WASHINGTON WOMEN in Architecture, as a part of the National Women's Caucus for Art annual conference, has organized an exhibit of 15 projects by Washington architects who are also women. The show of photographs and drawing, organized by Barbara L. Mistrik, is open through Feb. 9 at the American Institute of Architects headquarters building, 1799 New York Ave. NW.
Ann Ardery's "house for an intersection" was an award winner in a competition sponsored by Japan Architect magazine. The Federal Center Plaza here by Sara Elizabeth Caples and Linda Spottswood of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (in a joint venture) is a $60-million mixed-use development. The Holy Cross Hospital addition in Silver Spring is by Karen Fox of Faulkner, Fryer & Vanderpool. The Oberlin College Snack Bar remodeling project is by Pamela Heyne. A prototype Standard Federal Savings & Loan Branch Bank was designed by Lelia E. Imas of Imas Gruner and Associates.
Andrews Air Force Base Personnel Center is the work of Kay Layne of Chapman, Miller & Layne. A gazebo for a Cleveland Park house is by Ann McCutcheon Lewis. A "space for social systems" -- laboratory prototype for the National Institutes of Health -- was designed by Pamela Clayton and Elizabeth Macklin. An art school for Chapel Hill, N.C., was a student project by Anita Marie Picozzi. A day-care center for children with special problems is a design proposal by Marcia Rascoe. Hamilton Park Site Improvements in Jersey City, N.J., was done by Patricia Schiffelbein with Oppenheimer, Brady & Vogelstein. A hotel for Charlottesville, Va., was a student project of Patricia E. Suplee. A State Compensation Insurance Fund Home Office Building in San Francisco is a design by Jacqueline Stavi of John Carl Warnecke & Associates.
Two other projects are described in stories on this page -- Katherine D. Blair at right and Deborah Libby Chemers below.
EATING A chicken head is not normally a part of an architectural education.
"In Nepal, we didn't have chicken that often," said Katherine D. Blair, a 33-year-old Washington architect (with John S. Samperton Associates). "But one day my landlady offered me a chicken dish. It was dark in the house. I didn't realize what it was until I bit into it.
"Most of the time we had dhal (lentils) and rice twice a day, with chili peppers in the hill villages. When the potato and onion crops came in, it was wonderful. During the October festivals is usually the only time when the people taste meat. Since they have no refrigeration, if they kill a goat or a water buffalo, it all has to be eaten at once."
The food was just a small hazard of a remarkable two-year post-graduate architectural study. Blair studied the similarities between village cottages and urban houses in Nepal, making measured drawings and photographs of five different villages and surveying and mapping them. "Measured drawings are made by measuring each part of a building and then drawing the building in proportion.)
She found that village construction workers and materials did not work well for city housing. But through extensive interviews with the home owners and the workmen about how people live in the space, how construction materials are used and how much they cost, she was able to suggest ways to improve the village housing. Her study also has been valuable in planning for resettlements. Her methodology points the way for other countries to deal with the problems of country people coming to the city.
Much of her work was done in Marfa, a Himalayan village about 30 miles from the Tibet border. The drawings and photographs were exhibited in the village, helping the villagers themselves understand their heritage.
Blair went to Nepal on a Fulbright-Hayes scholarship in 1972-74, after learning Hindi in a National Defense Fellowship in foreign languages. She had intended to study Indian villages -- she'd earlier attended the architectural school in Ahmedabad. But when she planned to go back to India, relations between the United States and India were not good, so she went to Nepal instead -- and learned Napali as she worked.
"Everywhere I went people were interested that the United States government had given me the money to do such an obscure study in an out-of-the-way country. I had complete freedom to pursue a project in my own way. The government just gave me the grant and told me to go do it. It was hard to come back to an ordinary job again."
To get to one village, Blair walked for seven days, cameras strung around her neck, sheltered by a black umbrella, her supplies borne by five porters.
"It was like stepping into a different world. It was so remote from anything I was used to, it made me look at everything differently. It seemed easy enough to adjust to the lack of electricity or running water or telephones. Nothing seemed surprising.
"At first, I had trouble getting people to talk. They couldn't believe I was a woman, an architect, who could hire people. In one place I stayed with a family who had sheltered a Japanese anthropologist once before. Everyone in the village was convinced I must be Japanese and an anthropologist."
Nepal was closed to Western visitors until 1951. "In the villages, people still live as Westerners did in the 15th century," Blair said. Recently Paul Perrot, Smithsonian assistant secretary for museum programs, went to Nepal to give advice on how the country could meet the 20th century but not be captured by it.
"In the city, workmen trained in villages didn't find it easy to work with city building materials such as concrete," Blair said.
