BENGALURU: In a city packed with brashly modern structures and hospitals that could shame five star hotels with their ostentatious interiors, the crumbling beauty of Victoria Hospital strikes a poignant note.
You can still find vestiges of past glory in the facade but change has arrived to erase parts of this legacy. The ongoing Metro station work nearby may provide another excuse to the powers that be to compromise the neglected building further. We may even see alterations and interventions in the structure not compatible with its history.
Old buildings are hard to maintain, say historians, and when the cost to maintain them exceeds the benefits of keeping them intact, they go.
Architect Sandeep Nagaraj, who works with alternate, contextual materials, says, “In the buildings coming up today, the ‘materiality’ we see is alien. We seem to be relating more to steel and glass than to stone. I am not advocating traditional methods of building but we can create some connection between where we are and what we build, because there is a disconnection between who we are and the spaces we inhabit.”
Ironically, even as we aspire to be a global city like Shanghai and neglect or demolish heritage buildings like the Victoria hospital, we feel the need to uphold some version of our culture. And this version is at times just a sound byte about local language and the condemnation of pubs.
Sundeep explains, “The city is inherently at unease and we are trying to replace our roots somehow and we must acknowledge this disquiet. Look at our inhuman streetscapes. Children can’t play there. And pedestrians have no space to walk.”
Adds Sundeep, “The idea of culture in terms of buildings and a meaningful cityscape is lost. But we can still build rooted spaces and preserve what is left.”
Architect Naresh V Narasimhan spoke at a recent TEDx event about ‘urban amnesia’ and the futility of chasing the global city dream when all Bengaluru needs to do is to look inwards.
Apart from Victoria Hospital, he also mentions structures like Badami House and the landmark buildings owned by the Life Insurance Of India that should be taken better care of. He advocates sensitive media campaigns to preserve heritage but feels that the odds are against the city. He says our emphasis is on the wrong kind of technologies and adds, “Our road laying technology dates back to World War 2!”
“We have the dubious distinction of being a city that has two vehicles per person on the roads. There is so much traffic here unlike developed cities. We can argue that the mass transport is not efficient but here we are creating an overground transport network when cheaper options are available. We are wantonly destroying the environment. We have sewage in our storm water drains and our lakes are gone, as are most of our public spaces, walkways.”
The tragedy is not that we want to outgrow our past but that we want to forget it.
About the building
Victoria Hospital is a government-run hospital that was built by Shri Krishnaraja Wadiyar to commemorate the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign. It was inaugurated in 1900 by Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy and Governor-General of British India. The hospital emerged at a time when the British were being handed over a city recovering from the bubonic plague. By dedicating the hospital to the queen, the Mysore royals received the support of the British in building the structure. The hospital was designed by British engineer Joly de Lotbiniere, built at the cost of `6 lakh and boasts of intricate stone masonry, tiled roof, high ceilings, arches and many Victorian features.