Internship at Benny Kuriakose and Associates
I amongst four other interns from the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, did our summer internship at Benny Kuirakose and Associates. In a short time span of six weeks we were engaged in three projects, the restoration of a Methodist church in Chennai, photographic documentation and condition assessment of temples in Thanjavur, and an urban level study of Alappuzha (Alleppey). My friends have written in detail about all these three projects. This is a short note on some of the most valuable lessons I learned and memorable moments I had during the internship at Benny Kuirakose and Associates.
We spent the initial days researching the upcoming sites for our study. The good collection of books in the office library was the starting point. We then visited the Anna library and started collecting data from valid internet sources too. Tremendous importance was given for background research, the benefit of which we understood during the site work. We were able to relate ourselves to the site and the people better. During a two-day-long informal session with the office staff, Dr Benny Kuriakose shared with us, his personal and professional experiences. He spoke to us about various projects and the process in which each one of them evolved. The memories of the people who inspired him were the best learning days for me.
At Thanjavur, after the first day’s site visit, we sat for a discussion. While going through the photographs, sir asked, “Did you see the banyan tree growing in the Garbhagriha on the west side?” I wondered, “Banyan tree? In the garbhagriha! No way, it can’t be”. He asked us to zoom in to the specific photograph which shows that area. There was a tiny sapling of a banyan tree growing in one corner. We all looked at each other wondering how and why he noticed this! I understood the importance of this small observation when he explained how in the near future the tree growth will affect the stability of the structure and the easy job of removing it now will become a tedious task later. By the end of a twelve-day long study there, we ourselves could feel the difference in the way we saw things. We were able to identify issues as well as the possible reasons for them. We started photographing things only after conscious thought. Instead of just listening to the stories the people had to tell, we started asking specific questions which can feed into our study. Yes! We started observing and not looking.
In Alappuzha, the lesson learned was on the importance of prior planning and time management. Initially, I wondered how on earth a small group of people can study the whole town in such a short span! Very clear objectives were set. We were focused on identifying the key issues and potentials related to the built heritage. Splitting into groups, each group having at least one person who can speak Malayalam, made the task of collecting oral information from the local people a lot easier. Instead of preparing a series of maps on-site, we adopted a townscape analysis method where we added our observations on a single map. This enabled us to easily identify the possible proposals. On the last day in Alappuzha, there was a press meet where the study and the initial proposals were explained to the media. In the question and answer session, one media person asked “Isn’t it a dream? Will all these ever happen in reality?” The answer to this question, we got the very next day at Muziris. A quick visit through the different sites where conservation works have been carried out in the Muziris region was an excellent way to wind up our internship. We saw in front of us all the theories and principles of conservation we learned in the first year, in their practical form. We got the confidence to dream big for Alappuzha.
I have just started my journey in the field of architectural conservation. In these six weeks, I understood the vastness and potentials of the field; the responsibilities and risks I will have to take. Setting aside the sad part of getting tanned by the sun a bit, I thoroughly enjoyed the site work. I am carrying back with me a lot of memories, a bunch of new friends and lessons for a lifetime. I am heading back to my college with complete satisfaction, well determined to become a responsible conservation architect.
For more information on Muziris and Alappuzha Heritage Projects, check out the links given below:
Muziris Heritage Project- https://www.bennykuriakose.com/muziris-heritage-project
Alappuzha Heritage Project- https://www.bennykuriakose.com/alappuzha-heritage-project