About the Book
Himalayan Cities: Settlement Patterns, Public Places and Architecture marks the culmination of extensive documentation and research on the cities and architecture of the Himalayas.
It explores the idea of settlements in different areas of the Himalayan region, cutting across national boundaries, from Kashmir via Nepal to the north-eastern parts of the Indian subcontinent, and their relationship with the landscape. By comparing these, the book makes the case for peculiarities of the Himalayan city and succeeds in deducing key principles and general models typical of the settlement patterns, nature of public places and architecture shaped by this unique mountainous environment. The relationship between natural systems and human ingenuity as projected through its built traditions forms the underlying theme of the book.
Lavishly illustrated with stunning photographs and detailed hand drawings by the author and his students, Himalayan Cities not only engages the academia but also the general reader and helps provoke a discourse on this intriguing landscape and its architectural nuances.
About the Author
Pratyush Shankar is a practising architect and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Architecture, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India. He takes courses on History and Theory of Cities, Design Studio and Visualisation. His interest lies in Himalayan architecture and Indian cities.
He has been regularly making hiking trips to the Himalayas for over two decades and has conducted many research and documentation trips in the Indian and Nepal Himalayas over the years.
The author is currently engaged in research that tries to understand the impact of information technologies on the form and perception of the Indian city. He also has a small design practice and has done a number of projects in various parts of India and Nepal.
For some time now he has been daydreaming of cycling from Lhasa to Kathmandu.
This seminal monograph presents a radically new and distinct approach to studying the built environment of the Himalayas. In comparison to earlier studies, Himalayan Cities: Settlement Patterns, Public Places and Architecture by Pratyush Shankar takes a much broader approach on a number of levels.
Firstly, the book provides case studies from different areas of the Himalayan region, cutting across national boundaries from Kashmir via Nepal to the north-eastern areas of the Indian subcontinent. By comparing these, it succeeds in deducing key principles and general models, typical of the settlement patterns, public spaces and the architecture shaped by this unique mountainous environment. Based on its distinct climate, mythological framework and culture, a special case needs to be made for spatial structuring in the Himalayas. For instance, cities throughout the region are naturally isolated, demanding fortifications and an integration into trade route networks. Furthermore, almost all Himalayan settlements are found in river valleys, providing unique landscape conditions. Pratyush Shankar describes this situation as self-contained and physically well defined, often leading to the creation of distinct forms of cultural expression-as, for instance, the tribal cultures of the Kullu and the Solan Sutlej valleys. The world of people dwelling in a vale has a limit, an edge. It is a zone which, culturally and economically, is autonomous from the surrounding area. This generates a setting which is radically different from that of the plains, for instance. Therefore, human constructions in deep valleys will always make strong references to the surrounding landscape and later extensions to buildings and expansions of settlements are only possible within a very limited framework, as in most instances, space is a very limited resource.
A further novelty which distinguishes this book from other studies is that the author examines manmade constructs on a number of different scales-architecture, public space and urbanism-and relates these to one another. Despite clear differences in dimension, the author very lucidly derives unifying aspects across these different entities by outlining formal and cultural aspects of space. Through this, readers are provided with a new theoretical framework for examining historic and contemporary architectural and urban processes, enabling them further to imagine and understand future developments.
On the level of the edifice, Pratyush Shankar examines urban housing in the Kathmandu Valley, outlines the important position of the monastery for public life in Buddhist communities and investigates what he calls the temple-castle typology Structures outside the city in Nepal in Himachal Pradesh. He stresses the strong civic secular associations of the palace-temple complexes and the general importance of courtyards as open, level land connected to nature. Public spaces are strongly shaped by the geomorphic situation of the Himalayas where settlements are densely populated and open- air spaces-such as squares, roads, water structures and gardens-are relatively rare and therefore largely public, accessible to all and open to a number of diverse usages. Particularly interesting is the conscious effort of urban dwellers to create squares in the heart of cities, demarcating a centre and ritually significant point of the community. Settlements are found in remote locations where they depend on links with the wider world and therefore, trade and travel play an important role in their formation and subsistence. This demands spaces accommodating caravans, bus stations as well as markets and bazaars. In this new publication, indigenous as well as the radically different colonial approaches to spatial planning are discussed. Taking the discussion to a higher level, the author clearly delineates the city as a cultural concept. Cities in the Himalayas display unique patterns which are shaped by political, economic, social, religious and ritual aspects. As the author clearly shows, a critical study of the city form and its public spaces provides a deep insight into community values, rituals and secular practices.
A third point of innovation and originality is that this study does not take the material under examination out of context. The buildings, spaces and settlements in this publication are examined with the surrounding and strongly dominant natural landscape setting as the backdrop. As the author shows very intelligibly, in such an extreme environment as the high Himalayas, there is a particularly tightly-knit relationship between landscape on one hand and architectural and urban spaces on the other.
