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A FADING LEGACY:

LADAKHS VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE


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Universit degli Studi di Firenze


Master in Architectural Design
DISSERTATION

SUMMARY

Supervisor: Mario Carlo Alberto Bevilacqua, Co-Supervisor: Gerald Kozicz, Candidate: Edoardo Paolo Ferrrai
ABSTRACT

In a built environment, creating a relationship to the past through constructions is a challenge


for both designers and communities. I believe that a designer needs to have a deep knowledge of
any architectural background context in order to be more conscious of his/her own work towards
the community. For this reason it is important to study the material and immaterial architectural
heritage of a place before any design. Therefore, instead of concentrating on a specific architectural
design solution, I have shifted my attention to the study of vernacular buildings both in terms of
tangible and intangible features. Since scholars and architects are more exposed to external cultural
influences, I have been keen to investigate vernacular architecture in a foreign context. I have chosen
the Indian state of Ladakh since its location in the Himalayas is putting it in a wider interdisciplinary
area of research, to which Italian scholars such as Giuseppe Tucci (1894- 1984) and Valerio Sestini
(1935-2013) already gave a contribution. Earth, a key element in the Ladakhi constructions, was
another factor that has influenced the selection of the fieldwork, being this material part of my
background of the design field in Florence. The research was conducted according to a threefold
program of one and a half year:

1. LearningthroughrelevantliteratureaboutLadakhandLadakhsarchitecture
2. Fieldworkandworkshopsattendance
3. Preparationofthetext

The fieldwork consisted in living inside Ladakhi buildings and experimenting the local life- style
in different villages and towns. Interviews, carried out at a both semi-formal and informal level
with Ladakhi masons and carpenters, have been very precious to understand the construction
principles of the traditional buildings. The dialogue with locals in general, and the opportunity to
share and live within the same environment, allowed the access to subtle relationships among life
and buildings.
DISSERTATION CONTENT

