*What would you consider to be the most important factors in designing a house in your country?
It is indeed one’s dream to own a house that fits one’s need in both functionality and style. From house color to garden design, there are numerous factors to deal with while designing a house. True, comfort and size of the house are important factors in designing a house, but other features such as safety, hygiene, socio cultural issues and environment would be more vital aspects to mull over when designing a house in Nepal.
Safety is one of the most important factors that should be taken into account while designing a house in Nepal. Buildings should be constructed envisioning the worst case scenario. In other words, a house should be constructed in such a way that it can resist even the biggest of tremors. The 1934 and 1998 earthquake in Nepal is testimony to the potential devastations that earthquakes cause. Worse, Nepal lies in one of the most earthquake prone regions and scientists have predicted that if an earthquake is going to hit south Asia, then it will be Nepal for sure. If we are to prepare ourselves from a future catastrophe, then it is extremely vital for us to construct earthquake resistant houses. And that is possible by laying proper foundation and by using base isolation techniques that have been espoused by many nations. Furthermore, floods and fire can be equally devastating if precautions are not taken. Several days ago, two people were burnt alive as a blaze broke out in a local lodge in Phidim. If there were proper alarm systems and proper insulation techniques, then these deaths could have been prevented for certain.
Along with constructing seismic and fire resistant houses, it is also imperative to enforce security measures in the household. With crimes burgeoning in every nook and corner of the valley, it has been ever important to introduce proper security measures in the house primarily to drive out criminals. While some people may hire guards or German Shepherds to the job, others make alterations to their door and room designs itself. The most common security measure used by Nepalese is the ‘Gajbar’- two strong blocks of metals that are fixed on the interior of the house. Even if a criminal manages to break the lock, the Gajbar will prevent the criminal from pushing the door. Or, for a bit of sophistication, there can be alarm bells or a system where a person needs to type certain codes to open a door. But, this system is very rare in Nepal. And not to forget child safety: it is always advisable to construct high level bars and railings to prevent children from falling down.
Among other things, I would also consider the socio- cultural issues while designing a house. Vastu Shastra or the Science of Architecture would definitely play a part while making a decision. For example, according to beliefs, the kitchen should always face towards the south-east direction. Also, the puja room should always look towards the north, or else it is said that conflicts will arise in the household. True, this sounds pretty implausible, but that is not a reason to abandon a belief that has been espoused since generations.
Apart from Vastu Shashtra, i would also bear in mind various environmental aspects while designing a house. Since Nepal is facing a severe energy crisis, it is auspicious to develop mechanisms that generate energy from natural sources- anything from solar energy to wind. At a time when majority of the population is facing severe water shortages throughout the year, Rainwater Harvesting System can always be a viable option. The Rainwater Harvesting Implementation in Network in Nepal has recently constructed five rainwater harvesting systems in the western region of Nepal, and currently, these systems serve more that 1300 people in five villages. If this system is adopted in individual households as well, then it will certainly bear fruit. In addition, the surroundings should be favorable for settlement. Noise pollution and other forms of disturbances don’t augur well for our health. If not other things, the neighborhood shouldn’t act as a garbage dumping site for people. Locals in Sisdole often show outrage towards the government for turning their neighborhood into a landfill.
Hygiene, too, would be a central factor while designing a house. It is important that sources of indoor air pollution be dealt with seriously since cooking and heating with solid fuels releases a range of health- damaging pollutants. Installing proper and modern ventilation systems would be the best way to tackle the problem. Metal chimneys would be more effective than mud brick chimneys that are common in many Nepali households today. In addition, smooth supply of water would be a chief factor in maintaining hygiene in the household. From taking shower, washing dishes to drinking, we cannot do without water. And without water, we cannot maintain proper hygiene. Taking into account water shortages throughout the valley, perhaps ‘boring’ would be the best option to meet water demands throughout the household.
There are also other numerous factors that one has to come across while designing a house. Some include shape and color of the house, garden design and parking space. However, in Nepal, where most of the people are middle wage earners, these factors do not play a major role in decision making. Safety, socio cultural issues, hygiene and environmental expediency are the most important aspects.
(* Essay received from a reader)