Thursday, January 14, 2010

Another one bites the dust

The last few years have not been kind to those of us who care about conserving the heritage of our city. A long real-estate construction boom and the exponential growth of Bangalore have resulted in the loss of many lovely old buildings, replaced for the most parts by structures of abominable ugliness.

I don't know how many of you understand what we are loosing. Maybe an image can move you where words fail.

On the left is the photo I took sometime back of a house off Queens Road, close to the Indian Express circle. The structure is not in a great condition but you can still see the beauty in its form and the graceful ornamentation on the crenelations above the bay window.

I pass by this place often and last month my heart broke, once more, as I saw that this too had succumbed. On the right is what remains as the vandals who masquerade as builders hack away at the lovely building.

My first experience with seeing a graceful building go before my eyes was with the Kannan Building on MG Road, which housed GK Vale, Lawrence & Mayo, Lakeview among others.

Among the last few surviving heritage structures on MG Road, its demise was a long drawn out and much publicized affair as the tenants moved out one by one. I kept hoping somebody or something would intervene. A PIL in the High Court, administrative intervention, anything. But nobody much seemed to care and one day the demolition started.

I don't know if I will be able to harden my heart and look away as these beauties from the past bite the dust one by one, till we have nothing but a banal, characterless city, the only type of city we seem to deserve.

I hope there are some of you who want better. All is not is not lost. Yet.

There are still parts of Bangalore that have significant heritage buildings that survive. The lanes and bylanes near Shivaji Nagar/Indian Express still have a few lovely bungalows. KG Road and the region around Town Hall have some classical and art-deco commercial buildings from the early and mid parts of the last century. A few parts of south Bangalore still can remind us of what this city used to be.

But to preserve what is left, we need a law to preserve this built heritage, at the same time protecting the interests of the property owners. This is not something unique or unprecedented, even in India. Bombay and Delhi have already blazed the way. Many groups and commissions in Bangalore, the latest being ABIDE, have recommended such legislation for Bangalore, but alas nothing has come to fruition.

We now have a small window of opportunity. The economic slowdown in the US has impacted the IT sector and, temporarily, brought new construction activity to a halt. We have an upcoming election to the BBMP - the period when politicians are most receptive to public opinion. This is the time to press for the passage of such a law.

We need to mobilize and make our voices heard. Whether it is letters to newspapers, ministers and MLAs, questions asked to BBMP candidates, PILs etc. Anything that works. Unless we can bring sustained and significant pressure to bear, all we will bequeath to posterity will be a wasteland of glass boxes and ugly malls that could belong anywhere from Singapore to Detroit and everywhere in between. You won't want to live in such a city - I guarantee it.


Unknown said...

Hi Ashwin,
I really appreciate your concern about the heritage value of the historic city of Bangalore. I never been to Bangalore, according to my knowledge Colonial era is the most prominent era in the layering of the city. And it also shows in your pictures.
There are laws and regulation set by the government and respective Committees for heritage conservation in India but considering the systems and current situation in our country, these laws are still not at the implementation level.
I am a Conservation Architect; I think I can understand your feelings towards the city and its identity. I am happy to know that there are people (Though they are from different professional background) who still feel that heritage structures have value in it and they are not just dusty old buildings.
Let me know if I can do something for it.

Meera said...

Hi Ashwin, interesting post. Can you mail me at meerak at Need some info...

Vijay Alphonse said...

Hi Ashwin,
I happen to stumble on your blog after I googled Bangalore architecture. I'm from Bangalore and am in Barcelona now and after a couple of days of taking in the city and it's fantastic architecture, Bangalore suddenly began looking bleak when viewed with the same glasses. I realize now how important it is to preserve the heritage structures and buildings that were built for more than just to serve a purpose.. I wish Bangalore would have more things that we can talk about. Like you said, cities do reinvent themselves, but we need a catalyst, like the Olympics for barcelona, when everything was given a new touch, architects were allowed to express themselves and today, these are structures that are marvelous to everyone. The current trend of construction in Bangalore is mostly, functional with little or no importance to design. I wish it were not just that.

Unknown said...

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