building on an exemplary idea
It sure feels good to admire the architecture of traditional houses but with time, it gets dangerous to live under that roof too. Architect Rabindra Puri of Namuna Ghar fame, has been working extensively on restoring such traditional houses and establishing community schools and museums.
Behind the scene
Art and architecture has been Rabindra Puri’s passion since childhood. After completing school, while his father wanted him to study law, Mr. Puri wanted to study fine arts. With hard work, passion and great ambition, he was able to complete four graduate degrees in Law, Fine Arts, History and Management by 1993. With the demise of this father, the entire responsibility of supporting the family came upon Mr. Puri. That is when he first got the chance to work on Patan Museum’s restoration and learn about Nepali architecture in the process.
After completing a semester in sculpture at Germany, he decided to get a Master’s in Development Policy. The completion of this study paved a path for him to join German Technical Cooperation. He was happy working for them but his heart always seemed set on conservation. Seeing beautiful houses getting pulled down to give rise to ugly concrete structures made his heart weep, but leaving a well-paying job and starting something new wasn’t easy either. Yet he decided to go after his dreams and soon resigned from his job to start on restoration work.
The first house he restored, Namuna Ghar, was in an abandoned state when he went to buy it. He told the home owner about his plans of renovating the house while preserving its essence and the owner, gladly supporting his idea, sold the house to him. This is how Mr. Puri invested in his own journey. But externalizing his ideas to have people understand what he really wanted was a major challenge for Mr. Puri. People are always skeptical when someone does something different and mark them as crazy. The same thing happened with Mr. Puri. He faced the difficulty of making his workers understand what they had to do which created a lack of co-ordination and understanding among them. But with great effort and patience, Mr. Puri was able to reach out and share his ideas with them. Luckily, his first restoration project, Namuna Ghar, became well known and the Bhaktapur Municipality declared it as a “Model House”. Mr. Puri also became the first Nepali to be awarded the prestigious Asia Pacific Cultural Heritage Award, which proved motivational in encouraging him and others to start restoring old houses into ‘new’ ones in a traditional style.
RP Foundation, founded by Mr. Puri, is a non-profit organization working on renovation and construction of community schools. Altogether, it has established nine schools in Kavre, Bhaktapur, Ramechhap and Gorkha. The Foundation has taken a major initiative in establishing Nepal Vocational Academy to alleviate unemployment and manpower scarcity in Nepal. Nepal Vocational Academy’s objective is to produce competent and market-oriented skilled workers.
Using similar methods to restore the houses of Matan Chhen that he employed while re-building Namuna Ghar in Bhaktapur, Mr. Puri set an example of how one can maintain traditional method of building alongside modern techniques. Visitors got to learn about merging modern facilities in traditional houses without losing their essence. Mr. Puri, who is happy to get support from Panauti’s community, strongly believes that locals here will restore houses in the same way in the future.
Sustaining on social service is challenging in a competitive world, but Mr. Puri has been investing almost two thirds of his time in social service. Namuna Gaun in Sangha and a few other side projects are his only sources of income. The renovated houses have been bought by people and the community schools are looked after jointly by the community and the municipality; all this makes Mr. Puri believe that his work is in good hands.
After overcoming various challenges to introduce something new in the society, he feels he is still deprived of the help he should’ve received from the municipality. “I am a dreamer and I have many dreams. I dream about making Panauti a traditional architecture town by 2030 and build one model school in each district in Nepal,” says Mr. Puri. He wants to develop the quality of every government school that has been and will be established and complete at least a thousand projects in his lifetime among which more than 40 projects have already been completed. “It is a difficult task but not an impossible one,” says Mr. Puri.