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Spotlight on: Female architects earthquake proofing Nepal's hospitals

To mark International Women’s Day 2020, we feature eight female architects who are making Nepal's most at-risk hospitals earthquake proof.

8 March 2020

“I’m proud of the work I do here”, says Ruby Bajracharya, a young registered architect with the Design and Drafting Team at Options’ Nepal Health Sector Support (NHSSP) Programme. The team is a key component of the programme’s work to increase the Bhaktapur Hospital’s and Western Regional Hospital Pokhara’s resilience against future earthquakes, as well to bring them up to modern standards as part  of its ‘Priority Hospitals Retrofitting programme’. Both Bhaktapur and Western Regional Hospital Pokhara are World Health Organisation (WHO) designated hub hospitals, which means that they must survive and function to be a centre for rescue and recovery operations after a disaster. Both buildings are also located in a highly seismic zone and projections are that earthquake disaster risk, both in terms of injuries and fatalities, is highest in western areas of Nepal.

The work is carried out under enormous pressure as it has to be completed as quickly as possible, before the next earthquake strikes. The team us using a so-called ‘incremental decanting approach’ during the retrofitting process, which ensures that hospitals always remain open by relocating services to a temporary facility until construction works are completed in that area.

Ruby and her eight female colleagues produce the detailed layouts, building services schedules, structural drawings and 3D representations that are essential in bringing health facility design concepts to life. There’s little room for mistakes as these are then used as the foundation for project budgets, bills of quantity, which list materials and items of work required to construct the building identified in the drawings and specifications of the tender documents.

“It’s hard for a woman to work in the construction professions in Nepal, and for her voice to be heard”, says Ruby. But so far, she’s very positive about her experience in the  team: “There’s no discrimination between male and female colleagues here, we’re treated with respect and as valued team members”.

Ruby trained in Nepal, but also has an international perspective on her profession. “My favourite architect is Zaha Hadid”, she says, citing the world-famous designer whose major projects are to be found across Europe, the Middle East and China. “I love her command of organic forms and curves in space. And like me, she was also interested in wider design area, including fashion”.

New and upgraded facilities are  crucial for driving to improvements in the health status of Nepal’s citizens and the government’s commitment to Universal Health Care requires an integrated national network of facilities. Ruby, together with her colleagues, helps contribute to translating this into action. ‘I love the complex design challenges of health facilities’, she says. “We’re required to work quickly and deliver good quality work – but we know how to work under pressure!”

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