This Kathmandu museum, built in an Austrian modernist style, looks like a set from Star Wars.
For many, thinking of Kathmandu conjures images of towering pagoda-style temples and narrow streets choked with exotic, medieval era architecture. But after the city was opened to foreigners in the 1950s, Kathmandu’s landscape began to change. The Taragaon Museum not only chronicles the city’s architectural transformation, but also embodies it.
Originally built as a hostel for visiting artists and scientists, the Taragaon grew into a well-known hotel that was later abandoned in the 1990s. The property was rescued by hotelier and philanthropist Arun Saraf, who also owns the adjacent Hyatt hotel, and was revived to honor Kathmandu’s architectural history.
The Austrian architect Carl Pruscha, who served as a UN and UNESCO consultant to the Nepalese government, designed the Taragaon in the 1960s based on the artistic vision provided by Angur Baba Joshi. A prominent social activist, Joshi was an Oxford-educated Nepali woman who dreamed of promoting Nepal’s heritage by developing a cultural village. The resulting combination of Pruscha’s European modernism and Nepali traditions spawned a unique structure.
Dark red brick dominates the museum’s design as a tribute to the dachi appa brick structures that can be found throughout Kathmandu’s historic districts. The bricks are typically used for the façades of Newari temples and palaces. The barrel-vaulted style rooms, which Pruscha calls “Pati,” were likewise inspired by classic temple architecture. Other elements of the recent restoration are distinctly modern, like the large, circular windows, which are meant as a nod toward the future.
Inside, the museum is bedecked with photos, drawings, and sketches of Nepal’s architectural bounty. Two of the oldest items on display are an 1853 etching and an 1863 photograph of Kathmandu. These are complemented by colorful topographic maps and paintings as well as modern sculpture by Nepali artists.
Know Before You Go
The Taragaon Museum is on the grounds of the Hyatt hotel and is within easy walking distance from Boudha Stupa. Entry is free.
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