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  • Benny Kuriakose & Pratistha Jagannath

Conservation and Adaptive Reuse of a Rundown Building to Museum

Adaptive reuse of dilapidated structures is a smart way to conserve the space, it gives a new meaning and purpose to the building. Situated on the picturesque waterfront of Alappuzha, the port museum is one of the many conservation projects as part of the Alappuzha heritage project. Apart from conservation, this project aims to revive the lost glory of the former port town by highlighting the history, inception and evolution of Alleppey as a port. The vision for the conservation of the Port complex extends beyond mere restoration. The objective is to make people aware of the significance of Alappuzha as a trade centre and explain the role of maritime business in shaping the development of the city.

List of Contents

Historical Background of Alappuzha

The beautiful city of Alappuzha is rooted with a scenic interconnected network of waterways and water inlets that flow in and around the city. Alappuzha was transformed into one of the busiest ports in India under the guidance of Raja Kesavadas who was the Diwan of Travancore. Home to many travellers, the city was flourishing with shops and factories. The overall economy of the city was improved and this resulted in a better lifestyle for the residents and natives. At the peak of its time, Alappuzha was booming with travellers from all around the world. An estimated population of 600 steamers were at one time anchored to the port. As the Kochi Port began developing, the usage for Alappuzha port was drastically reduced. In 1935, the average halting vessels ranging around 390 reduced to just 1 within 55 years. This drastically affected the business, economy and livelihood of the people in Alappuzha.

Google Image of the Location of the Site
Google Image of the Location of the Site

Significance of the Project

The restoration of the Port complex is not only executed to preserve the historic architectural language of Kerala, but also to preserve the significance of maritime history. The project intends to educate the people on the rich history and culture of Alappuzha, specifically the port. Apart from increasing the sustenance of tourism in the city, this project will increase the livelihood of the residing members and improve the quality of life by creating a sense of belongingness. Spatially, the intent is to create a forum for people of similar interests to share their perspectives and ideas on the city’s rich heritage and history. The addition of the Port Museum will enhance the livelihood of the people by increasing the economy of the city. There will be an increase of tourists, as the museum promotes tourism and becomes an added value to the city.

Schematic Site Plan
Schematic Site Plan

The original port office complex was the administrative centre for the trade activities carried out along the Alappuzha Port. This building is one of the first examples for Industrial architecture in Kerala. It set the blueprint for industrial typology in the state.

Image Before  Renovation of Entrance Building
Image Before Renovation of Entrance Building (Block A)

Staircase to First Floor Completely Damaged (Block A)
Staircase to First Floor Completely Damaged (Block A)

The restoration of the office complex was done with different levels of intervention. Each stage of the project was meticulously planned with much thought. To start off the restoration, many site visits and documentations were done. It is important to accurately document the existing site features and buildings as it is in the present.

Image Before  Renovation of Entrance Building
Site Photograph Before Renovation of Port Museum Buildings

Building Condition at the Time of Conservation

The history of Alappuzha Port Office complex is as old as the city itself. The Complex was the administrative base for the port activities housing the administrative office, port office and warehouses and sheds for storage of goods. At present there are 7 buildings built for different purposes which can be observed from the unique architecture language. All these buildings are left abandoned.

Image Before Conservation (Block D)
Site Photograph of Block D Image Before Conservation

The entire exterior was covered by plants. The exterior of most of the blocks wall were affected by alga. On the interior, the plastering was damaged and the roof members were deteriorated due to lack of maintenance and termite attacks. Dampness had led to surface staining, algal attack and plaster flaking off from the walls. Minor cracks were also be seen on walls. Members from the roof structure were missing in regions and the exposure to sunlight has caused a termite attack on the timber beams. The condition of the openings in the structure were also bad with the window grills rusted and the window frames damaged.

Damaged Building of Port Museum Before Conservation
Damaged Building of Port Museum Before Conservation (Block C)

Common issues seen were :

  1. Cracks - Multiple small and big cracks along the walls especially at the openings can be seen which require to be filled.

  2. Dampness - Seen at the upper portion of the walls, due to rain seeping in from the roof leaving the timber members damaged as well. However, only if 50% of the member is damaged will it be replaced. The dampness has caused algae growth on the walls.

  3. Plastering - The brick masonry is left exposed in certain regions due to withering plasterwork. Those regions need to be replastered with lime plaster as per the specifications.

  4. Termite Infestation - Termites along the walls and timber members due to dampness were seen

  5. Joinery - Many door frames are left damaged due to the lack of maintenance. Window and door shutters are broken or missing.

  6. Incoherent Additions - The later addition of the asbestos roof and metal sheet used to cover the ventilator do not match the original language of the building.

Dilapidated Block F of the Port Museum Building
Dilapidated Block F of the Port Museum Building

Conservation Measures Taken For The Restoration

The intent for conserving the site is to make it accessible to the public and preserve it for years to come. Hence, well thought measures were taken. The following are steps followed for the conservation of the Port Office Complex.

Port Museum Buildings After Conservation
Port Museum Buildings After Conservation

  1. All the incongruous additions to the buildings, which are not in accordance to the character of the original building were removed.

  2. Improvement to the plinth was made as it has been severely damaged. The entire building foundation, plinth and walls were treated with anti-termite chemicals.

  3. The rainwater should drain away from the building. The possibilities of lowering the ground level and provision of drain channels around the structure were carried out.

  4. Algal stains were scrapped off and the area was refinished.

  5. Cracks were filled using filling material and t has been re-plastered with cement plaster and painted.

  6. The spalling areas were refinished with cement plaster and painted.

  7. The damaged timber members were replaced. The broken members were skillfully repaired by an expert carpenter. Paint on timber members were removed

  8. The holes for the conduits were filled with filling materials after the rewiring were carried out. The surface was finished with cement plaster and paint.

  9. The wall surfaces of the structures need was finished with lime wash as per the specifications

Damaged Building of Port Museum Before Conservation (Block C)
Damaged Building of Port Museum After Conservation (Block C)

Adaptive Reuse of the Port Office Complex

Along with the conservation measures taken to preserve and increase the longevity of the post office complex, adaptive reuse of the site is considered. The buildings are designed to transform and serve different purposes from what it was originally intended for. The office complex is updated into a port museum to raise awareness of the rich maritime heritage. This is a smart strategy, where the museum building in itself holds a lot of historical value.