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NAMSELING MANOR
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OVERVIEW

Built in the 14th c. by Tashi Norden (?)

Namseling, before reconstruction was begun
Namseling, before reconstruction was begun

This splendid manor, built on the banks of the Tsangpo River, opposite the monastery of Samye, is one of the oldest manor houses in Tibet, going back to the time of the Phagmodrupa dynasty in the fourteenth century. It is also one of the rare noble fiefs to have survived the Cultural Revolution, and although little is known at present about its history, it merits conservation as a fine example of Tibetan lay architecture. The older west wing is constructed of rammed earth and the later addition to the east is of stone.

SITE DESCRIPTION & SIGNIFICANCE
The Namseling estate dominates the centre of a broad valley South of the Tsangpo River (Brahmaputra), on the new Gongkar-Tsethang highway. The valley is unspoiled agricultural land, with numerous poplar trees, and no modern buildings at all. The village of Namseling, consisting of low stone houses of traditional design, clusters round the manor house. Founded in the 14th century it was built to replace a slightly earlier four-storey structure which was judged too small. It is situated near the historic heartland of Tibetan civilisation, and is directly opposite, across the river to Samye, the first Buddhist monastery (founded mid-8th c.). In the valleys lying to the East are the thirteen tombs of the emperors of the Yarlung Dynasty (7th-9th c.); the remains of their two earliest palaces; the legendary cave of the first ancestors of the Tibetan people, and the first ploughed field.

The main seven-storey building of Namseling is a massive block, rising approximately 22 metres high ( x 28 m. E-W. x 19 m. N-S.). with a total surface of 2851.8 sq. m. It was completed by the end of the 14th. century, protected by two concentric walls, the outer one 2.2 M high, and the inner one 6.5 M. high, with a patrol parapet (0.8 M. wide), two watch towers, and a moat.

Detail of fašade
Detail of fašade

The ground floor was for animals, the first floor for storage. (Correction : this was mainly used for grain storage, animals were kept in separate outbuildings. A small prison was also situated on the ground floor, to the right of the main stairway. Habitation began on the third floor (correction second floor), with a large kitchen and communal room in the centre. The main outer stairways lead to this level. Various reception rooms, private chambers, monks' quarters and smaller kitchens spread over the fourth to sixth floors. Chapels were situated on the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth floors, including a very large one containing a mandala measuring two meters across, and two libraries for sacred books. The seventh storey appears to have consisted of small individual buildings on the terraced roof, as often seen on both religious and vernacular architecture in Tibet.

Gardens, orchards, threshing grounds, animal corrals and stables, agricultural lands and a village made up the estate. A single storied summer house stands south of the main enclosure, surrounded by a garden. The region was famous for the weaving of specially fine white wool, destined for the court of the Dalai Lama.

Until 1959, the estate was the country residence and fief of the Namseling family. It was rare amongst the noble fiefs in that it had "quasi"-prefectural status. Its historic importance is considerable, since it was founded by a member of the great Phagmogrupa dynasty, which ruled over Tibet from the 14th-16th centuries, and it retains many of the original architectural features, notably in the older western part.

SITE INSPECTION BY JOHN HARRISON
(specialist in Himalayan architecture) April 1995