"Their walls were made of stone and mud with an occasional wood beam as a tie. They had no metal nails, just pegs. So their walls tended to weave in and out. That was all right for a stone wall in a village, but not for a concrete wall in the city. Even in Marfa, walls occasionally collapse after a heavy summer rain because the subsoil clay becomes too plastic to support the weight of the wall above."
In general, the house worked rather well for the villagers. Some have stood for more than 100 years, Blair said. "The architecture suits the people well. They don't really live in their houses the way we do. They use them mostly for storing food and their few valuables -- a metal cooking pot, for instance -- and as a place to sleep. Because there is no electricity, people got up with the sun and went to bed with it. During the day, most people stayed outside in the sunny village center or on their own porches."
A stream has been diverted to run the length of Marfa. The people wash their clothes and dishes in the stream. The drinking water comes from a spring at the north end of the village. "Many people know they should boil the water before using it, but fuel is scarce, so not many people do," Blair said.
In Blair's photographs, the houses are beautiful on the outside. They are built of stone stacked dry or with a little mud. "They look rather like our rowhouses, not at all tot different on the outside," Blair said.
Windows are covered with shutters. The old ones had a single shutter, hinged at the top. A large wooden lintel formed an overhang, to keep out the rain and enhance the facade. A picture in the exhibit shows some of the newer ones have a fancy bottom grille on the window.
"The traditional Thakali (tribe) house has no chimney. A ventilation hole above the cooking fire also functions as a skylight during the daytime," Blair wrote in a caption to a splendid picture in the exhibit.It shows a shaft of light so strong it looks three-dimensional, making a pathway for the smoke. Some of the newer houses do have chimneys, made from five tin cans.
A layer of mud, mixed with dung, is used to plaster the houses on the inside. A layer is added almost every day.
Stone steps began as recently as 20 years ago, Blair said. Before that, people used ladders to go from the ground floor up. The cows would knock them over, stranding the people upstairs. Blair points out that stairs have another advantage -- you can carry things in both hands as you walk up.
The Nepalese way is to cook on the floor. This can be disastrous, with the dogs, children and animals wandering about, knocking things over and dropping things into the pot. "But that's the way it's done. I had no luck at all in convincing them that they should cook standing up. They thought that was weird."
Rats are a major problem. They eat about 25 percent of the grain. Blair, in a report she made to the central government in Kathmandu, suggested that the houses be built with a stepped foundation. She suggested a tin strip wrapped around the house at 3 feet up and a smooth slippery mud lower wall to discourage rats. One night she had to sleep on top of a storage bin, while a rat was busy eating its contents.
The flat roofs are made of two layers of stone slabs, laid on timber joists. Four to five inches of dry mud are tamped on top. Blair said wood is stacked along the edge of the roof, but stories vary as to why. Some told her the wood was a memorial to male ancestors. Other more practicl villagers said it was an embergency stockpile for when they were "snowbound or too sick or old to get firewood."
One room in the house called the tintoa has no windows, only small vents in the wall. Usually it's used for storing grains and dried meat, but it also serves as the family temple. Marriage ceremonies and other religious rituals are celebrated here.
Rituals have an important part in the life of the village. Several pujas or rituals are performed while the houses are being built. Blair said the carpenters hang red, white and black strips of cloth on the top of the column before the capital is put into place. Once gold and silver was used instead of cloth. Annually, a puja is held to protect the house from disease. Blair said even the foreign embassies in Kathmandu have their cars anointed with goat blood to prevent accidents.
Long walls called mane stand at the ends of Thakali villages. They are piled high with small stones carved with the mantra Aom mani padme hum -- Hail to the Jewel of the Lotus. The village has several walls of prayer wheels. You turn a wheel to send the prayer on it to heaven.
A gompa or shrine is built at the highest point of the village. It is used mostly during the religious festivals.
Blair said she was sick for about half the time in Nepal -- "respiratory or intestinal. I decided that we get more done in the United States because we aren't sick as often as those people."
Blair came back to the United States by way of Malaysia and Singapore, working a few months in each place. "When I came back to the United States, it seemed harder to adjust to the Western world than to Nepal. Everything seemed so expensive and complicated. My father even said I spoke differently -- much softer. I had lived out of a backpack so long, I was surprised at how many things I had at home. And I didn't like Western food anymore at all. I still prefer Oriental food, mostly Chinese since Nepalese is hard to find."
"When I came back it was very difficult to explain what I had been doing or the essence of the experience, but it did change my outlook. It forced me to try and understand another point of view.
"In school, I had been taught that architecture was the vision of one person, or at the most, a team, working at a certain period of time. But in Nepal, I studied architecture that was the vision of many people, refined over many years. I found this profound and humbling."