Transforming Cities through Heritage Preservation and Places for People: Ajit Koujalgi
Duration: 01:34:45; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 186.082; Saturation: 0.091; Lightness: 0.258; Volume: 0.214; Cuts per Minute: 0.644; Words per Minute: 143.871
Summary: Ajit Koujalgi, a practicing architect in Pondicherry, graduated from the prestigious School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. His work encompasses revitalization of Pondicherry’s streetscapes, and a restructuring of the city fabric to stitch together the disparities between the French and Tamil parts; and yet preserve their traditional characteristics.
The lecture weaves a tale of yesteryear Pondicherry that was once a French colony, and which has thereby come to define the architectural styles and the character of the city, with its unique cultural history. He also discusses the reasons behind its declining heritage and loss of integrity, which is slowly depriving its people of what can truly only be termed ‘the spirit’ of the place- with its bustling activity, vibrancy and street life that existed especially in heart of the old city. In an attempt to safeguard its interests, Ajit Koujalgi runs the Pondicherry chapter for INTACH, which allows him to be directly involved in the heritage preservation and improvement of the urban environment of Pondicherry.
Aiming at making ‘a city for the people’, Architect Ajit Koujalgi discusses how, in his everyday practice he strives to do just that through the different restoration projects he is actively involved in.
Lecture Series...I'm not going to enumerate the six lectures before, but I want to mention that this is the second lecture that we are doing in the field of architecture, because it's actually 'Arts and Architecture', and for Arts it's actually Suman, who is the responsible partner and she is unfortunately not here this evening and excuses herself. And for architecture it is our own Edgar D'mello who is responsible for bringing us all these wonderful architects and also the speaker this evening Mr.Ajit, from Pondicherry, Auroville. Edgar is going to introduce him better because he knows him much better than I do, and yeah, I heard we have a lot of architecture talks, competition this evening so I am even more happy that you have landed up here. Thanks a lot and I wish you a nice evening.
Yeah, that's true because there seem to be four events today. Very very unusual for Bangalore. Gautam Bhatia's exhibition, I think was, at 5.30 today, or started at 5.30. Then there's something else- stone arts, Jaisim being felicitated, and another conservationist, can you imagine, I mean two of them speaking on one day. Aman Nath is speaking at the Indian Institute of Interior Designers, so I am glad that we have a reasonably peopled hall today. Yeah, when CoLab and Goethe Institute got together to find the nature of these lectures, there was a subtext to it and I'll read "This series will focus on practitioners who look at both the reconstruction and the historical turn from the perspective of contemporary architecture and artistic practice.
The revisions and the re-readings that take place when images, works and events from the past circulate in a changing set of circumstances.
But at a very literal level, I think that there are very few architects that can stake a claim to doing just that. One of them is Ajit Koujalgi who lives in Auroville and runs a studio practice, architectural practice out of Pondicherry. I've known Ajit since, I think we were both teenagers. Went to school together, SPA in New Delhi and already in the later years of the school he was, sort of gravitating towards...leaning towards the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.
And also to their concepts and values of the 'universal man'. When we finished, we both went together, and I think it was my first and his second, if I remember right, trip to Auroville, that was really very very heady days. It was the pioneering spirit, very small community of an international and an Indian community that were staking a claim really, and were undertaking an enormous task, to set up the groundwork for a new community. When...well, I came back and headed for Europe, and Ajit remained and he became an Aurovillean, but somehow, after about seven or eight years, by the time I had already come back, he set out on a new journey of self-discovery and I think nine years in Europe, European cities...German and other European cities where I think the seeds of the conservationist in him were sown.
But we've been lucky that he has come back and returned to sow them here. Many of Ajit's works have received National and International acclaim, one of them the UNESCO prize. But I think importantly, he works quietly, on what he calls creating 'places for people', in Pondicherry and outside. His work is to do with revitalization of the streetscape of Pondicherry's...of Pondicherry and sort of restructuring almost the whole...well, parts of the city fabric, institutions, guesthouses, shops, cafes, both as large and small gestures that make a differeence to the quality of our urban experience.
Inspite of INTACH being in its twenty-fifth year, I think conservation architecture has really not been an attractive sort of choice for young architects. I guess because they are infatuated with this whole stardom....the star architecture sort of thing that....and the sort of, quite often banal sort of offerings that they offer. Architectural preservation requires a different sort of commitment and I'm glad that our second lecture is to deal with that. It requires a commitment and a responsibility actually, to the cities that we live in. And I think Ajit came to realize something very simple, and that is that 'old buildings need to be preserved'. Simple, I mean it's...because you know the whole speculative nature of commerce has destroyed many of our cities. I think old buildings are worth keeping, because like old literature and old paintings, they help give us a new sort of framework, you know by which we can set our lives, and help us see the present, as part of a continuum of human activity.
