I love how these challenges help me out sometimes. I’ve been subconsciously collecting photos of brick walls: Half crumbled or moss covered or sprayed with slogans. Brick walls are everywhere in Kathmandu. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with them, but I was fascinated by the variety of textures and the whole mini eco-systems they come to support. Anything made out of brick looks so much nicer than the modern alternatives of concrete, and cold, blue-tinted glass. In the 21st century, Kathmandu is scattered with a mix of the old and the new.
Traditional Nepali bricks are cut by hand, dried in the sun and then low-fired in tall, chimney-like kilns. Ironically, the traditional brick is at odds with the modern day. The giant construction boom has led to more and more kilns pumping out increasing volumes of black, sooty air. This traditional craft is now make a significant contribution to the appalling air quality in this city. Once green valleys are now hosting belching kilns and rice paddies now longer produce rice, but are used as platforms to air dry the bricks. Its a pretty disturbing sight.
The quality of the bricks is pretty low. Although they look quaint when they host moss or grass sprouting from the cracks, they don’t last long if they aren’t maintained. Very often brick walls aren’t rendered well, leaving them with cracks vulnerable to invasive roots or even unstable enough to wobble around rumbling traffic.
Kathmandu wouldn’t be the same place without it brick walls. Everything I love about the architecture of this city includes carved stone and wood, and the traditional red brick. Yet, environmentally, bricks are a disaster. Closely followed, unfortunately, by the environmental disaster that is concrete construction, with quarries and mines stealing stones and gravel from river beds, changing the course of rivers and destroying their health. Where is sustainable development in Nepal?
Lastly, a tangent thought: When is a brick wall, not a brick wall? When it is a pile of bricks waiting to be sold. Here are some brick “walls” that have been sitting for way too long, waiting for a buyer….constructed, I think, by someone a little too enthusiastic about the brick market or his talent to sell them.