Significance of cultural values in the changing lifestyles and house forms of the people of Kathmandu

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Tuladhar, Sujata
Janz, Wes
Issue Date
Thesis (M. Arch.)
Department of Architecture
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As societies and cultures evolve with time, human settlements also transform gradually. These days, globalization and modernity bring about rapid changes and in a matter of a few years, the face of a settlement is changed forever and the lives of the people are no longer the same. While such changes are inevitable, it will be suggested that they should be conducive to the existing built environment. Change brought about by capitalistic and consumeristic pressures does not necessarily have to take away the identity of a settlement.Because I am a person from Kathmandu, Nepal, I chose that place to study how and why change is evidenced in the environments, lifestyles and house forms of the local people, and to explore how specific families both maintain and mediate their cultural values amidst these changes. As much as Kathmandu is an Asian center of glorious art, architectural, and cultural history, it is also a center of development, growth and change. In recent years, a growing trend in Kathmandu is for homeowners to leave their ancestralhome in and of the historic city and to relocate to new urban areas. This thesis focuses on this particular trend of relocation.Available literature, documentation from other sources, and the author's few years of professional experience in Kathmandu, shape the analysis of the settlement patterns, house forms, socio-cultural activities and the economics of the urban Kathmandu in the past and the present. The families, which have lived through the changes -- as they have moved from the historic center to new neighborhoods -- are the ones who can best represent the current scenario. Four such families were studied. Their answers to a lengthy questionnaire along with photographic documentation and physical mapping of their old and new dwellings have formed the main body of research.In their responses, the local people spoke volumes on how change is necessary, desirable, and inevitable. Still, there are major cultural values that never change. They exist in the spirits and to some extent in the way people conduct daily chores in the house. To a greater extent, however, cultural affinity exists at the larger scale of a neighborhood. Quality of life in the historic city is brought about by its rich festivities, sociability of spaces and the feeling of communal harmony. Although the society is changing into a more individualistic one and material and spatial needs are fulfilled in the new location, people miss the quality of life in terms of the socio-cultural attributes of the old place.As designers, we can extract upon these attributes to bring back their lost sense of place.Being sensitive to these values, design can become more a response than an imposition.