On a visit to Pondicherry, just last month, I had precisely this sort of feeling, this sort of experience, of old buildings being given a new lease of life through careful restoration and adaptive reuse and of an ongoing process of urban repair, a word that....a phrase that he used yesterday...that showed a sensitive attitude to the material fabric of the city. And a few of these projects that I encountered were the work of Ajit and his team in Pondicherry. I now invite him to give the seventh CoLab-Goethe Institute Lecture - Ajit Koujalgi.
So, first of all, I think Edgar has told most about me. Perhaps I would have sent the slides in, he would have given a presentation also.
First of all, let me thank you all, that you are here on a Friday evening. I'm sure that you had better things to do but you still chose to come here. It's really an honor. And thank you to Goethe Institute and CoLab for facilitating it. So what I am going to do today is that...I'm not really a good person to give a lecture but I want to share what we have done and I think it's a visual journey, because lot of talk is not really in place where architecture and things that you experientally see, visually and materially. So I will run through my slide program and just tell you something and then, what would be interesting is to have some questions from you and then...so that I can respond and then just tell you how I see things and how we can do something wherever we are.
So INTACH is...INTACH stands for Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage and it's an all India organization which was started in 1984, to take care of, let's say urban or rural heritage which is not really looked after by any other agency in India. While the Archaeological Survey of India is looking after monuments like the Taj Mahal and Agra fort and many other grand edifices, but there's nobody who was interested or whose responsibility it was to preserve everyday architecture so INTACH was started and INTACH has more than a hundred chapters all over the country and we are running this Pondicherry chapter since its inception in Delhi. But myself, personally, I have been...nearly fifteen or sixteen years...got started helping INTACH and then...but since last ten or twelve years it has become my main occupation.
local architectural heritage
So what we do is that...you know, we act as an interface...we are like...we are the lobby for preserving architectural heritage in Pondicherry because there is something very unique and unless somebody is there all the time...you see, it cannot be something you do part-time. This is what we realized. That unless you are there full-time for it, and then always lobbying, fighting or raising issues, something like this easily gets forgotten. So we started this INTACH with the idea of not...though we started with documentation and making a list of all the buildings, for us it was always important...what happens with our efforts on the ground. Because just to create documents and preserve them, which is not bad....I mean it's good to have it...but it's not really the thing.
Baghdad Building Clinic
So we...I had read about something called 'Building Clinic' in Baghdad many many years ago. And this was in the time of Saddam Hussein, when he had just sort of started. There were a group of young architects who were in the middle of Baghdad and they had called ...a place called 'Building Clinic, Baghdad' where, you know...the Old Baghdad, I don't know how much of it is remaining now, but it was all fabulous mud architecture and these young architects, they thought that they should have an office in the middle of the town where anybody can come for help and assistance to preserve the building. So this was somehow in my mind and then over the years somehow we did manage to get an initial ground from the government to start a place where it becomes a point of reference. So INTACH Heritage Center is like the Building Clinic in Baghdad and we act as an interface between the government and public through State Heritage Committee.
Actually the State Heritage Committee is there only since two-three years...that also came about after much pushing and shoving and efforts from our side and also the...some people in the government who are aware of the importance of heritage. And INTACH has MoUs with different departments of the government because something like this, you cannot do in isolation. You have to have the government on board because if...you know, it is something to do with the town and it's not like your private practice where you do what your client wants, but you have to create a client in the form of the interest in the government. And we hold seminars, exhibitions and educate public and work on renovation and restoration of public buildings and also private buildings and we also act like an architechtural consultancy to even owners and other architects because you know...there are so many people involved in making changes in the city, that you have to deal with them all and though we do our own projects...you see in Pondicherry, we still do not have a heritage regulation that prevents old buildings being destroyed but for some strange providence or luck or whatever, since more than ten-twelve years we had prepared a list of buildings and this is with the planning authorities in Pondicherry...and they refer all the building files to us for INTACH's opinion and then our first priority is to preserve a building but if we cannot preserve a building, we try to give an elevation or a facade control depending on whether it's in the French part or the Tamil part, which you will be seeing soon and this becomes part of the building permission.
