Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Architect who wanted Future: Namgay Retty.

This article is a long one. I had to write it however. Please read till the end. 

It was in the year 2011, I was just out of college. I had completed my course in April, and May, I was home. I wanted to gain some experience, and the main motive was to learn. 

Yes, four years of course in Engineering, but I was a sitting duck when it came for designing buildings. Today, I can design buildings, but not complex ones. I was in need of temporary job and I ran from places to places to get myself a job in Consultancy. You see, you can't work Temporarily with Contractors. They won't mind taking your provisional certificate as well and get you registered under their firm. And getting a relieving letter to apply for other jobs, will be hard. They will give you all sorts of nonsense and bullshits and retain your certificate registered with their firm, and they might not pay you on time as well. I am not saying all contractors are pricks, all I am trying to say is that you never know working for the construction firms, and it isn't them that we should be blaming as of now, it is the economy. Yes, not much money in market: as convinced to us. 

Anyhow, there I was running around Thimphu. I went to one of the Consultancies in Hongkong Market, the door was locked. So I moved towards Olokha, and the firm owner of that consultancy gave me lecture over 1 hour. He happened to be my father's friend and he wanted me to sign a contract with him. I however didn't get good vibes from that man and there were certain things that I didn't like in him like: he said, "my firm is not a training ground, I need you to repay me back" or "you need to slog your ass in my firm". I was just a kid and his attitude had touched the money that he had accumulated, or maybe he thought he had accumulated. The offensive part was, he didn't even give me a cup of tea, he asked me to leave when the tea arrived. That was humiliating. 

I then went to Tashi Dawa Consultancy, and gave my resume there. Then I went to another firm whereby the owner asked me about the softwares I knew. I admitted that I knew how to function with Google Sketchup and Cad, I needed to learn staad I said. He told me that he would love to hire me and found me interesting but his firm like any other consultancies was running short of funds. I was happy that he said that. But later days, I would hear he would joke with his friends and other fellow architects that one Engineer came who could sketch and use Sketchup. Now you see, I was having GIS for two semesters, and I had learnt ArcGis and sketchup then. And sketchup actually if we see, is a software whereby GIS engineers use to develop models to place on google earth. I have my own model uploaded on line, here's the link. All you need to do is download that .kmz file and click on the downloaded file, your google earth will do the rest. But make sure you have Google Earth. 

Then I went to Yalama Arts and Consultancy. The Chief Architect, the owner of the firm was Sir Namgay Retty. It was interesting to meet him for the first time. I had always heard his name but never known him. He had long hair unlike most of the Architects and he owned an Alienware desktop. I was very much impressed. In his office, he had his gho and an extra pair of shoes and socks. He came wearing trousers to his office. It was casual. The office walls had all sorts of designs he had made and yes, many such designs would put engineers to work for many sleepless nights. 

Retty Sir made me sit and we talked. He said that he can only pay me 6000 bucks for a month and I was okay with it. I didn't want much money then, I was staying with my parents and all I needed was to learn how to design a building: Completely. 

The second day, I was reminded that I would be taken to Gedu College for we were the consultants there. It was around 5am he picked me up and around 8am he reached us to Gedu. Yes, he was always fast. 

There in that meeting, it was quite intense and I felt so much out of place. While returning back, Retty Sir said, Dawa it is such a great experience for you. Not many times you will experience it. He was true about that, because not many times I was in very intense meetings. Even today, I haven't been into meetings like that one, whereby everybody stood for themselves and what they believed in, trying to make their points valid. From there on, the other meetings in my current job was more of submissive ones. It was rather decided by seniority, that who was right and juniors simply had to agree. It was rather funnier ones I say. For at times, even the weird suggestions were given, like putting a ventilator on a Rabsey or asking to deduct the volume of TMT Bars from RCC quantity. 

Anyhow, on my third day in Yalama, I was given a building to be designed. It was with around 26 columns plus 4 more columns on the front, which would only get connected at plinth level and roof level. It was roughly 24m high. I had to go around and ask for help from many engineers. Everybody wanted to add up beams. But Sir didn't want the beams, he wanted those columns to be there. He always wanted to push us, the engineers to extreme. It was always a challenge to work with his designs. Because, I always found myself reading more than actually coming up with solutions. 

On the fourth day, I was told that I had to go to Site in Samtse. Yes, Samtse NIE. Yalama had four projects with RUB. One was CST, One was Gedu, One was Samtse NIE and one Takshi. Even today, people argue hostels being lavishly built for CST. Other places I don't know, I haven't met people from those colleges. I didn't want to go to Samtse, because I wanted to learn more designing. And you see, construction work takes time to learn. You have to be there from start to end, to actually know the work. Because time is all that will teach you. But designing is different, you can learn it quicker, provided that you put in effort. But not that quick as well. I am just refering to simple building designs. 

