Modernity and tradition around ‘gharelu’ in the Himalayan villages of Nepal post earthquake

Grantham Scholar Abhishek Bhutoria researches ‘gharelu’ (domestic life) and sustainable rebuilding in Nepal’s Himalayan villages after an earthquake.

The project

In 2015, the central and eastern Himalayan villages of Nepal, renowned for their traditional architecture, were devastated by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Beyond the tangible destruction, this calamity profoundly disrupted the ‘lifeworld’ of the inhabitants. While many of these villages have been rebuilt, they now grapple with the tension between modernity and tradition in their domestic existence.

This research will employ the Nepali terms ‘gharelu’ and ‘gharelu jiwan’ instead of ‘domesticity’ and ‘domestic life’, as these terms encapsulate a more expansive understanding of domestic life, one that is not strictly tied to the physical confines of a home and relationships and activities in it. The core objective of this study is to scrutinise the repercussions of post-quake architectural rehabilitation on the ‘gharelu’ and ‘gharelu jiwan’ of these villages.

To achieve this, two emblematic Himalayan villages, Barpak and Laprak, both of which suffered extensive structural loss during the earthquake, are selected. Notably, Barpak’s recovery was steered by political and economic considerations, leading to an unfamiliar architectural landscape. Conversely, Laprak’s rebuilding was community-led, with designs rooted in the community’s collective experiences. This dichotomy provided a platform to dissect the interplay between architecture, ‘gharelu’, and the villages’ lifeworld.

Central to this exploration is the investigation of post-earthquake architectural elements in relation to ‘gharelu jiwan’. Moreover, the research also delves into the villagers’ perception of their historical and reconstructed villages. Adopting a social constructivist lens, this research pivots from architectural ethnography towards architectural anthropology. Methodologically, participant observation, architectural analysis, and interviews are applied to unravel architectural practices, resident experiences, and their lifeworld complexities.

The overarching aim is to assess the social sustainability of these reconstruction initiatives and their ramifications on villagers’ daily lives. While not exhaustive, this study intends to bridge a noted research void concerning ‘gharelu’, architectural heritage, and sustainable rebuilding in Nepal’s Himalayan villages, thus stimulating further scholarly discussions in this domain.


Bhutoria, A. (2020). Understanding Rural and Village Society. IN M. Ghosh, Perception Design and Ecology of the Built Environment: A Focus on the Global South. Cham: Springer

Bhutoria, A. (2022). Aesthetic politics, blending or confusing the rupture and continuity of the tradition of domestic architecture of Barpak, Nepal, IASTE Working Paper Series, vol.315, pp.44-63


1. John Page Travel Bursary 2023/24

Having been granted this award, I undertook an extensive examination of six Himalayan villages across Nepal and India to critically investigate the accelerated developments within these locales and their subsequent implications on domestic life. This rigorous academic inquiry is slated to culminate in a documentary titled “Gharelu Jiwan’, scheduled for release in June 2024.

2. Faculty Research Support Scheme 2022/23

Through the support granted by this scheme, I was able to proficiently execute my fieldwork in Nepal that otherwise threated the anticipated research trajectory.


Dr Xiang Ren

School of Architecture


Dr Jan Woudstra

Department of Landscape Architecture