In the summer of 1993, while walking around in the old city of Lhasa, I became witness
to the demolition of the Surkhang mansion, a large traditional building probably 300 years
of age and located at a prominent corner of Lhasa's ancient Barkor Street. The demolition
made me notice the immense transformation that the old city was just beginning to go
through. I had visited Lhasa on several occasions before, and thought the old houses to be
virtually untouchable. Though they seemed to be in a fairytale-like sleep, I thought
nothing would dare disturb them. I was proven wrong by the events of that summer.
Together with my very old friends, Pimpim from Portugal, Moritz, Sylvester and Alex
from Berlin, and Andrew from Keswick, that same year we founded the Lhasa Archive Project
(LAP) with the aim to study and document all aspects of the Lhasa old city: the
architecture, the history, and the social structures. In this respect, the Lhasa Archive
Project has collaborated on related research projects with Berlin's F.U. University (Dept.
of Geography), Trondheim University (Inst. f. Byggekunst), the Tibetan Academy of Social
Sciences, the Paris-based Shalu Association, and recently with the Chinese University of
Hong Kong (Dept. of Architecture). The LAP system of data collection has been used in
class by the Hochschule der Kuenste Berlin (Faculty of Architecture).
The first years of our work had been a case of chronicling a sad demise. Since 1993,
every year on average 35 historic buildings in the old city were torn down, Lhasa having
lost more than 150 irreplaceable historic buildings in the process. But the case was not
entirely hopeless: we found the issue of preserving the old city was also being widely
discussed in Lhasa. By teaming up with those factions who pleaded for preservation, the
Tibet Heritage Fund (THF) was founded in 1996.
Since then, as a non-profit organisation, we have spent almost two years on studying
the conditions in the old city, identifying the main problems and trying to devise
solutions. We have begun the rehabilitation of historic neighbourhoods and carried out
several pilot projects already. Finally in mid-1998, a list with most of the last
remaining old buildings was accepted for official listing by the municipality.
More people have joined our team since the early days. I would like especially to
mention John Harrison, whose wonderful drawings can be found throughout this report, and
Margaret Miller, who had a close look at Lhasa's gutters for us.
The present publication presents some of the findings of our initial studies of the old
city and Lhasa traditional architecture (chapters 1-5). Chapter 6 describes the current
conservation area rehabilitation programme. Chapters 7 - 9 deal with further activities by
THF, and the last chapter names all the people and organisations who contributed to the
project and to this report.
Special thanks must here be made to Trace Foundation (New York), who have made the
existence of this project possible.
André Alexander, Hong Kong, July 1998
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