I called Namgay Sir and told him that I might not go. He got mad and told me that if you want to work like you wished to someone's firm, then you need to open up your own firm. That was well said. I smoked a cigarette, talked with my friend Namgay who was then working with United Consultancy. Then I made my mind to leave for Samtse, and moreover Sir said that NIE was filled with young teachers. Too bad that the college was closed for holidays. There I stayed for one and half months or so. I came back to Thimphu and started to work with Yalama again. The memories in Samtse was slightly bitter. The second day, a labour had died. The progress wasn't that good then, and moreover the foreman wasn't much experienced. I didn't have anybody to guide me and I felt I was wasting my time there. 

Back in Thimphu, I was given the same work. And Retty Sir now knew that I could use Sketchup and I can sketch potraits. The same guy who made my fun came and Retty Sir said: Meet my Engineer Dawa. In my firm, I only recruit multitasking folks, he can sketch, he can use sketchup and he can design. Designing however, I wasn't that confident and I was always chasing Kinley Sir from United. 

My work back in Thimphu was more of modifying structures which were already designed. Then the BICMA building was again given to me. This time, it was meant to be designed as steel structure, another task not many Bhutanese Engineers are experienced in. DGPC head quarters as well was first proposed to be a Green Building with Steel structures. The building was designed in such a way that it could produce electricity, the boss could know which employees entered the office to their very locations, the whole building was automated to complex gadgets and openings and exists, it had day care for employees and ventilation was designed in such a manner that people didn't have to look after that rod heater. In summer, it could even produce excessive electricity to be sold back to BPC. 

However, the funds were the problem and now I don't know what has happened. It was such a marvelous design that we had to hire consultants from Bangkok to do the structure detailing. I was told to learn from them. They had designed in Etabs. I believe Staadpro works on stiffness matrix platform whereas Etabs or SAP functions on FEM platform. 

And our consultants were very precise for that matter as well, they had designed the building for zone IV and not Zone V. The people who were to verify our designs were not competent themselves then. Not many had known Etabs and not many allowed buildings to be designed for Zone IV. However, Thimphu falls under Zone IV. 

It was always difficult to work for Namgay Sir as an Engineer, his designs were way too complex and many engineers would say it couldn't be done. At times, I had to meet so many senior engineers just to get it right. But my work wasn't much accomplished, at least that is how I feel so far. His designs were always different from other Architects, he always wanted to take our box buildings to other level. His rates were higher and he is a brave man. When something fishy was sensed, he would fight with clients during the bidding hours itself. And why not? He worked very hard. He would sleep lesser than us, perhaps 4 or 3 or 5 hours a day? 

So there was this time, when we all worked till 2 am in the morning, and he was supposed to go to Phuentsholing. He left around 4am or 5am. I was sleeping due to overtime and I had a call from Aue Singay. He said that Sir and Barun met with an accident. We all were sleep deprived and the accident had occured near Makaibari. Barun could only remember first 10 rolls and he was thrown out of the vehicle. Sir, however went on, and when Sir was thrown out of the vehicle, he landed on his left arm, side ways on the ground. His connection to left hand and the shoulder, the particular joint had cracks and fracture on the socket. He was told that he would be all right, but he couldn't lift his left hand. 

He came back to office after few weeks and we would start working. He was getting better sooner and we all forgot that they even met with an accident. We however couldn't bid for that particular work. 

Source :YAC Page on Facebook
He made me work on his lucky desktop. He said, that this was the very desktop that made him where he was. It was the desktop that was used to animate movies. Yes, he did animation for movies, he produced movies and he even wrote scripts for movies. He is very much versatile person you know. And he is just like a child, he would prank on us and he had his way to break the generation gap barrier. 

Source : YAC Page on Facebook
I remember at one point, he treated us with Pizza and one point, he took out his Hookah and we smoked it. Hookah is clean, it didn't have cigarettes and marijuana, but a small paste like thing which was strawberry flavoured. His designs will always speak about his boldness. You should visit any of the campuses of RUB and see for yourself. His designs will always make you feel: Oh, we too can have this in Bhutan? 

And I will never forget his advice over life. He had a very different perspective towards life and he was quite philosophical. 

Source: YAC Page on Facebook
A year or few months back when I visited his office, he had cut his hair short. I was shocked, and asked him why would he do that? He said, our society doesn't accept this. I kind of felt bad then, because I always thought that he could do anything, and he giving in to society was the last thing I had ever imagined. 

Then I heard that Sir again had accident. This time it was him alone and he was travelling from Phuentsholing. He was alone. This time, it was pretty bad. I hope to visit him sooner. I am always guilty that I didn't visit him sooner. 

His firm, Yalama Arts & Consultancy was something. And I don't have to tell you, you just have to see his designs. It was great working
there for nine months, because it had books from designing to movie making to painting. Yes, Sir is a good painter and he can make potraits by making you his subject, I was told he even had his own exhibition once. 

By far, I am sorry that I haven't met any Bhutanese who were or are as talented as him. A person who can't take much shit and is joyful, a person who is an artist, reader, writer, prouducer, philosopher, businessman, a great father and by far, the Architect who wanted future to be here. 

Ps: There was a bank to be designed and he proposed hiring two more companies to build the vaults. The first one won't know what the second one did and the second one won't know what the first one did. But ideas like these cost money, and ideas are not appreciated much, it is retaining the money with products that we can do with. That sorts of designs I say. 

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