Aspen architect Harry Teague collaborates on rebuilding Nepal monastery

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
This monastery in Nepal was damged by the earthquakes in April and May. Architect Harry Teague is part of a team planning a restoration that makes it structurally sounds while preserving the architecture.
Steve Koschmann courtesy photo |


Go the Himalayan Development Foundation’s website at

This endeavor is funded through the Frasca Community School Project.

Harry Teague and his architecture firm are known for designing iconic structures such as the Aspen Music Tent and Harris Concert Hall, but it’s a collaborative project in Nepal that he says has the potential to be most rewarding.

Teague and members of his staff are teaming with two engineers on a project to stabilize a monastery in Taksindu, Nepal, that was damaged by the massive earthquake and aftershocks in April. The building, which is a school and dormitory for boys training to be monks, suffered little visible damage but has been condemned by the government because of structural instability.

Teague and his collaborators came up with a plan that’s attainable and, they hope, replicable in Nepal. It acknowledges that materials are difficult to find and construction practices are somewhat limited.

They came up with a simple way to stabilize the structure while preserving the intricate woodwork and maintaining the design features. They hope that the project becomes a model for rehabilitating old buildings and designing new ones to withstand earthquakes.

“If we can make the buildings so they don’t fall down and kill people, that’s a good thing,” Teague said.

Teague was recruited by Steve Koschmann, an electrical engineer with building knowledge who was asked by friends to get involved in a Boulder-area nonprofit organization’s project. The Himalayan Development Foundation wanted to undertake a project in Taksindu, the village of Karma Sherpa, who now lives in Boulder.

Koschmann scouted out the village and decided to focus on rehabilitating one building in a way Nepal residents could study and take to their own villages. Through a suggestion from mutual friends, he contacted Teague earlier this summer and asked him to help. Teague jumped at the opportunity because he had fallen in love with Nepal and Tibet on prior trips.

“I have this emotional connection, having been there and seen the conditions,” he said.

Teague called on his frequent collaborator Greg Kingsley, a structural engineer and president and CEO of the Colorado firm KL&A, to brainstorm on how to stabilize the monastery.

“Last week, they had a breakthrough,” Koschmann said. “Those two deserve a ton of credit.”

Teague said the building is like most others in Nepal, with stone walls and wood roofing covered with metal. The usual solution in Nepal is to make the woods thicker, but that doesn’t necessarily make it earthquake resistant. Plus, thickening the walls would likely obscure architecture that is “spiritually significant,” Teague said. “We want to restore it.”

He and Kingsley came up with a plan to encase the walls inside and out with reinforced concrete.

“It’s important that we use materials that you can put on the back of a yak,” Teague said, noting that so much of Nepal is isolated. The materials include wire mesh, rebar and cement.

Kingsley’s plan would fortify the walls to the roof and foundation while strengthening the walls themselves by adding about 2 inches of material inside and outside.

“It is a system that isn’t used at all,” Teague said. His firm’s team came up with a way to apply the process while still preserving the architecture and craftsmanship. The lintels, windows and architectural features won’t be covered.

“What we’re doing, leaving things, is going to be a major thing,” he said.

Gabe Bergeron and Matt Armentrout of Harry Teague Architects also worked on the project.

Bergeron said the rewarding aspect of working on the project is finding a way to make it structurally sound while preserving a building that was built in a traditional way that means a lot to the community. The school is a two-story structure with wings for the dorms on either side, so it is a substantial structure of about 3,000 square feet.

Koschmann estimated it will take eight weeks to shore up the building. The rainy season is ending, so construction season has begun, he said. The students are sleeping in tents, so the goal is to finish the work and get them back inside, Teague said. Although the monastery isn’t insulated, it at least provides shelter.

Koschmann will be on site for at least four weeks to make sure the concept is correctly applied. He said it is a 13-hour Jeep trip on washed-out roads from Kathmandu to the town of Phaplu, then another 61/2 hours by foot to Taksindu. A brother of Karma Sherpa is working on getting the route to the village graded so that materials can be delivered closer by vehicle, according to Koschmann. The project will cost at least $75,000, he estimated.

Teague said he is working pro bono on the project. His firm will be reimbursed for half the time Bergeron and Armentrout spend on the project.

Teague dreams of future generations of builders in Nepal studying the restored monastery to learn how to use reinforced concrete to build a safer structure. Even with all his architectural accolades, that would cement his legacy.