When buildings speak

Amrita Prasad
Thursday, 24 January 2019

City in Transit: Presentation and Talk is happening today in the city as part of Prakalp Pune festival

TIFA Working Studios, in collaboration with Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), is organising City in Transit: Presentation and Talk as part of the Prakalp Pune Festival. The presentation is an effort to revisit the built heritage of Pune, understand the past, explore the way the city has transitioned into the contemporary and the role of conservation in future. 

The opening presentation will be by architect Hemant Mahajan about the restoration of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. The keynote speech will be given by conservation architect Kiran Kalamdani, who will share the transition that Pune has seen. The speakers will also share their own conservation efforts, what present city building would mean in the future and how architectural practices influence a culture. 

While Kalamdani is a leading conservation architect from Pune and co-founder of Kimaya Architects Urban Designers Conservationists, Mahajan is an architect and planner with over 30 years of experience. Mahajan is also the founder, partner, principal architect of GROUP PHI Architects and Designers. The programme is developed in collaboration with local artists, experts on the history of the city and cultural influencers, to engage people in a truly immersive experience of the city.

We find out more about City in Transit... from the speakers: 

CULTURE AND ARCHITECTURE
Kalamdani feels that our culture is in a very dynamic state of change in which traditional ideas are blending with new concepts, new lifestyles. This fusion is resulting in new forms of cultural expression. Talking about the idea behind City in Transit..., he says, “The city is a vast laboratory where this spectacle is happening. Trishala (from TIFA) and her team are trying to express this dynamic phase of Indian contemporary art.” 

He feels that Pune has a 17th century core,  many spaces and buildings that belong to that period along with some 18th and 19th century buildings that express and reinforce peoples’ perceptions and expressions about the city’s culture, beliefs etc. “From a visionary virtual capital of the country to an active centre for the freedom movement, then an educational centre to an industrial hub and later an IT hub, the city’s ability to adapt and include trends from the country and the world is exemplified by the architecture. The structures do not express themselves as exclusively belonging to a movement or a period. Rather they express the multiplicity and cultural diversity,” adds Kalamdani. 

When asked how is the history of these buildings connected with the present landscape of Pune, he says that Pune has as many unseen forces as there are visible manifestations. “A caste system transforming into a class system, a political system that is highly dynamic, economics and technology with its management — all these histories are now being rewritten and expressed by the media in films, advertisements, dress patterns, food habits and obviously architecture,” exclaims Kalamdani who strongly believes that architecture influences the culture of a city/place. 

He expresses that Pune has transitioned from the wada to the chawl to the apartment, the bungalow, row house and the gated community. “The way living spaces and communities organise themselves in space has a direct influence on thinking, dress, food, education and mass behaviour. While these influences architecture, the architecture itself influences them. It’s a dynamic give and take,” he urges. 

Over the past 28 years, Kalamdani’s work has spanned over 120 conservation projects including Shaniwarwada, Vishrambaugwada and New Annexe to the Council Hall in Pune and also intangible experiences like the lighting design for CST, Mumbai, highlighting its interesting architectural elements. Discussing his conservational efforts over the decades, he says that it began between mid and late ’80s. “Faceless production of buildings, complete absence of the word ‘conservation’ in any of the development plans of the period, dying crafts and the progressive creation of meaningless space in cities — all this was a matter of grave concern. The rise of several NGOs to supplement, support, object, assess and challenge the way our government works, presented an opportunity to engage actively in conservation. Inventory of the objects, practices, tools, material and technologies available, followed by a result-oriented approach to capacity building, projects and programmes has marked our conservation efforts,” he adds. 

CONNECTING PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
Talking about City in Transit, Mahajan says that BORI and TIFA Working Studios would like sensitive human beings to be part of the event. The presentation is focussed on the transitions in Pune, discussing the past heritage, moving into our contemporary futures. “Prakalp Pune is a pursuit to activate the city and provoke citywide cultural and creative discourse. The idea behind collaborating with local creatives is to concretise Pune as a truly unique cultural scene and putting it back at the forefront of international and national consciousness as a unique creative destination. The project is a re-imagining of the various cultural aspects of the city by creating, showcasing and archiving work about the locale. To educate, energise and involve the community, we aim to not only be inclusive but also participatory — intervening in public space, reclaiming and creating ownership of the city,” he adds. 

These activities lead to the raising of civic and social awareness and a sense of belonging that builds a strong cultural identity, he says. 

Discussing his conservation efforts with regards to BORI, he says that BORI was founded on July 6, 1917 to honour the life and work of Dr Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar, long regarded as the founder of Indology (Orientalism) in India. The institute complex comprises the main block (Khetsi Khiasi manuscripts hall and Sir Rattan Tata training hall) and two secondary blocks. “This is an outstanding building simply because the original colonial structure has superimposed upon it the ‘oriental’ or Indian architectural elements (more like bold statements of pride). BORI is a Heritage Grade I structure. Adaptable reuse was proposed to the existing Press building (Year 1933) into a heritage auditorium with all state of the art facilities,” he added. 

Mahajan asserts that the ancient Pune and the new Pune are connected through architecture and buildings. He feels that through wada, and Peshwa style architecture, we all should try to understand the meaning of the past, present and the future. “We have to study the past, remain in the present and after studying the past, we have to create the future,” he added. 

For the last five decades, Mahajan has seen growth on all sides of the core city. “Development plan of the city, rules and regulations change the city skyline as well as the structures,” he informs.

When asked which buildings and monuments in the city he thinks need urgent attention and what importance do they hold for our future and coming generations, Mahajan says, “Whenever we think of city of Pune, we show the images of Parvati and Shaniwarwada to all. What do you think? Are they preserved properly? The heritage structures show their existence for the last 250 to 300 years, but can we show proudly the development and the legacy to the citizens of Pune? We see the unwillingness to think and work from the authorities and persons in general. The Institute of Indian Interior Designers, Pune regional chapter, along with SDS Architecture, is jointly working on the development of the Parvati Temple Complex, a historic city landmark. This will focus on documentation of the old architectural style, based on measured drawing of the temples which were built in 1749, and will bring out historical, architectural and construction aspects of the temples. It is a long-term project and commitment to it will restore pride of our city. Institute of Indian Interior Designers (IIID) PRC, has taken this project as a social responsibility and commitment,” he informs.

ST READER SERVICE
City in Transit: Presentation and Talk will be held today (Jan 25) at Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Law College Road, 6-8 pm. Entry is free and open to all

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