Credits / About the Lhasa Archive Project

A personal account by André Alexander
How the photos were taken
Sources for the maps


  A personal account by André Alexander

Back in the late 1980s, when I first visited Lhasa, the old city was still mostly preserved. One could easily get lost in the narrow winding alleyways framed by low white-washed stone buildings. Stray dogs discouraged most attempts to venture inside the courtyards. On each subsequent visit, houses had vanished - stone by stone, block by block, alley by alley (and so had the dogs). Finally in 1993, armed with a photocopy of the 1948 map of Lhasa by Peter Aufschnaiter and Heinrich Harrer, I began with the work of compiling an inventory of which historic houses and structures remained of the old town.

This was the beginning of the Lhasa Archive Project, and soon other experts and talented individuals joined, especially Pimpim de Azevedo who contributed her considerable knowledge of Tibet and even more considerable energies to the project.

The inventory data was then analyzed to assess the age, architectural style and condition of the included buildings. This work has had the undesired consequence of having become the chronicle of the loss of historic buildings. Of more than 400 buildings recorded in 1993-94, only 150 or so remained in the year 2001.

Out of our list, we were able to place at first 76 and then ultimately 93 buildings under listed status in 1998, which has been an amazing success of our efforts.

There are unfortunately very few pictures of houses and alleys taken in the 1980s or before, and if you read this and happen to have some, please send us prints or scans, even if they are of poor quality, as long as they show little bits and pieces of old Lhasa which now only exist as memories.

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  How the photos were taken

The earliest square medium format pictures were taken with a Chinese Seagull camera, and since 1992 (thanks to a kind soul) a Rolleiflex 1958 T model. The standard format pictures were taken mostly with a Nikon FE, though a variety of cameras was used by our colleagues. Kazuho, Yutaka and Momo took most of the digital and panorama photos.

Films used in the early days were Hungarian, East German and Chinese black & white rolls, later Kodak Ektar 25 colour print film and Fujichrome colour slides were used as well as standard 100 ASA colour print films for the project documentation. The most recent pictures were taken with a Cannon digital camera.

Several thousand pictures of old buildings and architectural details have been digitized, some are kept as archival prints. We have tried to use film with extra-fine grain quality (such as 25ASA film) for at least one picture of each building, and have used a tripod whenever possible. The shadows under the bright Tibetan sun and the narrowness of many alleyways have posed a considerable challenge to the photographers, and sometimes the result is less than professional. Pictures taken during restoration projects were often taken somewhat more hurriedly.

Unless otherwise credited, all pictures were taken by LAP / THF. Historic pictures are from LAP's collection. Thanks to all sponsors and supporters (mentioned elsewhere).

Heinrich Harrer and Hugh Richardson kindly sent us original photographs for our work, as have other individuals and institutions. We have also researched the important collections of historic Tibetan photography for pictures of old Lhasa, and many curators have provided kind assistance. Ken Okuma has patiently distilled presentable image quality out of many photos and graphics, spending endless nights in front of the computer screen.

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  Sources for the maps

Official Lhasa city surveys and other relevant material was made accessible to THF through the Lhasa Old City Protection Working Group as part of the 1996 - 2000 old city rehabilitation project. In particular, the municipal departments for planning, housing, construction and cultural relics respectively shared materials necessary for the planning of project activities.

Additional survey work on behalf of THF was carried out by several people - based on surveywork, guidelines and principles designed and done by John Harrison and Ken Okuma, surveys were also done by Dakar, Loden, Jian-Jun, Gelsang, Huang Xiao-lin, Minyak Choekyi Gyantsen from Lhasa; Beate Heyne, Stephan Geburek, Julia Hartmann, Britta Uhlig, Esther Kehrer, Mona, Thorsten Schütze, a student group from FH Hamburg, and a student group from FH Wissmar from Germany; Koichiro Ichikawa and Yutaka Hirako from Japan, Zara and Julia Thiessen from Sweden; several student groups from the Chinese University of Hong Kong guided by Frank Chiu and Professor Puay-Peng Ho; a student group from Shanghai Tongji university guided by assistant Professor Zhang Song and lecturer Mr. Zhu Yuhui. Additional survey work was done by all the regular THF staff.

Among the official surveys, Peter Aufschnaiter's map of 1948, surveyed single-handedly with a theodolite, is the most important to name. His work is amazingly accurate when compared to the satellite images, and the entire project would not have happened if we had not come across a photocopy of his Lhasa map in a Himalayan library.

We digitized the Aufschnaiter map in 1994 in Graphsoft MiniCAD, and versions for presentations were created using Macromedia Freehand and Adobe Illustrator.

The maps of modern Lhasa are based on the Chinese government surveys of 1978, 1985, 1987, 1992 (source as cited above), the 1948 map, own survey work, and satellite images of 1965 (NASA), 1970 (NASA), 1984 (Russian), and 2000 (commercial), which we purchased from commercial services over the internet.

For display on this website, the maps were converted into Freehand format and further enhanced using Dreamweaver and Flash. Ken Okuma, mrtz, Andrew Brannan, André Alexander and John Harrison have contributed to the map section.


This picture of Peter Aufschnaiter at work, surveying Lhasa, was kindly provided by Heinrich Harrer

The database function was realized by Tomoaki and André Alexander

THF asserts its moral right as the author of the work published here and holds the copyright for words and visuals. In case of reference, please credit THF and the THF web site. No reproduction (printed or on the internet) without consent of THF / LAP.

All material used comes from the files of the Lhasa Archive Project / Tibet Heritage Fund unless otherwise marked. This website aims to contribute to the preservation and further development of Tibetan architecture and Tibet's historic buildings.

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