Blazing the conservation trail

An architect tries to preserve Ahmedabad’s heritage with a university course and its students.

Published: 04th March 2017 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 04th March 2017 08:33 AM   |  A+A-

Debashish Nayak | Dinesh Shukla

Look beyond the traffic snarls and crowded lanes of Ahmedabad’s 600-year-old walled city, and you are likely to see restoration work on old buildings, heritage walks, art workshops and exhibitions.

Once a neglected area, the old city today vies for UNESCO’s World Heritage City tag, thanks to the heritage activities going on in the area. And credit for this development goes to the heritage management programme—perhaps the first-of-its-kind structured programme in India.

The brain behind the course, Debasish Nayak, who is the director of Ahmedabad University’s Centre for Heritage Management, says, “While working in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s (AMC) heritage programme for 20 years, I realised the importance of having trained human resources for heritage management. Thus, I worked on developing and launching the post-graduate heritage management degree, which got a good response from stakeholders.”

The two-year course with 80 credit hours, including lectures, seminars, field studies, volunteer works, internship and research, prepares students to undertake any heritage management project, business or institution.

The Centre for Heritage Management was launched in 2012, and the first batch enrolled in 2015. The batch comprises 15 students who wish to study the rapidly growing interdisciplinary field of heritage management.

The 57-year-old says, “The centre’s first batch will graduate in 2017. And some students have already been doing an internship with heritage hotels, NGOs, monument trusts, social enterprises, institutes, art and craft centres, the Gujarat Ecological Commission, and National Centre for Preservation Technology.”
Nayak qualified as an architect from Vadodara but engaged himself in heritage conservation when he went back to his home city Kolkata and worked on mapping historical buildings. He says, “During the early 90s, I had the opportunity to visit many countries and observe their heritage conservation initiatives.”

His work in designing heritage walks in Kolkata led to locals’ interest in their historical neighbourhoods. The work was noticed by AMC, and this is how his work journey began in the city.

“Working as a consultant there since 1996, I developed the heritage cell, designed volunteer-guided Ahmedabad Heritage Walk, planned strategies for heritage conservation, and launched the Ahmedabad Heritage Festival,” says Nayak.

The major boost to the project for revitalising the city began following a collaborative project between the AMC and a French team. “This was the time when many city-based institutions were involved in brainstorming for heritage projects,” he says. “It led to my team developing this programme with Ahmedabad University. While heritage management programmes in many countries deal with architecture, archaeology and its conservation, a heritage manager in our country should have multiple skills, including government advocacy, support from the neighbourhood, conservation strategies, presentation, promotion, tourism and visitor management.”

The result was the master’s programme that covers practical and theoretical approaches to the key issues in cultural heritage.

“The course has been divided into semesters. The first two semesters focus on course work, field-immersion and skill development, followed by a two-month internship. The third semester includes project work under a specialised studio, electives and thesis proposal, with the option of an exchange programme. And the final semester is thesis-oriented, with a thesis at an international conference which may be a good opportunity for networking,” he says.

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