Updated: Aug 25, 2020
“I have decided to put the restoration of my family fort on hold now, because there’s no one architect giving me the sensitive approach or the restoration ideas I want to see for my inherited property without losing the essence of it” says Anu Dhillion, environmental scientist who moved back to India after spending years in London to contribute her knowledge to the country she belongs to. We were having lunch at one of her other properties she restored- Chambal Safari in Agra.
A beautiful vernacular architecture with organic vegetables grown within the land for the guests. I remember waiting to go to wash my hands since the tanks had run out of water and they don’t have any pumps to fill the water. It was an environmentally healthy experience she and her husband, IIT engineer and conservationist Ram Pratap Singh, had created together.
Chambal Safari, Agra- India. Source : Web
It got me thinking about the amount of opportunities we have in terms of restoring our good heritage and old architecture which is up to snuff. It is not always important to go with a fixed protocol in mind to a site for a design direction. Sometimes, let the site speak to you and inspire you. You might be surprised how less you have to do for some big returns and results. It is not always about big budgets, it is about smart design interventions and decisions.
A country home in Chievo by Studio Wok, Italy. Source: Web
We, Indians, are good at up-cycling. From the old saris of our mothers & grandmothers to revamping an old piece of furniture, we do it all! Why don’t we use the same lens and standpoint for our old architecture, our decaying abandoned buildings?
Neglected Art Deco building in Mumbai, India. Source : Web
As a culture who believes and takes care about using things till their end cycle, why do we always run down our old buildings to create new spaces unless they are certified by the government as heritage? Why do we always have to build from scratch?
Let’s educate ourselves to find beauty in those old details and do our contemporary intervention only to add value sometimes.
Let’s look at our existing fit structures in the city we live in. A source of inspiration for creating something totally different. How about the abandoned mills in Mumbai? The uninhabited old forts in Agra and such 2nd tier cities? Why can’t we completely transform their existing idea of space to something suitable for today’s lifestyle and yet being sensitive to the history it beholds? It could become a hotel, a restaurant, a museum, a cafe, a family house, a club. The possibilities are endless!
My personal favorite is Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The project is on for more than 150 years now. The most beautiful thing about Sagrada is that even though the generations of architects have spent their whole life contributing to this enormous project, following the guidelines of Antoni Gaudi, the newer sections of the church will have the contemporary interpretation and application. Every generation leaves a legacy while having the sensitivity and respect for the history.
As important as it is to leave our legacy in the world and just not copy and repeat the past, it is very important to let and preserve what we inherited to depict this wonderful story of progression or lets say evolution ( to be more poetic). Not just for Sagrada, it could be very well applied to all those vernacular elements you find around you and to keep it alive.
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona- Spain. Photograph by : Kirti Dodeja
I believe we need to look at this point of view now more than ever. We are getting more conscious about our exploitation of resources, be it even the mortar or the bricks we use, it takes energy to produce and then energy to finish. We could help each other to look at this hidden beauty in our existing surroundings and add value to it.
Less is more, as Mies Van Der Rohe rightly said!