Namseling manor, an old photograph
Namseling manor, an old photograph

REPORT ON NAMSELING
Namseling manor house is a massive block with battered stone and rammed-earth walls rising seven storeys. It is entered from the south side, with an elaborate entrance structure of steps and porches projecting from the centre of the south facade giving access to the main doorway at level 3. The south facade was originally a completely symmetrical design, but a later full-height wing has been built at the southeast corner.After abandonment and long neglect extensive parts of the roof and inner timber structure had collapsed downwards. The lack of lateral restraint from the timber structure is allowing cracks to develop in the walls. The front entrance had collapsed and much of the stone stairs had been taken for reuse by the villagers.At first the villagers had refused to work in the dangerous building, but skilled men had been found to start carefully dismantling the collapsed interior structure. Five floors of the interior have now been cleared of debris and materials salvaged for repair and reconstruction. New timber and stone has been bought and stored. At the west side the building is open to the sky from level 3 (main entrance level), where a single large room with wall paintings, the lhakhang, stretches from north to south. At the southeast front rooms the building is open above level 4.It will take some considerable time to reconstruct the internal timber frame-work and work up towards the roof, so Sonam Wangdu proposes to protect the tops of the walls with plastic sheeting before the onset of the rains in June-July. The villagers have now finished planting the fields and are available for further work.The entrance steps and porches have now been completely reconstructed. As much as possible of the original materials, both wood and stone, has been retained, and the new joinery to the two-level porches has been based on remains found. The reconstructed steps and lower levels have been designed as a completely symmetrical structure, although the 1978 photograph, which Thupten Namkar had not seen before my visit, shows a columned structure extending to the southwest at the lowest level. (This 1978 photograph is printed in reverse in the Shalu Association campaign booklet. Thupten Namkar requested an enlargement of this photograph to plan a redesign of the entrance, together with any other early pictorial evidence). The most serious structural problem is a large crack in the masonry external wall at the northeast corner of the extension. The outer face of the stonework has fallen away at the base, and the wall bulges out to the east, with a wide crack in the north wall for about three storeys in height. Toilets are located in this corner of the building, so it is possible that the foundations have been washed away below.Local people propose buttressing or rebuilding this corner. Buttressing in stone would require far too long a buttress for the height involved, as well as being aesthetically undesirable, and so rebuilding appears to be the most likely solution. It would also be possible to underpin with new foundations after providing support scaffolding, tie the east face back with steel ties and plates, fill the crack and grout the interior of the wall; but I do not think the necessary skills will be available here. As a temporary measure to prevent collapse, Sonam Wangdu proposes to rebuild and support the fallen base, and this should be done immediately before the rains. For the rebuilding, the upper part of the northeast corner, where the crack is narrowed, should be propped from scaffolding and from within, and then the stonework below taken down carefully. There should be a thorough investigation of below-ground conditions, and then the stonework should be rebuilt on new, and if necessary deeper, foundations. The floor structure, with any decayed timber replaced, should be tied into the wall at each level to provide lateral restraint. Joists and beams should be hooked into the walls, not simply rested on the stonework. This point applies to the rebuilding of the timber framework throughout the building.Local people wish to rebuild the entire north extension, but rebuilding should be restricted to the northeast corner as there is no evidence of any movement between the extension and the main building on the south facade.For the statistically-minded, the village leader reports that Namseling measures 29 m east to west and 19 m north to south, has 49 rooms, 99 pillars, 199 beams, 2668 joists, 7 floors and 43 doors. It was reported that Shalu Association had promised - 130,000 for Namseling, and - 50,000 had been received to date. A further - 10,000 was now being transferred to Tsetang from the December-April installment of - 80,000 ($10,000). Sonam Wangdu thought that immediate work would require - 20-30,000. In the longer term Sonam Wangdu and Thupten Namkar would like to investigate the grounds archaeologically with staff from Lhasa and Tsetang if funding was available, and to reconstruct prison, outbuildings and the two outer walls and moat. This was considered a practicable proposition even though these is some encroachment by villagers within the original boundaries. It is known that the main gate in the east wall had four pillars with a small protector chapel above, and that the bridge over the moat was offset, presumably for defensive reasons. A new house has been built in the enclosed park to the south of the main enclosure.


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FIELD REPORT UPDATES

June 1994 | January 1995 | May 1995 | October 1995

JUNE 1994
Uninhabited for many years, the roof of the main building caved in about two years previously, and at present the two top stories are damaged. This structure, which is seven stories high, with numerous outhouses, is contained in double concentric walls that surround the whole compound. The most urgent task is to re-roof the main building so as to ensure that no further damage is made to the interior. Following that the whole site will need to be restored and protected.

JANUARY 1995
The front stairway and porch has been reconstructed. The porch was hanging on a straw and fell soon after we left last June. The rubble has been removed from inside. The side wall with a dangerous split in it has been left. According to S. W. the best way to deal with this is to work from inside. It needs more consideration. They will wait until we come back with the architect. The roof has not been put on yet. Two new doors were put in where they were not before and two old doorways blocked up. S.W. told them to redo it as it was before. They are doing it.

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Namseling, showing preliminary reconstruction of the porch
Namseling, showing preliminary reconstruction of the porch