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.......................................................................................................................................... 7
NOTE TO THE TEXT.................................................................................................................................................. 9
1. INTRODUCTION.................................................................................................................................................... 10
1.1 SCOPE OF THE WORK / RESEARCH QUESTION................................................................................. 10
1.2 RELEVANCE: THE CHOICE OF LADAKH................................................................................................ 13
1.3 METHODOLOGY AND RESTRICTIONS................................................................................................. 15
2. ENVIRONMENT...................................................................................................................................................... 17
2.1 POSITIONING LADAKH.............................................................................................................................. 18
2.2 CLIMATE AND VEGETATION.................................................................................................................... 20
2.3 ENVIRONMENT AND HUMAN ACTIVITIES........................................................................................ 22
2.4 AVAILABILITY OF CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS.............................................................................. 25
3. SOCIETY AND CULTURE.................................................................................................................................... 29
3.1 PEOPLE AND LANGUAGE........................................................................................................................... 29
3.2 SOCIAL ORGANISATION............................................................................................................................ 30
3.3 RELIGIONS....................................................................................................................................................... 34
4. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND............................................................................................................................. 36
4.1 EARLY HISTORY............................................................................................................................................. 37
4.2 THE KINGDOM OF LADAKH.................................................................................................................... 38
4.3 AFTER LADAKH LOST ITS INDEPENDENCE....................................................................................... 43
4.4 LADAKH PART OF INDEPENDENT INDIA............................................................................................ 45
5. THE SETTLEMENT AND ITS SURROUNDINGS........................................................................................... 46
5.1 VILLAGES AND TOWNS............................................................................................................................. 47
5.1.1 Typologies of Settlement...................................................................................................................... 47
5.1.2 The Village Within the Terrain........................................................................................................... 51
5.1.2.1 Natural elements: Water soil and sun................................................................................... 51
5.1.2.2 Trading...................................................................................................................................... 54
5.1.2.3 Road connections.................................................................................................................... 55
5.1.2.4 Education and new job opportunities.................................................................................. 56
5.1.3 Village Layout: Building Adaptation to the Community Needs...................................................... 56
5.1.3.1 Protection need.......................................................................................................................... 57
5.1.3.2 Cultivation need........................................................................................................................ 58
5.1.3.3 Additional land and business needs....................................................................................... 59
5.1.3.4 Seasonal need............................................................................................................................. 60
5.1.3.5 Symbolical need: social and spiritual hierarchy.................................................................... 62
5.1.4 The Village and its Pastureland: Dog, Brog, Dogsa and Pulu.......................................................... 65
5.1.5 The Village Name.................................................................................................................................... 66
5.1.6 Sacred Landscape.................................................................................................................................... 67
5.2 CONSTRUCTIONS AMONG VILLAGES................................................................................................... 70
5.2.1 Religious Structures................................................................................................................................ 70
5.2.1.1 Chorten (mchod-rten).............................................................................................................. 72
5.2.1.2 Rigsumgonbo (rigs-gsum-mgon-po)...................................................................................... 73
5.2.1.3 Lhatho (lha-tho)........................................................................................................................ 74
5.2.1.4 Lubang (klu-bang)..................................................................................................................... 76
6. THE HOUSE............................................................................................................................................................. 78
6.1 GENERAL NOTES ON THE HOUSE.......................................................................................................... 78
6.1.2 Ladakhs Houses: Historiography......................................................................................................... 80
6.1.1.1 For a History of Ladakhs Vernacular Architecture.............................................................. 83
6.1.3 The Name of the house......................................................................................................................... 85
6.1.4 Basic principles for the construction of a house............................................................................... 86
6.1.5 Traditional measurement units............................................................................................................ 91
6.2 HOUSE FORM................................................................................................................................................... 92
6.2.1 Stables....................................................................................................................................................... 92
6.2.2 Fireplace Room....................................................................................................................................... 94
6.2.3 Storage Rooms...................................................................................................................................... 103
6.2.4 Guest Room and Rabsal Room.......................................................................................................... 106
6.2.5 Toilet...................................................................................................................................................... 107
6.2.6 Sun-Room and Glass-Room............................................................................................................... 109
6.2.7 Sleeping Room...................................................................................................................................... 111
6.2.8 Terraced Roof and Porticoes.............................................................................................................. 111
6.2.9 Prayer room.......................................................................................................................................... 113
6.2.10 Distribution spaces and entrances................................................................................................... 115
6.2.11 House as a Microcosm: The Symbology of the House................................................................ 117
6.3 HOUSE ELEMENTS AND CONSTRUCTION TECHNOLOGY......................................................... 120
6.3.1 Main Phases of the Construction Process and Beginning of the
Building Activity ................................................................................................................................. 121
6.3.1.1 Rituals at the Beginning of the Construction / Soil Evaluation...................................... 122
6.3.2 Foundations.......................................................................................................................................... 124
6.3.2.1 Houses Built Without Foundations..................................................................................... 125
6.3.2.2 Houses Built with Foundations............................................................................................ 125
6.3.3 Walls....................................................................................................................................................... 130
6.3.3.1 Stone Walls............................................................................................................................... 131
6.3.3.1a Stone Corners........................................................................................................... 134
6.3.3.2 Sundried Mud Bricks Walls.................................................................................................. 135
6.3.3.2a Additives and Different Earth Types Combinations.......................................... 137
6.3.3.2b Brick Size.................................................................................................................. 138
6.3.3.2c Brick Bonds.............................................................................................................. 141
6.3.3.3 Rammed Earth Walls..............................................................................................................142
6.3.3.4 Stud Walls with Timber Framing Filled with Stones........................................................ 144
6.3.3.5 Mortar....................................................................................................................................... 144
6.3.3.6 Non-Structural Partitions...................................................................................................... 146
6.3.3.7 Battered Walls......................................................................................................................... 147
6.3.3.8 Wooden Ties........................................................................................................................... 148
6.3.4 Openings............................................................................................................................................... 148
6.3.4.1 Windows.................................................................................................................................. 149
6.3.4.1a Shingtsag.................................................................................................................... 151
6.3.4.2 Doors........................................................................................................................................ 153
6.3.5 Horizontal Structures, Beam-Pillar System and Flooring............................................................. 154
6.3.5.1 An Odd Number of Dungma............................................................................................... 158
6.3.5.2 Pillars........................................................................................................................................ 159
6.3.6 Roofing.................................................................................................................................................. 159
6.3.7 Plaster..................................................................................................................................................... 162
6.3.8 Stairs....................................................................................................................................................... 165
7. BIBLIOGRAPHY.................................................................................................................................................... 166
8. INTERVIEWS.......................................................................................................................................................... 181
9. FIGURES (APPENDIX)........................................................................................................................................ 182
PRESENTATION SUMMARY

