure if I mentioned that our garden looks out over the Himalayas..... Well it does. And on a clear day it looks a little something like this!!!
Garden Greetings from Imadol - By Ain Contractor
On my first morning in Kathmandu, I walked the streets around Basantpur Durbar Square, concentrating on keeping up with Ross' fast pace, who seemed to be manouvering the little alleys as if they were home to his long, Australian legs.
As we shuffled from one small courtyard to the next, connected by oddly crooked streets, Ross laughed every time I stopped in awe of the scale of the streets, lined by patches of exposed brick walls, door lintels five feet high and heavy wooden window frames. The narrow streets opened into unexpected courtyards and the ancient temples were too many to count. Each time I stopped to take a picture, Ross told me to not waste my phone memory. This, apparently, was not even the best of Kathmandu.
I was given a brief account of the heritage of Nepal during this first of many upcoming walks to Freak Street, Humro Cafe.
Most buidings in the old parts of Kathmandu valley have heritage status. This is to protect the old building typologies, making Nepal a tourist destination steeped in history. The prominent building style is the Newari style, which uses highly decorative, detailed facades in exposed, often carved bricks. It also uses intricately carved wooden window frames and railings.
This is the style we chose to make our garden in, sprinkling it with seasoning of a contemporary nature. Newari sculptors are also skilled in copper and brass bending. This gave us the opportunity to design an outdoor bath in copper, shaped as a leaf.
With this copper bath in mind, along with the variety of bricks and carved wood available in the Newari tradition, a Malaysian and Indian architecture student put their heads together with an Australian garden designer to draw visions of what was soon to be the garden of our dreams. We were soon frequenting far away brick factories to acquire moss covered bricks that would give our garden a sense of age and natural history. It was to appear as if the local plants had decided to take over an old existing structure, softening its lines and adding shades of green to the otherwise red-brown brick facades.
These days of acquiring material and skilled workers were our most challenging and exciting. We travelled to far corners of the valley struggling to bridge communication gaps caused by language barriers, conquering cultural differences, learning the local methods to strike good deals and most importantly, making memorable acquaintances.
As a woman, there were gender biases to erase. In time, I developed a tone of voice that helped me assert myself while still being respectful and sensitive to local sentiments. These days were filled with hour long rides along narrow interior roads, sharing life experiences and insights in broken Hindi with the drivers and singing bollywood songs together, the universal cultural connect in the Indian subcontinent.
Back home in architecture school, we often discuss the Western, foreign influences on our building style and techniques in a negative light, often citing examples of insensitive application of materials and disregard for existing context. This project has been an exercise in reversing this process. Everyday we learn and adopt building methods from our experienced masons, carriers of an ancient tradition of brick laying. On the other hand, we remove at every stage the long ingrained caste based divisions as we treat every member of the team equally. We encourage the workers we originally hired for digging the soil to learn skills of construction and compel the old, conservative masons to share their techniques.
We use old, mossy, irregular bricks and with the help of a primitive water pipe level lay straight courses; the irregularity of each brick adding a hand-made feel to our walls. The recycled, partially broken windows and artificially aged timber tell stories of an older time, one that struggles to keep pace with the new, changing Nepal.
I often walk with Ross in the city as he does his chores; a trip to the fruit stand, visit to his weighing scale lady, dropping in to check on his tailor. He is clearly not a local, standing almost a foot taller than the average Nepali man, with his sunburnt skin and characteristic wide smile. This smile sets him apart the most; one seldom sees a local carrying on a mundane routine with a smile that wide. Everywhere we visit, I meet a certain confusion in the eyes of people. They see that we are not the most regular tourists. What are we doing in Nepal, living in Imadol; a far away suburb of Kathmandu and the most unlikely place for a tourist to visit since the most significant landmarks here are a large, empty apartment complex called "Cozy Homes" and an old, illegal, brick factory.
This is a question I've learnt to answer every time we meet new people. I've learnt to explain that Imadol is our home at present. We're building a garden for our friend and that they are welcome to our Friday night parties with the site workers and our international family.
Most people laugh at the invite and cannot imagine taking it seriously. But those who make it to the parties will tell you that we're the most happenin' joint in Imadol.
