Importance of Preserving Historic Buildings
In February 1983, I wrote the lead story on architecture for the Sunday edition of the Kerala Kaumudi newspaper in Malayalam. I decided to post about that article because many of the points I wrote 37 years ago are still relevant today. The title, when translated, was “Architecture Which Somersaults”. The gist of the article was that it would be suicidal to neglect our traditional architecture and embrace the western model.
The article covered the National Association of Student Architects (NASA) meet that was happening in the College of Engineering, Trivandrum. The theme of the conference was Conservation. I was asked by the Editor to cover this event and write an article for the newspaper. My initial plan was to write the article by interviewing the students. I talked to them but did not get much information for the article.
So, I interviewed Laurie Baker (a speaker at the event), Dr. MP Parameswaran (a judge for the NASA competitions), Gopal Shankar (Habitat Technology Group), Banashree Banerjee, and a few others. My good friend and mentor Dr. Ekbal Bappukunju was the medical officer in charge of the Conference Medical Centre. He is someone who has shown me the way many times in my journey. He always encouraged me to question everything and told me that unless I grow to high places professionally, people would not listen to me. I had the great fortune of designing his Kottayam house 25 years ago and his Trivandrum house five years ago. Likewise, the snippets from the original article were as follows:
Shankar G It is wrong to say that the traditional architecture shall be copied. Traditional architecture is willing to undergo changes. To completely neglect this, is not right. When the Portuguese and the Dutch came to Kerala, they did not rule out the traditional architecture. Both styles of our architecture were blended. One of the best examples is the Napier Museum in Trivandrum.
Banashree Mitra (Banerjee) When buildings in the city are being constructed, there should be control over the architectural character. Now there is no control over a new concrete building coming closer to a historical building.
Dr.MP Parameswaran The architecture students do not study the relationship between architecture and people’s lives.
Laurie Baker In India, there are 20 million families without any houses. Even if you take a minimum of Rs. 10000/- per house, we need 40,000 crores of rupees. In the absence of a long-term approach, we will never be able to solve this problem. It is in this context, the conservation of our historic buildings becomes very important. Without any sufficient reason, it is not right to demolish our old buildings.
Environmental conservation and world peace were (and still are) the two vital concerns in the world. Proper roads, open spaces, parking areas, and other essentials do not increase due to city development plans. It would be inappropriate to only construct skyscrapers, while all our historical buildings that had survived centuries of abuse face threats from air and water pollution brought about by man.
Transportation systems, drainage, water supply, power distribution, etc. in the existing city get affected by these steps. Tourists also show interest in old heritage buildings rather than the new buildings. Therefore, we must look back to move forward towards the future.