- LADAKH-WESTERN HIMALAYA-INDIA
. High altitude semi-desert: scarce precipitation, barren landscape, long winters (-30C)
- HARSH ENVIRONMENT
. Construction materials availability: earth, stone and wood even if very scarce.
. Transportation and processing of materials is very difficult
. Ladakhi society is an agrarian society based on cultivation and animal husbandry
. The house is the basic social unity, centre for the villagers most important activities
- THE HOUSE
. The house is safeguarding people from the environment in all senses: physical, psychological and spiritual.
For centuries, the house in Ladakh had been the centre of life and of most of the social activities because of
the absence of any other civil structure. The house is the family ground, the inside and the first production
unit; the hinge for most social activities. The house is where the main social gathering events like births,
weddings and death ceremonies are taking place. Furthermore, the traditional household, passed on to the
elder son generation after generation, is the anchor for the family and it establishes a direct connection with
the ancestors.

- HOUSE FORM:
. The house is formed by:
-Stables
-Storage spaces (larder, beverage store, hay store, fuel store...)
-Fireplace room (centre of the main activities: cooking, working, chatting, sleeping, praying)
-Guest room
-Toilet
-Terraces and porticoes
-Prayer room
- HOUSE ELEMENTS AND CONSTRUCTION TECHNOLOGY
. Main phases of the construction process:
1. Collection of materials, site selection and discussion
with the master mason;
2. Digging and laying foundations or wall basement;
3. Erection of superstructures with openings and lintels;
4.Placement of pillars, primary and secondary beams and
completion of floors for each storey;
5. Fitting of widows and doors frame;
6.Finishing with plaster and decorations.
Barren Ladakhi landscape, Kanji village (4000m), Barley fields in July

A typical Ladakhi house, Battered walls of stone and mud bricks masonry, Serku khangbu (house),
Hemis Shukpachen village
Fireplace room: the centre of the house activities

House orientation: main faade with openings


towards South and blank North/West sides

Fireplace room and daily activities (30 years old house) Gonpapa khanbu, Hemis Shukpachen village

Abandoned fireplace room (100 years old), Pakkhar house, Igu village
Prayer room, Kakapa house, Kanji village Balcony, Lagapa house, Hemis Shuk.

Terrace, porticoes and flat roof: open air spaces in the house for summer and winter

Basement raising from the bare rock Stone foundations and plinth

Stone house with wooden-ties House corner in Adobe Ruined house in pis
Beams spanned on a room Willow sticks above beams Grass and mud laid for the floor

Parapet: Roof:
1. Earth (sa) 1. Clay (1-3cm) (markalag)
2. Flat stone (yamangs) 2. Earth (7-10cm) (sa)
3. Sun dried mud bricks (pakbu) 3. Non-rotting dry grass (6-10cm) (e.g.
4. Willow stick (talu) Yagrzes)
4. Willow sticks (4-6cm) (talu)
5. Secondary beam (15cm) (dungma)
6. Primary beam (20cm) (mardung)

Window elements

Window: axonometric view