It seems as if our entire description of ourselves is some what out of a dream. We have come to a strange country and are financing, designing and building a garden for a friend most of us have only just met. We will then go back to our different homes, leaving our garden to the love and care of others. We live in a home that is open to anyone who wants to help us build. We have a family that has grown from a strength of 4 to 15 in a span of two months. Collectively, we speak several languages and every night, the cuisine changes at dinner (mushrooms and kidney beans being constants)
Along with the design and building of a garden, we have together developed a new system of family and the meaning of a home. Just as Imadol, the place most in need of a garden in all of Kathmandu has found us, it has given much in return.
First day of metal bending for the bath. It's supposed to be a Giant Copper Leaf Bath..... But we may have to rename it after construction if things don't go better than today..... Maybe "Moderately Sized, Looks Like It Got Dropped a Bit, Copper Sculpture That Is A Bit Wet"
A warm welcome to our new family member Coco Jumbo!
So we made a gate !! There is no wall around the gate just yet..... But we have a gate! We had an intricate delicious symmetrical design in mind that really didn't turn out in any way or form..... The good news is the accidental pattern reminds me of our current favourite dish to cook and eat after a hard days work 'Rajma Special' (kidney bean special) It's a beautiful world!
So we finished the gate and patiently waited for the mortar around the bricks to dry before opening. Daily we would stand admiring our smarts and the general ingenuity of woman. We would stop anyone who visited and make them stand and admire it for a minimum of 2 minutes.... in silence. Finally we have the grand opening. Like giddy school kids waiting for Mum to put our macaroni necklace up on the fridge we waited in anticipation. Turns out our gate didn't do one of the two main functions of a gate.....open!!! It was however impeccable at being closed. We forgot to take into consideration that arch opens a little differently than a rectangle. It was hitting on the brick work on the side. When opened to its full extent we were just able to squeeze through only due to the periodic cases of mild to medium food poisoning over the past couple of months.
When the laughter / crying stopped we devised a plan to carve out the arched bricks above the gate in a pattern. In the end It turned out even better then we had hoped and we have increased the standing in silent admiration period up to 4 minutes. Now the gate excels at both of it's functions (being closed AND open) and looks good! Again please admire our most splendid arch gate.... or else! Whoooo!!!
Gather around my little trufflets. I have a story for yah all So the short version is – It’s a beautiful world, enjoy it….. and don’t use someone else’s homemade extension cord… unless you really want to. So if you read our previous little anecdote about the charming arch gate fiasco this may make a little more sense (maybe not though). I am about to let you in on the back story… or perhaps the mid story. In Nepal everyone believes they are an electrician. If you aren’t, you are no one. India has the untouchables. Nepal’s has non-electricians. I’m standing out alone in the semi-dark looking like a mildly dazzled, but well fed Oompa Loompa (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). In Kathmandu the power is run by a hydro station. And currently there is not enough hydrogen and oxygen mix on the upside of the hydro plant to have steady or sufficient power. There is however plenty (of water) in the holes in our back yard. The power is rationed over the town and surrounds on a weekly schedule. Sometimes you have, sometimes you don’t. I was super excited that there was power on at our place because it would allow me to complete some angle grinding of bricks to fix a classic arch gate problem. I was racing the clock. The Kathmandu load shedding clock. In Nepal it is impossible to purchase what you may think of as an extension cord from a store. You buy the pieces and then assemble it yourself like some kind of life or death lego. The bricks are a beautiful tarnished orange covered in moss and black….. stuff. I ground away at the bricks, orange dust clung to my mildly sweaty face hence the Oompa Loompa complexion. I’m happily slicing through the bricks like exceptionally hard butter with my aged, rusty diamond blade periodically interrupted by low current. Then suddenly my hand starts jerking around like a bunch of angry fairies are bursting into my hand pulling at the tendons that control the muscles in my fingers and up to the shoulder of my left arm. As if they were trying to make catch an erratically manoeuvring invisible fly whirring around the cord. Lucky for me Kathmandu was keeping a high percentage of its water on the low side of the hydro plant at the time and after a little bit the cord flew out of my left hand and I didn’t grind my face off with my right hand. My not so silky brick dust clogged locks were safe to bounce another day. Anywho…my hand is getting a bit tired from this typing so….. All’s well that ends well / Or easy come, easy go… chose your sentiment.