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A Talk, An Idea, An Inspiration: An Art Residence (Centre For Learning) _ NORTH

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

A Talk, An Idea, An Inspiration: An Art Residence (Centre For Learning) _ NORTH

The Himalayas, as much as the region is famous for travel, nature, and surroundings, also houses traditions, culture, and architecture. For some it is a way of experience, for few, it is a feeling but, to many, it is a home. One such native-born Rahul Bhushan takes us on a trip to his homeland.

In the laps of Himalayas, there sits this amazing Art Residence (Centre for learning) called NORTH. An old building structure rented for Himachal Pradesh Craftsmanship and Design Innovation Institute (HPCDI) - a creative campus majorly known as a centre for learning. Rahul took some time out to talk with Ambiance Matters about his work, community, and NORTH, which is an art residence and home to sustainable living.

What is 'NORTH'?

NORTH is Himachal Pradesh Craftsmanship and Design Innovation Institute (HPCDI). It's a creative campus which is an architecture and design studio, craftsmanship studio which is working towards the preservation of vernacular architecture. It handles research projects on mapping craftspeople and documenting traditional village settlements and craftsmanship, sustainable architecture, urban planning in the Himalayan region, and system design for community-driven projects. It aims to learn from indigenous empirical knowledge systems with a strong focus on innovating solutions to achieve sustainable development and low environmental impact.

NORTH also offers design and art residency for artist's collaborations in the region and with local craftspeople, in the high Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh. For people who want to experience the way of life, it offers an off-beat experiential and traditional stay for visitors. It educates on sustainable living and forest life.

How did you come up with the idea of NORTH?

When you live at home, you get blindfolded. Everything is normal, as it has always been. So you don't see, observe less! But when you go out, when you detach from home; you can see. I traveled, gained skills & experiences away from home to understand home more, to ask questions, explore possibilities & find out answers. Now, I come to my home again, to the mighty Himalayas to give back to my homeland, my people.

'Craftsmanship and Making' are vital ingredients to our society, culture, and economy. As the technology in fabrication and material explorations are trending; the challenge of future is to safeguard indigenous knowledge, skills, and craftsmanship (time-tested principles) with a strong focus to achieve architecture of low environmental impact, and development of sustainable building technologies, innovative systems that are dedicated to uplift the socio-economic fabric and cultural ethics.

What is your role in the Hospitality industry?

Time is relative and is different for each one of us depending on our situations. I believe that there is always a 'good time' for ideas that are worth it, for visions for a better future, for actions that are derived by passion and purpose. I was striving to do something like this for the last 4 years. The idea has grown, developed much stronger foundations now and I will never stop learning and evolving the concept. This is the 'right time' as, if not now we will lose most of our empirical knowledge and time-tested craftsmanship due to the generation gap.

Climate change is real and happening now. Ecosystems are out of balance and all the Himalayan regions need to be protected as they maintain the balance. Himachal is being affected more than ever by rapid tourism, unplanned urbanization, and non-contextual influences in many different ways. Rapid mass Tourism is a real factor influencing this and is also the solution to this if one think in terms of responsible tourism, immersive cultural experiences.

So now is the time to preserve the intangible culture, the character, and spread awareness; to take it towards the right direction, to re-think what's happening, and have a vision for sustainable, renewable future development.

What is different about NORTH than other vacation rentals?

There is a huge difference when we think about creating a hospitality business with cultural activities and a center for craftsmanship and design innovation in which one get to live. The whole basic intention is different.

Tourism gives us the potential of making this need into a vailable project. When people come and stay with us, they leave with a new mindset, new learning, and a new perspective towards life. They carry back the values of the North.

And as a side result they either buy local products, they collaborate in some ways in the future, they spread the word about the cultural heritage and bring economic benefits to the organization and the local community. It's a balanced system which is very crucial for running self sufficiently as this center for learning.

Describe your take on Regional Architecture.

