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Architecture is a Utilitarian Social Art: A Talk with Prof. Dr. Bharat Sharma

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tbculture 04 May 2022

The residence at Maligaon welcomes you with chirping of birds and brisk winds from all the trees therein. Then your eyes stop at the warmth of the smile from Prof. Dr. Bharat Prasad Sharma, who is one strong pillar in Nepalese Architecture community; the fourth SONA president – pointing out all the wrongs and praising everything right.


Architecture is a utilitarian social art that delivers something to the society- it delivers something to the society. It stands for the anthropological journey of the human civilization- it is tangible and can be verified. This is what Sharma understands architecture as; and tries to explain it to the new-lings of architecture.

Sharma advocates architecture must respond to basic human needs. It should without doubt cater to the needs of human dwelling irrespective of their financial status. Architecture should address the contextual idea- the geology, local materials, climate and more. Can anyone name a single Malla Architect during Malla period? Even though we cannot, we can see how beautifully the cities and the buildings were planned. The idea of getting a tree down, polluting the water or building above the pinnacle of the temple were considered a sin- and those byelaws shaped the city which was beautiful and uniform. With three years of Diploma in Civil Engineering, Sharma was not satisfied with what he’d done and studied. Then, he was awarded with a Colombo Plan that took him to Malaysia/Singapore (united) where he did his first three years of Architecture School. The political conditions forced him to get back with incomplete degree. But, when there is a will, there is a way. He was then selected mid-term in Baroda to complete his undergraduate. Then in DUDBC, by incidence, Sharma met Professor Edward Seclar from Harvard. He’d already sent out his forms for UNESCO Scholarships but nothing was done. Seclar asked him to write a few words about architecture and conservation, which was in a way an aptitude test for Sharma. Impressed with Sharma, Seclar sent out a letter to Harvard recommending him and thus his post-graduate degree from Harvard in Landscape Design came to life. He did his Doctorate from Tribhuwan University. Sharma, having studied all in scholarship thought he had to return what he had been given by the nation; and did not stay even a day more after his graduation in the US. He returned to Nepal.


Although not practicing now, he was involved in DUDBC and led quite a few projects. The governmental residence of Baluwatar is one of his most prominent design. In his own words as an architectural critic, the practice that now is being followed in Nepal can be termed as ‘Playboy Architecture’. Where aesthetics is there just for the sake of aesthetics and are being forced upon.

Architects are the doctors who feel the sociological pulses of the clients. Architects should know what the patients are going through as the doctors do and prescribe them as doctors do. Sharma remembers his own anecdotes whilst working with King Birendra: telling him not to put up his own statue of Pashupati and Birendra agreeing. Such is Architect- Client relationship. It is the job of architects to elucidate clients on the wrong and the right. Whether or not to build anything on given site or how to build. But
the trend of ‘Playboy Architecture’ is where client dictates his prescription medicine to the architects and the architects build it, Sharma explains.

The society as a whole shaped the Malla cities- the societal memory and understanding. But, we as an architects and the architectural community are failing to deliver the same to this modern-day society. This is why whenever something wrong is done to our long standing heritage, we as a community would be the only one raising our voices, whereas the general public is standing there, awestruck to the new replica that neither carries the soul of the monument, nor the ethics of those heritage.

Sharma, harsh on his words but soft on heart emphasizes that we as an architectural fraternity must connect with people and make them understand why our identity required is. We must work, but with the knowledge of what and who we are. We must feel the pulses of society and prescribe the medicines as needed.

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