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Memories from Katherine "Ducky" Blair Salant

Memories from Katherine "Ducky" Blair Salant

My Nepal Research on 

Vernacular Architecture

Katherine "Ducky" Blair Salant

Class of 1968

Things came full circle for me when I returned to Cambridge last year to donate my Nepal research archive on village housing to the Harvard Graduate School of Design. I graduated from there in 1972 with a Fulbright grant to Nepal to study what was then a little known subject – vernacular architecture, often called “architecture without architects.” I had first encountered this type of housing in India the year before and was intrigued by how well it met the needs of its owners without the hand of a designer, which I had been taught was essential to the process! 

I focused small villages where most people lived and where house forms and settlement patterns had evolved over millennia, shaped by a collective wisdom, not a singular vision. Though not unique to Nepal, this was a revelation to this American city girl, as was the very idea of “home,” which was completely different from anything I had ever encountered. In Nepal, a home was mainly a store house and most of the living occurred outdoors during daylight. Sleeping, eating and cooking occurred inside, but the area allocated to these activities was small; most of the space was used to store farm tools, grains from the last harvest, and a place to keep farm animals at night. But, some homeowner concerns seemed to be universal. Wanting the front of the house that the world sees to be “the best we can afford” is as true in Nepal as it is in today’s suburbia.

When I began my research in 1972, most villages were several day’s walk from the nearest road and untouched by modern technology. In many cases, I felt like I had walked back 1,000 years in time. In one of the villages where I worked in far western Nepal, the villagers had never seen a white person and had no idea what I was, especially because my clothing (baggy pants and a t-shirt) was unfamiliar and didn’t offer any clues. Because of my blond hair, they finally concluded I was an old man. Today the world is so connected, this would be impossible. 

Looking back more than 50 years later, was this experience life changing? Absolutely. And humbling. I encountered many individuals with no education at all or any of the skills we consider essential who nonetheless knew how to navigate successfully in their world.

Not trusting UPS, FedEx or USPS with these irreplaceable drawings, photos, and notes, I personally delivered them, driving with my daughter Shelley from Michigan to Cambridge. It was great fun, we saw classmate Carla Pollack Lane for lunch and ended our trip with a visit to Wellesley’s campus, a first for Shelley and always rejuvenating for me.


From Wikipedia

Katherine "Ducky" Blair Salant


Katherine Salant is a journalist and nationally syndicated real estate newspaper columnist, author, and blogger whose most famous column "Housewatch" appeared in The Washington Post in 1994.

Salant grew up in Northern Virginia and received her Bachelor of Arts from Wellesley College. In 1968 she went to Harvard University to study architecture and received a Fulbright scholarship in 1972.

In 1994, Salant began writing a column about the many facets of home owning for The Washington Post called "Housewatch" which has since become syndicated under the name “Your New Home” to over 40 media outlets, some of which include the Los Angeles TimesChicago TribuneSan Francisco ChronicleHouston ChronicleThe Denver PostMiami HeraldOrlando Sentinel, and The Sacramento Bee.

Published works

  • The Brand New House Book
  • 4 Villages: Architecture in Nepal

Awards and grants

  • Fulbright Scholar, 1972–74
  • National Endowment for the Arts Professional Fellow, 1980
  • National Endowment for the Arts Design Communication Grant, 1981
  • Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Award for Fashion and Design, 1995
  • National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE), Best Column in 2012 and 2002, and runner up, four times