Our ancestors and people have mentioned about the region as early as ancient texts like Puranas, Upanishads, and Vedic texts. Monks have written about our settlements since the 3rd century AD and to date, many travelers logs have mentioned it. This vernacular architecture has evolved over so many years and carries a lot of empirical knowledge and along with this carries, is intangible cultural heritage. It sure needs to be preserved properly, whatever is left of it. It needs to be documented and those values and systems must be documented in detail.

Also, the present and future development must carry this character forward. The lessons from our vernacular architecture systems offer the best solutions for this climate and topography. We cannot just copy whatever is happening around the world and place it in mountains.

Can NORTH be considered as a regional vacation rental? Why?

Yes, NORTH is the best way to not just experience the culture but to understand the true value of Himalayan traditions. This center offers an ideal place for vacations or work from an inspiring and creatively empowering space. From the built form of the campus to the life at NORTH, everything describes the best of living in a region surrounding. The activities, the programs, and the people of Naggar bring together the true essence of North. It is like living with a family.

Give insight about your practice in keeping alive timeless Himalayan traditions.

NORTH helps in the following ways:

  • Documenting various built-forms helps to record all the values and intangibles along with systems, techniques, and experiments.

  • Creating new sustainable buildings and urban designs projects allows us to take this knowledge and create a better future.

  • Through workshops and courses, these learnings are shared with students, professionals who will carry this forward.

  • Training programs with villagers and artist residency programs bridge the gap between new media arts, design thinking, and the local community.

  • Hospitality helps to introduce all of this to visitors coming from around the globe. This helps in spread the word and awareness.

And through all this and much more, our every activity as a center is dedicated to keeping alive timeless Himalayan traditions.

More and more people are moving away from the cities and choosing a work-from-home life at different locations. Is NORTH a fit for remote workers? Why should they choose NORTH?

I believe that our space inspires us and our productivity. Want can be better than this? A place that brings you back to living with nature and in a self-sustainable way. Where people feel free to make art, food, do farming and work simultaneously on their projects. They even get a chance to collaborate on meaningful projects which create social impact.

The stay at NORTH is limited to fewer guests, which is perfect for short-term and even long-term stays. This creates an opportunity for remote workers to do their work in a calm and serene environment. Other than that the residents can get a chance to meet new people and expand their horizons.

The theme: 'Region and Beyond' talks about the architecture of a particular region and its amalgamation with contemporary experiences in the hospitality sector.

What is your interpretation of the theme, considering NORTH as an example?

The theme: 'Region and Beyond' resonates with our values at NORTH.

The core is regional development and safeguarding our cultural heritage.

What can be a better way to do that by inviting people to experience everything we do and try their hands-on field?

Here, a person not just visits it but lives it.

What is that one thing, a person will take away with after visiting NORTH?

NORTH is an experience in itself. A person will take with him a way to live a fulfilling life, a happy life by doing something meaningful and it won't be just for the sake of money.

Describe your vision for NORTH and where do you see it in the coming 5 years?

The vision of NORTH has been conceptualized as a responsible business that benefits locals, brings power to creative from around the world, and keeps a vision for future development of Himachal, learning from our culture, traditions, keeping important values, preserving our heritage but also innovate, inspire and empower locals to have a meaningful and better quality of life.

In 5 years we'll be growing the same model one step at a time.

We believe that the more focused time we give to something the more and more stable it becomes.

Describe the people of NORTH.

It started with just me living in a forest building made by Britishers in 1925, restoring it. Then a few friends both locals and from university came along.

Further, the artists who came in first residency project and we worked together on landscaping, farming, and restoring. Slowly craftspeople joined us and then farmers and villagers collaborated on various levels. Every year interns come and handle studio works and management and so even our guests help us grow and evolve.

My wife is a filmmaker and writer and my sister is an architect and designer who also is a part of NORTH apart from their own endeavors. </