And this is quite a unique situation in India because there is no other INTACH chapter anywhere, which has this kind of a informal but an official line of communication with the government to preserve buildings. Not that it becomes easy, but nevertheless, something is always better than nothing. And we have prepared also architectural guidelines and then heritage regulations and we are constantly lobbying for these things to happen and also our modus operandi is that we don't wait for somebody to come and tell us what to do, but then we create projects and then...we're like salesmen...we have lots of projects which we do on our own bat and then we take it to the government, and then if it doesn't get accepted today, we again try another day...you know, when there are more favorable circumstances. So we are ...we try to be as much, let's say, result-oriented and then pro-active as is possible.
Now let me just give you a brief journey into Pondicherry. You know, Pondicherry, as most of you know, and probably many of you have already been there, is a former French territory, but its history began already in 1618 with Dutch coming, then the Danes, then the first French settlement, then the Dutch rule from 1693-1700 and that's when the Dutch made a masterplan for the development of Pondicherry. Earlier it was like an irregular shaped fishing village, but then the Dutch made a plan which we see today..these grid iron streets and ...but then when the French came back in 1700, they picked up this plan and implemented that. And that's the Pondicherry that we see today. Then after that, till 1815, the territory was changing hands between the British and the French and then the French ended up till 1954.
So this is how Pondicherry looked when the Dutch came (slide)
Then this is sometime in 1700. (slide) You already see that a part of this grid iron master plan is getting implemented.
And then this is in its 1748, (slide) when Pondicherry was really, let's say, in its heyday. Just before it got destroyed again in 1761 by the British. And you see these ramparts all around. There was really a very sort of elaborate fortification and there was a fort in the middle. And all this grid-iron pattern of streets that you see, even today, those are these streets.
And today (slide) of course, the ramparts are gone like in many other historic cities, it is replaced by a boulevard all around. This is how it is today. And the structure of the old town is that we have a French quarter and a Tamil quarter and earlier these were known as the White town and the Black town and the French part is along the sea coast. And there was a canal - a storm water canal - which divided the French and the Tamil quarters. And on the Tamil side we had, again, within that grid-iron pattern, we had a Hindu, Christian and Muslim area which are, even today...it's not so strict probably now, but then the names of the streets, the churches and the temples and the mosques...these are all, let's say they tell the story that this is how it was divided.
So now let's look at the architectural quality. See, one of the things that is very unique in Pondicherry is that, you know, the British also were here longer and then they had larger territory in...under their wings, so to say. But their architecture is so much different, you know they built mostly cantonments which were spread out, like a Broadacre city, or everybody had large plots with bungalows inside, including Lutyen's Delhi. And it's only the Dutch in Fort Cochin and the French in Pondicherry, and of course, Goa also has a similar pattern where you have, really wall-to-wall structures and streets which have very tangible, perceptible spatial feeling.
So Pondicherry is in that way quite unique and we have the French and the Tamil parts which have very different architecture but still they have influenced one another and they're complementary. So if you see the French streets,you know these are all large...they are not very large mansions. Pondicherry has a very, sort of a human scale, you know. Mostly the old buildings are ground or one, and sometimes a small pandal on the terrace. But they have a certain...their morphology, or the nature of these buildings is that, you know they are a bit cut off from day to day life on the street. Mostly you enter through a gate in the facade or in the compound. And then when you go inside, you come into a completely unexpected, surprisingly different spaces which are..which is quite in contrast with..you know this is the kind of streetscape that we have in the French part and now we go to the Tamil part.
The Tamil part has the architecture of Tamil Nadu, the vernacular architecture, which you know by travelling...must have seen in Tamil Nadu cities, but it is these ..the verandahs or 'thalvaram', what we call, they line the streets. And, you know, if you just want to compare the French and the Tamil achitecture, the main difference is, you know, I would say that the French were more introvert. In the sense that, you know you had to go through a gate and then you come in. Also it's the people who have come from outside and they have built it to suit their needs. They were sort of, probably, quite understandably suspicious of the natives. And the canal was separating them from the rest of the town, so were also their buildings reflecting how they're related to their surroundings. And the Tamil architecture is again, very interesting, in the sense that, you know you have these thalvaram or verandahs...in fact these verandahs were lining all the streets of Pondicherry. Probably Edgar also remembers from 70s, it was much more. And today, we have lost most of it except one or two small stretches and this was just the diametrically opposite...that means there was so much street life...you know these verandahs served as a wonderful filter between the outside and the inside.
As you know that, most of the Indian families, live in houses where you can't just walk in but at the same time the verandahs were the filter space where anybody could come and interact with you. And either you have invited them one step inside the house or you dealt with him very, in a civilized manner and he went on his own way. Even people like the postman, milkman or whatever, when they come, it's not that they are standing outside the gate. In a French house either you are in or out; here you are in-between. So I still find that this is one of the most wonderful architectural inventions that these verandahs.
