Text description provided by the architects. Travis Price, FAIA (Principal of Travis Price Architects, Washington, DC) and Kathleen Lane, Assoc. AIA, of Travis Price Architects and Spirit of Place-Spirit of Design, Inc., led 18 architecture students from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC and two students from Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland on a design-build expedition to Nepal. Over 9 intensive days, students constructed a Memorial to the Magar Ancestors at the remote villages of Namje-Thumki in the eastern foothills of the Himalayas.
Students designed the memorial during the spring semester at Catholic University, in which they were immersed them in study of Nepali and ethnic Magar culture and history, and the ecology of the village site. Though most had never done construction, the students worked alongside local villagers to learn stonemasonry techniques while building the memorial of local stone. The entire village participated in the project, from schoolchildren, who sang songs, and passed stones to the students while they worked, to the elder shamans who dedicated the project with a ‘puja’ ritual. Hundreds of villagers were part of a day of opening ceremonies full of song and dance. It was a cross-cultural exchange that was life-changing for both students and villagers alike, with friendships forged, and connections made for years to come.
Located on the highest hill of the Thumki village, the Memorial to the Magar Ancestors is located in an ancient burial ground surrounded by the growing fields of a newly-established sustainable agricultural education center. Alongside the built memorial project, Price taught students of a spring semester graduate design studio at Catholic University to explore and envision new models for rural community spaces for sustainable agriculture and eco-tourism in the village. It is envisioned that the memorial will not only honor the dead, but will be a symbol of regeneration of the deepest aspects of the culture of the villages to inspire new development for housing, tourism, education, and employment within this community, and as a model for other villages in remote Nepal.
After completing the memorial project, students spent several days touring important historic and cultural monuments and sacred sites in Kathmandu. American students met Nepali architecture and engineering students at a Kathmandu university event, and public lecture by Price about the Spirit of Place project, sponsored by Spaces magazine, a Nepali design journal. On the final evening, US Ambassador to Nepal, Scott DeLisi, hosted the students at a reception at the official Embassy residence.