Sunday, April 23, 2017

Newari Cultural Center/ Museum in Kathmandu

We just completed CapAsia IX conducted in Thailand and Nepal (in spring 2017). In Kathmandu, CapAsia students got involved in the NEC project to design a Newari Cultural Center/ Museum. Due to our limited time (3 weeks), CapAsia and NEC students brainstormed how to approach.

One of the highlights was Iris (Zhou Lanyang) focusing on museum as a process of transfer of culture from older generations to younger ones. In addition to displaying objects, the museum can also be a place of live storytelling. Moreover, much of the class focused on public culture, thus extending beyond the usual elite culture. The need for a cultural center when the Bhaktapur Durbar is present was questioned. Amber Janzen discussed the possibility of adapting (with necessary adjustments) the neighborhoods of ordinary Newari people just outside of the durbar (the royal square) which represents the culture of the Newari elite. The neighborhood is fully functional and there is no need for actors to act like Newaris.

For Iris and others, culture is never static and never the past; it also has a future, but the crucial moment is the present. The present is the pivot between the past and the future [however far they may span]; the present is also only time the culture-makers have agency to produce culture and some control (other thane defining at a latter stage). Iris connected this thinking with her own experience of older people sharing stories. Near Wat Phra Borom That (the Burmese style temple in Kamphaeng Phet), she had observed "old people" sitting outside on a bench and sharing stories from the past with her. Can we get people like this to tell their stories and the younger generation to come listen? The central process that needs to be included or housed in a museum was thus conceived.

This highlights how a dynamic process (instead of a product) can define a cultural center (as most other institutions and spaces), rather than building a house for artifacts, although some artifacts maybe a part of this project. The location is highly important and it could be a crucial driver. The design challenge is to organize the process along with its spaces and built forms.