In the biz of limestone therapy for old pads
Published: 10th October 2011 11:31 PM |
Being a conservation architect is much like being in the defence and serving the country,” declares Vikas Dilawari, a Mumbai-based conservation architect. Conservation architects delve into the how, when and why of buildings and are in the pursuit of preserving our heritage. They are in demand in a country like India where we come face-to-face with remnants of history at every nook and cranny. “Conservation includes designing new buildings and extensions also, but the design has to respect the architecture of the existing building and be in harmony with it,” explains Benny Kuriakose, a Chennai-based conservation architect.
What and who
Conservation architecture is a part of architecture, urban planning and building technology. “One can deal with a small building, forts to conserving historic towns. In mainstream architecture, one learns about steel, concrete and designing new buildings, whereas in conservation, one learns about traditional building materials such as lime, stone and timber,” explains Kuriakose. “You will also analyse the situation and find out about why it (a crack in the wall) has occurred and will have to suggest a remedy also,” he adds.
A conservation architect’s job is similar to that of archeologists — understanding the past and the activities of our predecessors in order to maintain what remains. “One should have a passion for matters of the past to take up a career like this,” adds Dilawari.
Stone-age vs high rise
There is more to conservation architecture than just detecting cracks and preserving an old wooden pillar. “This branch of architecture is different from commercial or mainstream architecture in the sense that this is more academically oriented and has higher research potential,” says Dilawari, who doubles-up as a professor of conservation architecture at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and Environment Studies, Mumbai.
Conservation architecture is being understood better these days but when Dilawari was a student 20 years ago and had to redesign the Crawford Market of Mumbai for an assignment, he flunked because he attempted to preserve it! “There is a renewed interest in historic buildings now. There is more public awareness and it is generally agreed that historic buildings should be conserved. In the West, repairing concrete buildings is also becoming a part of conservation,” says Kuriakose.
With recognition and awareness there are a lot more avenues for aspirants to study the subject and pursue it in India. Dilawari suggests that students do a five-year bachelor’s degree in architecture and follow it up with a postgraduation in conservation.
Kuriakose tells us, “There could be specialisations in conservation such as urban conservation, or on stone buildings or on excavated sites. If mistakes are made, you may just end up destroying or distorting history.” After UG, Kuriakose recommends architects to work in a conservation project before getting back to campus.
Old is surely gold!
How does being a conservation architect work really? “We are mostly given projects by the Archeological Survey of India or Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage or some individuals who want a certain building preserved or restored. Sometimes we take up projects on our own, raise funds and complete the project,” says Dilawari, who is now working to make the Durbar hall in Kochi usable on a day-to-day basis.
Kuriakose is working on a project in Kerala which involves the conservation of forts, palaces, synagogues, traditional markets, etc. “A port that disappeared in the 14th century has now been excavated. This will explain 3,000 years of Kerala’s history,” he beams.
A lucrative profession on the whole, it does have its drawbacks. “Sometimes we don’t get paid for doing certain projects, particularly if governments change!” Dilawari says.