When it comes to built heritage, India ranks high. We have been scaling marvellous heights in architecture since ages and gladly conservation architects are taking the task of preserving our heritage buildings very seriously. The milestones the conservation architects are achieving world over are just mesmerizing. SURFACES REPORTER (SR) remains keen to explore diverse & significant subjects in the field of architecture & design and to explore the subject of Architectural Conservation, the team engaged with intriguing discussions with 3 leading conservation architects of the country. We will be soon covering other prominent conservation architects, so keep following #SurfacesReporterDotCom.
With the restoration of projects like Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad and Oval Maidan in Mumbai, Ar Rahul Mehrotra has taken up a large number of conservation projects in cities like Ahmedabad, Mumbai, and Hyderabad. Describing the restoration work of a house built in 1835, he shares, "Built in the 1840s, this house in the Ahmedabad Cantonment represents an early example of bungalow architecture in India comprising of load-bearing brick and lime plastered walls with wooden rafters and a tin roof the replastering and strengthening of the structure was carried out using traditional materials such as lime plaster, black cement for the floor, and recycled wood.
With 17 UNESCO awards to his credit, Vikas Dilawari is a prominent name in the field of conservation architecture in India. He has worked on the restoration of buildings such as Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum and Flora Fountain in Mumbai under his name. He has also done the restoration of Esplanade House, the home for Late shri Jamshedji Tata which also won the UNESCO Asia Pacific Award (Honorary Mention) for Cultural Heritage Restoration 2014.
Talking about the challenges in conservation architecture, Ar Vikas Dilawari says, “There are several challenges, first and foremost it is an emerging discipline and hence requires a lot experimentation which has to be done carefully and rationally. We work in an unsympathetic environment, i.e., with ignorant public, client & contractors. Hence a lot time goes in educating and informing them on the importance of restoration/conservation and its philosophy too. There is loss of traditions and skills as the umbilical connection with the past has been cut due to lack of patronage and attempts are being made for its revival. There is unavailability of traditional materials like good quality lime, imported coloured glass or paints, natural dyes, wood sections, etc. There is poor appreciation of work, hence poor remuneration for the craftsmen which is the most important aspect of conservation/restoration.
There is very poor technical support like diagnostic Labs that help you on finding quality and strength of revived traditional materials. There is a lot of element of surprises while work is in progress, as when layers are removed new things are revealed. It is a very slow and tedious work as its labour is intensive. Most heritage sites are with government and persistence on government format for quotation and bidding with awarding of work to the lowest bidding contractor L1 (lowest bidder) does more harm than good. We, unlike the UK are very new in this discipline and we find that reconstruction predominates repairs, beautification dominates conservation/restoration.”
The history of conservation in India is not very old; in fact, while countries like the USA and other European nations have been doing conservation for the last 30-40 years, unfortunately, in India, the movement has just begun. According to Ar Benny Kuriakose, “When I did my masters in conservation in 1986-87, even demolition of a historic building in India never became a news, let alone conservation of the buildings. Though ASI was there but it was responsible for only preserving 5000 protected monuments and sites, which was just a miniscule section of the large part of the history of our country that needed protection. When INTACH was formed in 1984, the process of conservation of buildings started gradually.”
Not only economically viable but reusing is also a sustainable solution in today’s world which is at the brink of climate change. Ar Benny Kuriakose says, “The Adaptive Reuse becomes more relevant in the present scenario as much emphasis is being laid on sustainable architecture, green building and reducing the carbon footprints. Instead of constructing a new building, recycling the whole existing building is basically a much greener and sustainable approach. This way, even a 20 years old building which has little historic or architectural value can also be conserved and put into use, instead of demolishing.”
Conservation architects believe that rehabilitation is a great tool for conservation since the affected people are often the poorest of the poor for whom having a home is a great deal. Ar Benny Kuriakose says, “Giving such people an ultra-modern building or seeing the problem purely as a technical issue will not lead us anywhere. You have to provide them a place according to their social and cultural requirements. At the same time, you don’t want them to live an old lifestyle. This is a great opportunity for the society and the people involved in the rehabilitation to develop the area with a holistic perspective. It is normally the poor people who get affected by the disaster the most. They need support from govt and other agencies. Getting a good quality house can become a great asset for a poor family. The building has to be of good quality such that it would not become a burden in the near future due to faulty construction and require being demolished in 10-20 years.”
Ar Manish Chakraborti is a Professor and a practicing conservation architect and his office, Continuity, founded in 2000 is one of the leading architectural conservation and management practices in India. Consultant to World Monuments Fund, National Museum of Denmark, Asian Development Bank and Archaeological Survey of India, he has authored various books on architecture and conservation and a visiting faculty to schools of architecture in India.
Summarising the last two decades that were most important in the field of Conservation Architecture, Ar Manish Chakraborti says, “the first decade of the 21st century went into identifying and listing the historically and culturally significant buildings across the country along with finding the right organization responsible for taking care of such structures. The second decade was about the redevelopment of the already identified buildings. Here arose the conflict between city developments versus the destruction of listed heritage buildings which became evident with cases across the country. This began the critical awareness about mindless destruction of our heritage in the name of quick profit motivated development. It was a silent yet significant movement among the people who are against the mindless destruction of heritage properties. This resulted in more restoration projects being initiated by the government. While the first half of this decade saw mindless destruction, the second half came with a lot of restoration projects being started, standards being set, examples made that restoration can be viable too.”
Working in the industry for the last 25 years, Ar Abha Narain Lambah has preserved and restored many heritage sites and won 9 UNESCO Asia Pacific Awards for conservation projects including the Award of Excellence for the 15th Century Maitreya Buddha Temple at Basgo, Ladakh among others. She is one of the pioneers of the conservation architecture field who has been vocally talking about our ignorance towards saving our heritage.
he field of Architectural Conservation is gaining popularity among the young generation of architects. More and more students are getting attracted and opting for this stream of architecture. Though courses are getting introduced, a lot still remains to be understood. Experience is the best teacher and interactions with leading conservation architects and understanding their perspective can greatly help the younger lot to gain a solid understanding of the subject of protecting & restoring our heritage and learn how to move ahead in this field.
We are keen to learn more and thus are continuing our interactions with other leading conservation architects of the country. Keep following #SurfacesReporterDotCom for more insights!
SR acknowledges and highly appreciates the contribution to the article by 3 eminent conservation architects of India - Ar Vikas Dilawari, Ar Rahul Mehrotra, Ar Abha Narain Lambah, Ar Benny Kuriakose, Ar Manish Chakraborti.
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