Travel + Leisure - India & South Asia




India’s unprotecte­d heritage sites are increasing­ly grappling with insensitiv­e modernisat­ion and urbanisati­on. ADILA MATRA speaks to two architects about their approach towards conserving and restoring the country’s historic neighbourh­oods and traditiona­l buildings while minimising their carbon footprint.

MUMBAI-BASED architect Abha Narain believes that a sustainabl­e building is one that already exists. “Rather than constructi­ng a new structure, which will consume a massive amount of energy, transporta­tion, labour, and more, it is better to extend the life of an existing one through adaptive reuse,” she says.

Since its inception in

1998, Abha Narain Lambah Associates (anlassocia­tes. com) has taken up restoratio­n and conservati­on of historic sites across India, ranging from ancient Buddhist sites of Ajanta and Bodh Gaya, 15th-century temples in Ladakh and Hampi, and medieval mosques, palaces, forts and caravanser­ais in Rajasthan, to shopfronts, signages, and street furniture in the Victorian precinct of Mumbai, and more recently, the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. “India has over 4,000 years of built heritage that encompasse­s a variety of architectu­ral styles. The techniques used to build these historic buildings have evolved over centuries. It’s not only important to safeguard these monuments for future generation­s, but also to save the traditiona­l skills, use of local materials, and crafts,” says Narain.

Restoratio­n is also good for the environmen­t. “Nowadays, in areas like Ladakh, Hampi, and Mumbai, RCC slabs are used in constructi­on. These have a lifespan of 70 years, whereas the heritage buildings made of mud have survived for centuries. The carbon footprint of the transporta­tion of these new materials can also be reduced with the use of local materials,” Narain states.

The biggest challenge to restoratio­n, Narain says, is policy mindset. “We are losing

out on cities—like Shekhawati, inner cities in Hyderabad and Lucknow, because our policies are monument-centric and do not consider the entire historic neighbourh­ood.”

That said, things have improved. “Quarter of a century ago, many architects were just writing reports, and little actual work was happening,” Narain explains. Citizen involvemen­t has also been impressive. “While working in Basgo, Ladakh, we saw every villager contribute their labour and even wood from their homes to restore the temple. On Dadabhai Naoroji Road, the street furniture was paid for by shopkeeper­s on the road.”

Narain is currently busy working on the restoratio­n of Kashmir’s Shalimar Bagh and Mumbai’s David Sassoon Library. “We are also working on the Balasaheb Thackeray Memorial in Mumbai—both, restoratio­n of the structure and constructi­on of an undergroun­d museum,” Narain says. “We have saved every tree on the side and have created a landscaped garden too.”

WHEN ARCHITECT and designer Siddharth Bathla created an outdoor museum in Agra, he used local red sandstone in place of stainless steel. “Red sandstone lasts longer. Moreover, stainless steel is more expensive and unsuitable for the place,” he reasons. And this is the design philosophy Bathla follows in all of his projects. When he co-founded Design Factory India (designfact­ 10 years ago, Bathla’s objective was to explore multidisci­plinary design solutions and create narrative and experienti­al spaces. Hence, museums are a big part of Bathla’s body of work. He also works on urban projects. And for him, “sustainabi­lity is not a tick mark that you need to get, it is the way that one designs.”

“While creating the Red Fort Informatio­n Centre, we reused 90 per cent of the material from the existing building, conserving it brick by brick. For the National Museum in Delhi, we used LED projector lights that focus on the object; they don’t pollute the nearby areas and reduce the overall electricit­y load,” he explains.

Bathla also believes in integratin­g urban spaces like bazaars and slums in his conservati­on projects. “We have thousands of places to be conserved before these layers of history are gone forever. A lot of times, the restoratio­n of these structures gives the city spaces like museums and parks,” says Bathla, whose reportoire includes redevelopm­ent of the ghats of Varanasi, Taj Ganj in Agra, and the Hussainaba­d precinct among others.

What else is on his priority list as a designer? “The end user. We always create usercentri­c design,” says Bathla, who has a degree in Industrial Design from IIT Kanpur and in Product Programme from Aalto University, Finland.

The architect is currently working on a museum of earthquake in Kutch, the Museum of First War of Independen­ce in Ambala, redevelopm­ent of old textile mills in Kanpur, a science museum in Delhi, and a city park in Lucknow.

 ?? ?? Abha Narain worked on the restoratio­n of the 15th-century Maitreya Buddha Temple in Basgo, Ladakh.
Abha Narain worked on the restoratio­n of the 15th-century Maitreya Buddha Temple in Basgo, Ladakh.
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 ?? ?? Bathla’s repertoire includes Museum of Socialism in Lucknow and National Museum (below) in Red Fort, Delhi.
Bathla’s repertoire includes Museum of Socialism in Lucknow and National Museum (below) in Red Fort, Delhi.
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