Jyekundo Old Town Project

Jyekundo is an important historic Tibetan town that developed as a major pilgrimage and trading center between the Kham, Amdo and central Tibetan regions, and north-western China. Presently Jyekundo has 30,000 residents and is the capital of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, at the south-eastern end of Qinghai province, bordering Sichuan and Tibet Autonomous Region. Culturally Yushu belongs to the Kham region. THF started with an old town preservation project in 2008, after conducting community surveys and community meetings in 2006.

Mani-Dunkhor Paving
Mani-Dunkhor is a shrine hall with a large prayer-wheel inside, people turn it clockwise on their circumambulation prayer. On the north side are stacks of Mani-stones. The circumambulation path around the complex is about 120 meter long.
Mani-Dunkhor is the community center of Jyekundo’s Old Town, where residents old and young come for their daily circumambulations. The passage was unpaved, and after rain became muddy and slippery. In a meeting with community leaders and nearby residents, paving for the circumambulation was determined as priority project for the old town. Residents and THF’s engineer John Niewoehner then drafted a detailed plan for the paving the circumambulation passage. First, the ground surface was levelled, and then a layer of concrete poured as foundation. Tibetan masons laid stone paving on top. Drainage and steps to the shrine were also added. Many local community members voluntarily contributed physical work.

Gyatsongtsang House

The Gyatsongtsang house was the first historic building project in Jyekundo Old Town. It is one of the oldest and architecturally most significant buildings. Originally the house complex consisted of buildings arranged on four sides around a central yard. The two storey elaborate main building was on the north side, and the other three structures were single-storey and more simple, they were formerly used as guest rooms, horse stables and store rooms for the complex, functioning as a caravanserai providing tea traders with accommodation. The Gyatsongtsang house had many intricate and elaborate details, but over the years the timber frame shifted and the building became distorted. Our challenge lay in correcting these structural faults while keeping the authenticity of one the most important historic buildings of Yushu, and improving the living conditions of the owners so as to popularize the idea of rehabilitation. In the end we had to carefully dismantle the wooden structure of the top floor, after carefully numbering all the elements. We could then also repair damages in the mud brick walls, and reinforced the foundations with stone. The ground floor rooms, originally unpaved, were paved with natural stone, and rooms were enlarged by removing partition walls. Extra windows were added for light and ventilation improvement. The ceilings were also improved, instead of rough twigs and brushwood, we used boards or twigs of roughly the same shape and size. Many of the original grid-design windows had been lost over the years, we re-created them and glazed them. Regarding room use, the owners wanted to separate the three floors – the ground floor could so become a tea house, the upper floor their residential area, and on the roof a shrine room. In November 2009, the restoration work was completed and house owner moved back into the restored house.
The rehabilitation work on Gyatsongtsang House were carried out by THF in 2009, prior to the earthquake. The house was shaken by the earthquake, but the structure of the building adapted to the shock and it remained standing.

Due to the efforts of THF, the building could be saved and was not designated for demolition. It has remained as a rare example of traditional local architecture in Jyekundo for future generations. Minor repairs were carried out in 2011 to ensure longterm stability of the building. Plaster was removed and the entire masonry was thoroughly examined and repaired wherever necessary. The walls that were attached to surrounding buildings suffered the most damage and had to be partially rebuilt.

Project supported by MISEREOR and ACHR.

Jyekundo Earthquake
A 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Jyekundo (Chinese: Yushu, 玉树 ) on April 14, 2010. The quake and a string of aftershocks, the biggest being 6.3 magnitude, toppled houses, and temples, triggered landslides, damaged roads, and cut power and communication lines. More then 10,000 people were reported injured, many were trapped under collapsed buildings. Local sources claim that around 10,000 people died. Monks from all the surrounding monasteries did the immediate rescue work and also cremated the dead. Yushu County had an official population of 77,000 people living in 16,300 households with an average of 4.6 persons per family unit in the year 2000. All households were affected by the earthquake, and nearly 100% of Jyekundo town’s population became homeless. The Government and several local NGOs started distributing tents to the earthquake victims immediately after the disaster, as about 80% of the buildings are momentarily not inhabitable the temporary shelters had to be transformed into more permanent residences. The government has announced that reconstruction will take three years. According to plans on public display in Jyekundo, an entirely new land use map has been designed for the reconstruction of the entire town. The government is planning to build new uniform homes of 80 m² for the affected families. The reconstruction plan is relocating many households. Many locals reject the reconstruction plan and especially the relocation plans. Buildings that have not suffered damage from the earthquake have since been demolished because the land has been designated a different purpose. Many residents are now loosing their land and still more their homes. There is no proper relocation plan so people do not know where to move for the winter or where to store their belongings. The tent city outside of town is further growing until this day.

Earthquake Relief Work
THF immediately dispatched a mission to the stricken town, headed by Beijing–based architect Miss Nie Yun. She brought some relief goods and contacted our many friends in the region to ascertain their safety and their needs. After having supplied modest humanitarian aid, we turned our attention to the buildings. The Gyatsong-tsang house, which THF restored in 2009 the previous year of the disaster, was still standing. It had survived the earthquake, and so had all its residents who had been in bed when the quake hit. Our team was very encouraged by this news - proving the quality of work as well as the quake-resistance of traditional buildings. The THF team, including German architects and students, studied the damages, to understand how and what kind of buildings were affected. We were also concerned about the planned relocation of residents, and assisted families to stay in their homes by repairing them. A report on the post-earthquake conditions is available on the THF website. Supported by ACCA/ACHR and MISEREOR.