MAY 1995 (J.H.)
Namseling manor house is a massive block with battered stone and rammed-earth walls rising seven storeys. It is entered from the south side, with an elaborate entrance structure of steps and porches projecting from the centre of the south facade giving access to the main doorway at level 3. The south facade was originally a completely symmetrical design, but a later full-height wing was built at the southeast corner. After abandonment and long neglect extensive parts of the roof and inner timber structure collapsed downwards in 1991. The lack of lateral restraint from the timber structure is allowing cracks to develop in the walls. The front entrance collapsed in 1994 and much of the stone stairs had been taken for reuse by the villagers. At first the villagers had refused to work in the dangerous building, but skilled men were found to start carefully dismantling the collapsed interior structure. Five floors of the interior have now been cleared of debris and materials salvaged for repair and reconstruction. New timber and stone has been bought and stored. At the west side the building is open to the sky from level 3 (main entrance level), where a single large room with wall paintings, the lhakhang, stretches from north to south. At the southeast front rooms the building is open above level 4. It will take some considerable time to reconstruct the internal timber frame-work and work up towards the roof, so Sonam Wangdu proposes to protect the tops of the walls with plastic sheeting before the onset of the rains in June-July. The villagers have now finished planting the fields and are available for further work. The entrance steps and porches have now been completely reconstructed. As much as possible of the original materials, both wood and stone, has been retained, and the new joinery to the two-level porches has been based on remains found.
Detail of fašade and porch
Detail of fašade and porch
The reconstructed steps and lower levels have been designed as a completely symmetrical structure, although the 1978 photograph, which Thupten Namkar had not seen before my visit, shows a columned structure extending to the southwest at the lowest level. (This 1978 photograph is printed in reverse in the Shalu Association campaign booklet. Thupten Namkar requested an enlargement of this photograph to plan a redesign of the entrance, together with any other early pictorial evidence). The most serious structural problem is a large crack in the masonry external wall at the northeast corner of the extension. The outer face of the stonework has been removed at the base, by locals to construct other buildings, and the wall bulges out to the east, with a wide crack in the north wall for about three storeys in height. Toilets are located in this corner of the building, so it is possible that the foundations have been washed away below. Local people propose buttressing or rebuilding this corner. Buttressing in stone would require far too long a buttress for the height involved, as well as being aesthetically undesirable, and so rebuilding appears to be the most likely solution. It would also be possible to underpin with new foundations after providing support scaffolding, tie the east face back with steel ties and plates, fill the crack and grout the interior of the wall; but I do not think the necessary skills will be available here. As a temporary measure to prevent collapse, Sonam Wangdu proposes to rebuild and support the fallen base, and this should be done immediately before the rains.
Woodwork reconstruction
Woodwork reconstruction
For the rebuilding, the upper part of the northeast corner, where the crack is narrowed, should be propped with scaffolding and from within, and then the stonework below taken down carefully. There should be a thorough investigation of below-ground conditions, and then the stonework should be rebuilt on new, and if necessary deeper, foundations. The floor structure, with any decayed timber replaced, should be tied into the wall at each level to provide lateral restraint. Joists and beams should be hooked into the walls, not simply rested on the stonework. This point applies to the rebuilding of the timber framework throughout the building. Local people wish to rebuild the entire north extension, but rebuilding should be restricted to the northeast corner as there is no evidence of any movement between the extension and the main building on the south facade. For the statistically-minded, the village leader reports that Namseling measures 29 m east to west and 19 m north to south, has 49 rooms, 99 pillars, 199 beams, 2668 joists, 7 floors and 43 doors.

In the longer term Sonam Wangdu and Thupten Namkar would like to investigate the grounds archaeologically with staff from Lhasa and Tsetang if funding is available, and to reconstruct prison, outbuildings and the three outer walls and moat. This was considered a practicable proposition even though these is some encroachment by villagers within the original boundaries. It is known that the main gate in the east wall had four pillars with a small protector chapel above, and that the bridge over the moat was offset, presumably for defensive reasons. A new house has been built in the enclosed park to the south of the main enclosure.

Crack in buttress
Crack in buttress

Again due to the misunder-standing about the date of our arrival in Lhokha, the keys to Namseling were not available. It was already quite late afternoon when we got there, and the man with the keys had gone to visit his girl friend a long way up the valley. So we inspected the whole site from the outside. The main outer stone stairway with its large double porch has been rebuilt well. The split in the East wing has not got any wider than last year, but is still ominously large. Then we had a picnic in the garden of the old Namseling summer house on the other side of the village. We decided to return, on our way to Shigatse, to visit inside Namseling, and to go to Drathang again to spend more time looking at the wall paintings.

From the outside it is clear that an enormous quantity of stone and earth has been removed from the interior. We were shown around by a distant member of the Namseling clan. He was in charge of removing rubble. Danger money was given to those who worked at the top of the building, and one can understand why.

We spent the night in Tsethang in a third-rate government hotel, since we had asked to travel and dine as simply as possible, in Tibetan style.....But this was damp concrete ! Meals were hosted by TN, and were sumptuously..... Chinese.

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Namseling, interior
Namseling, interior

OCTOBER 1995
Inspection of the interior. The work has been done very well. The plastic covering to protect the tops of exposed walls did not stand up to the elements.

We shall provide funding for security purposes, this year : renewal of windows and doors, and for the basic reconstruction of the second and third storeys. The following year the fourth and fifth, and perhaps the sixth storey may be completed. We discussed the possibility of creating an arts and crafts centre there, later, especially for weaving and pottery, both of which were important in the region, and are disappearing . The local people seemed delighted. They gave us presents of walnuts, crab apples and white wool.

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