Kumaon Himalayas, Ongoing (Research trip September 2016.)


Across the globe we are experiencing a loss of vernacular buildings and local architectural languages and dialects, formed by the necessity of local climate, local resources and local work forces. This is one effect of globalisation and it is playing out in urban and rural settings alike. The focus of mainstream architectural discourse has traditionally been dominant urban centres such as large cities and monumental or iconic buildings. This has resulted in what Bernard Rudofsky calls ‘non-pedigreed’ buildings, particularly those in ‘marginal’ and ‘peripheral’ sites such as the rural and developing world, being overlooked. 

This research project investigates the status quo of rural settlements in the Kumaon Himalayas, a mountainous region in Uttarakhand, the poorest and fastest growing state in India. For hundred of years the built environment and way of life in the Kumaon Himalayas has evolved slowly and incrementally. In the last twenty years, however, the region has changed rapidly on many fronts (climatically, economically, socially and culturally). Much of its built heritage and the crafts and skills required to conceive this environment (traditionally passed down from generation to generation) are being lost. Modern building practices, such as quick-build concrete and brick constructions, are also becoming increasingly common-place. Three Kumaoni villages will be studied; one in detail and the other two more generally, in order to enable the research to provide an in-depth study of a rural Kumaoni built environment as well as an idea of the extent to which different villages are being transformed. Within each village typological-scalar studies of the built environment will be conducted, analysing - materially, spatially and temporally - (the macro) settlement form, (the intermediate) the architecture of individual buildings, and (the micro) building details, ornamentation and ‘paraphernalia’. The research will be conducted and organised as a journey. The arrival point is the urban scale of large cities on the North Indian plains and the route progresses to more remote settlements approaching the Himalayan peaks. This structure aims to create a framework against which the outer and inner processes of globalisation and the way in which these processes are transforming everyday, localised practices in the production of the Kumaoni built environment, may be tested.

type: research paper
image credits: watercolour section by Ben Rea
status: ongoing
client: funded by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage


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