Gongnatsang House
Before the earthquake, the Gongnatsang House was the most significant and prominent building in the old town. It’s long traditional façade is along the main entrance road into Jyekundo’s old town on the slope, next to a large pile of white mani-stones which is widely used for circumambulation. Its interiors have preserved a wealth of traditional tracery window, sliding doors and painted timber elements. It has a large central courtyard, and in its 130-year history the house has hosted many high ranking guests and travellers, providing pilgrims with free accommodation.

In the earthquake, the main residential part and some of the courtyard-facing rooms were badly damaged. Fortunately, the long façade remained standing. The owners, an old lady and her son (who is monk in Jyeku monastery) obtained permission from the authorities to keep the building, and to restore it themselves, avoiding its demolition and relocation of the family into an 80m2 pre-fab concrete shelter as happened to 80% of Jyekundo’s population.
In 2010, THF secured the site, rescued many of the decorated timber elements, stabilized the façade and reconstructed the residential wing for the Gongnatsang family.

In 2011, the project continued with the restoration of the western facade, facing the street under the supervision of André Alexander and Anna Wozniak.
Since the masonry of the street façade was severely damaged, with the remaining wall badly tilted towards the street, the outer masonry was dismantled and reconstructed this year. Old mud bricks were carefully removed, examined and stored. Some parts of the foundation were reinforced with stone. The entire post and lintel structure was also examined and straightened by THF carpenters.

The restoration of the Gongnatsang house continued in 2012. The main work was the reconstruction of the east and south sides that collapsed during the earthquake. The family proposed rearranging the space as a “Jyekundo Folk Art Museum”, with a gallery, museum shop and teahouse, and a plan was therefore drafted.
The construction work began by determining which materials were salvageable and then cleaning up the area. Walls were rebuilt from the foundation and many of the original wooden structural elements were re-used. However, many of the windows and doors were newly made due to modifications to the space. The two-storey building consists of a kitchen, teahouse, three rooms and two shop spaces, which will link to the future gallery and museum shop at the west façade.
Gongnatsang house was successfully renovated and is one of the few traditional houses that survived the earthquake. The family was happy to maintain their house while embracing the traditional architecture as a means to generate income.

This project was supported by ACHR/ACCA, MISEREOR, German Embassy Beijing and CERS.

Kartsok Lakhang
Kartsog Lhakhang is an important historic religious building that has survived the period of post-1958 in the Jiekundo Old Town, the center of Yushu. It also serves as religious and social gathering place for the residents of the old town. The temple specially has been used for the local practice of Nyungne, which is “no speaking practice” carried out several times per year. The restoration work of the Kartsog Lhakhang contains two parts; restoration of building structure and mural conservation in the main hall.

In 2009, THF started to prepare the construction materials, especially the Penma twigs were one of main material need to be prepared and dried for coming construction season. Also we prepared Yamba slate stone for parapet making. The slate stone was quarried and prepared by a mason into shape ready to be use. Romanian restorer visited the site and made a primary study of historic painting in prayer hall. The previous condition was photographed and damages analyzed and she made a work plan.

In August 2010 after the earthquake, THF’s foreign experts entered the Yushu disaster area and conducted a site study to estimate the actual damages of Kartsog Lhakhang. This is the oldest temple in the town, and the only one whose wall-paintings survived the Cultural Revolution. One group consisting of THF team of architects and master craftsmen looked at the structural condition, and the other, headed by French restorer Melodie Bonnat, looked at the condition of the wallpaintings. Both groups concluded that the historic building, along with the paintings, could be saved.

However, before any conservation work could be started, the wall paintings needed to be stabilized and consolidated by our wall painting conservation team.
Under the direction of André Alexander, the structural consolidation and restoration work began. The wall paintings were stabilized; cracks were filled, detachments were consolidated and fragments were fixed in the assembly hall.
Based on our long experience of restoring Tibetan rammed-earth walls, we designed an intervention plan that would reinforce the historic walls. With new ties to hold the whole construction together, the building could continue to withstand tremors.
Consolidation work on the walls and roof were also completed. A double layer of slate was installed at the edge of the walls for waterproofing, and the walls were painted red according to the local tradition.

The restoration of Kartsok Lhakhang building was completed in 2012 with the traditional red ‘Pembe’ frieze along the roof parapet, a characteristic of Tibetan temples and monasteries. The top of the parapet was also decorated with wooden blocks and sealed with slate to prevent water infiltration. We repaired two glazed skylights to improve the interior lighting in the prayer hall and entrance porch, and the masons applied fine mud-plaster to unpainted wall surfaces. The floor of the entrance porch was paved with slate. The people of Jyekundo are very happy that the temple has been restored and returned to the local community, especially after the terrible trauma of the earthquake.

During the restoration of the building the wall painting conservation work continued. Most of the work was in the porch, where two original paintings flank the entrance door. Our conservation team started by mapping and analyzing the damage. Accordingly, various restoration techniques were applied to the stabilized but fragile wall paintings. Later, different methods were used for cleaning, both in the assembly hall and the porch. We found the original painting of the Tibetan curtain motif underneath the recent over-painted one, and brought back the original by cleaning. The wooden entrance door was also cleaned, and wall painting work was finalized with retouching.

The Kartsok Lhakhang Conservation Project was completed, and the handover to the local community accomplished. Thus, THF successfully conserved the only historic temple that survived the earthquake, and it will become a historic landmark in Jyekundo Town.

Project supported by Trace Foundation, MISEREOR, Prince Claus Fund, ACHR/ACCA and Virginia & Wellington Yee.

Copyright, Tibet Heritage Fund