Travel + Leisure - India & South Asia
BUILDING A GREENER FUTURE
CO-FOUNDER, DESIGN FACTORY INDIA
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 (designfactoryindia.org) 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.