By 'landscape', Pratyush Shankar does not only understand the unshaped wild nature of the high mountain passes but also the cultural and imagined landscapes, i.e., landscapes as physical constructs as well as imagined concepts. There are accurate maps of Himalayan landscapes and the collective memory carries romanticised idyllic images of landscapes, which only exist in our imagination-and both coexist and interact.
As such, this timely publication provides a comprehensive look at the issues of settlement patterns, public places and architecture in the wider Himalayan region. Rightly, the book does not attempt to provide a descriptive and encyclopaedic list of sites. Rather it constructs new arguments and ways oflooking at the available evidence. In addition to its novel and articulate arguments, the book has been lavishly illustrated with a large number of high-quality photographs, most of them taken by the author on countless trips through the Himalayas, and by very helpful diagrams and detailed measured drawings. In his book Pratyush Shankar addresses the general as well as the specialist reader but focuses in particular on the academic community and students.
Although the main goals are to examine built settings and to newly interpret them, at least indirectly, the conclusions drawn here about the relationship between nature and buildings will inevitably affect architects and urban planners proposing or advising on new developments in different settings. By understanding and adopting characteristics of planning outlined in this book, more nuanced strategies might be developed to conserve, redevelop and to newly plan private, public and urban spaces in the future. The Himalayan region is experiencing fast growth and urbanisation. In this fragile environment, urgent attention is required from planners. As the author correctly points out, the answer to rapid growth does not lie in the denial of development or the museum-like conservation of historic sites and settlements. The important point is to find new forms, which are related to and in harmony with the unique natural conditions and the historic architectural and urban fabric of the region, whilst still addressing the present and the future. Whether we are historians of architecture theorising about space or architectural and urban planners actively designing places, it is the author's aim to make us rethink our approach to Himalayan architecture and planning and to provoke a dialogue-and in this he perfectly succeeds.
The idea of this book came about after my research on urban form and public places in the Nepal Himalayas in 2008- 09. Before that I had been closely studying the Indian Himalayas in Ladakh, Garhwal, Kumaon and Himachal Pradesh.
After fieldwork and research in different parts of the Nepal Himalayas, it became clear to me that there is a need for a more comprehensive writing on the issues of settlement patterns, public places and architecture in the Himalayas, cutting across national boundaries. The task of putting together the information for all of Himalayas alone can be daunting, but I was pretty sure that it should not be a descriptive and comprehensive encyclopaedia on Himalayan Architecture. Rather it should be a book that constructs arguments through which one may begin to see the common issues of built environment in the Himalayas.
To my mind the lens of cultural landscape was an important and much ignored area in the scholarships of the Himalayas. I also felt that rather than only discussing one particular scale of the built environment, it is important to discuss all the three-city, public places and architecture-to see the unity across them. Hence, the imagination and physical constructs of the landscape become equally important for such a study.
In this book on Himalayan spaces, we try to look at objects, spaces and various circumstances that have evolved over a long period of time with the premise that such attitudes are loaded in the cultural preference of a place. The idea of a 'place' definitely takes centre stage in such studies. Spatial constructs of a particular place become symbols that can unravel the unique attitude of the place.
Case studies from different parts of the Himalayas are used to arrive at certain generalisations. The emphasis has been on deriving key principles that makes us think about the contemporary and the future. Drawings are an important part of this book and many amongst them are abstract diagrams to make a particular argument or understand a set of relationships. The drawings used in this book can be divided into two categories. Most of them have been hand-drawn by me on-site, only to be redrawn on the board later for publication. I have conducted long field research alone with only a laser measuring device, a two-metre tape and a sketchbook. On many occasions approximate dimensions have been used, but the basic proportion and form has not been compromised during reproduction. The second type of drawings are the drafted ones that have been done by students whom I guided as part of their undergraduate thesis or Related Study Programme (RSP).
The book is divided into four chapters. The first one deals with the area of imagination and perception of the Himalayan landscape and it attempts to de construct the very idea of the Himalayan landscape and its peculiarities. It covers the issues of nature, landscape and its relationship with material cultures such as city form and public places. The second chapter makes an attempt to find patterns at the level of settlements in the historic centres of the Himalayas and thereby suggest at the particularities of a Himalayan city. The third chapter looks at the key ideas and practices in the past where the landscape was transformed to create new spaces of enduring value. Examples from across the Himalayas including British colonial cities find mention and description here. The last chapter covers an extended range of attitudes where landscape conditions have been revered and followed to create everyday spaces. Again, examples across different parts of the Himalayas and across scales have been illustrated in this section. At the end of each chapter is a section discussing the key ideas that emerge from the preceding text. This has been done especially keeping the academia and students in mind and the purpose is to provoke a discourse on the presentation in the preceding chapter.
The Himalayas: Landscape of the Mind
Cities of the Himalayas: Patterns and Settings
Appropriating Landscape: New Typologies
Following Landscapes: Spaces of Reverence
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