And this is (slide) a Tamil part but in the Muslim area where you see that the Muslims also had basically the same architectural language as the rest of the Tamil town but they then brought in more colors and carvings and you know, more exuberant decorations. And here we have the two contrasting streetscapes (slide) - Tamil street and French street. You see, when you preserve, or want to preserve a town like Pondicherry which is really very small and we don't have grand buildings like Vidhana Soudha or whatever it is...what we have is hundreds of small little houses. And this is what is very difficult to make the government to understand. That it's important to protect all these buildings. Because it's not...the beauty of Pondicherry does not lie in a few buildings, but in all of them. You know, so what is important is the streetscape. Every house, because it is similar but not the same, adds to this quality and this is in fact true for any heritage town anywhere in the world. If you go and see all houses are similar, but never two houses are same, whether you are in Germany or France or Spain or wherever. Or in India. In any this thing, these are the basic characteristics of a heritage town. So this is the contrasting style that you see in these two pictures.
And this is a typical Tamil house (slide). What we have, like...you know, also in other places in India, the native and the European architecture always had something to exchange, and then they became, let's say a 'Hybrid Architecture' .
In Pondicherry, we have something called the Franco-Tamil architecture and this is one of the small examples of that. This is today our office in Pondicherry. So on the ground floor you have a very typical Tamil architecture with verandahs and then the thinnai and then vestibule...you come into a pillared courtyard and then behind you have a kitchen courtyard. But then upstairs, if you see, it has a higher ceiling, and then the first floor is built with borrowed European elements which fit in very nicely. So these houses were built by merchants or people who were a little higher up in the social scale, where they could invite their French or European counterparts for an evening drink, you know, whereas the traditional family could function quite independently on the ground floor.
And this is another typical French villa (slide) which has..they always have mostly also a street facade, and then you come through the gate and then you enter through a verandah or a portico and then all the rooms are behind there. But talking of preserving the heritage, like I told you, all buildings are important. We have ...we had started with making a list of all these buildings and as you can see now, in the Tamil town we had.. to start with, we had nearly, totally ...more than 1500 buildings, in the Tamil town, in the 1995.
But then 2008, we had already come down to 888 and 2010, we have revised the list, we have added some more but...you know there was a very fast growth phase in Pondichery which was, let's say, 1990-2000, 2002-2003, where we nearly lost about 700 listed buildings in the Tamil town and in the French town we have more or less constant...we have lost a few buildings, but not as rapidly as in the Tamil town. So what is happening now is that you have a heritage building which is getting replaced by, you know modern constructions, which have no reference to the context. So our listing is...you know we have made lists for all these buildings as Grade I, Grade II A&B and Grade III.
And Grade I is national importance and Grade II A&B are local importance in the style, in the size and elaboration of the architectural features. And Grade III are more..let's say the buildings that add more to the townscape or the streetscape. So architectural heriatge is threatened and as you can see, lots of buildings are just going down as the developmental pressure, high land values, division of property among heirs, lack of maintenance, changing lifestyle and tastes, lack of heritage awareness. Not that there are no reasons...but there are reasons but if there was a will, one could have found of achieving preservation and development like it has happened in so many European countries but the situation in our country is quite different. And of course now, since recently, what's happening is, these are the types of buildings that are coming up (slide)...with aluminium facades, and mostly in the Tamil town because the Tamil town has become extremely commercial now. And the Boulevard town, which i showed you at the beginning had an optimum population of about 30,000-40,000 and today...there are more..nearly four to five times the people there. So you can imagine the type of ..the pressure that brings on preservation or anything else.
Hotel de l'Orient
Now I will run through some restoration projects we have done. And you know, Hotel de l'Orient is, for me, that's where I learnt preservation, by working with the Neemrana people and that's what...Edgar told that Aman Nath who is part of this...you know, they had done the Neemrana Fort Palace on their own and then they bought this building in Pondicherry and then I had the chance to work on it and we sort of...and it was in a way, landmark in the sense it was completed in 20...till then you know we could show the government and others how buildings are preserved in Europe and we could not show them anything here. You know, I mean they would have..they could easily brush it off saying that, you know they do it there but the situation is different. Here was a building that was under goverment use for the previous twenty years before this and all the government officials had seen it and it was in such a bad state that they moved out and that's when the owner decided to sell it. And I remember you know, when it rained, it used to rain inside the building three more days because it was the Madras terrace roof used to hold the water like a sponge and then it used to drip three more days after that. So they just moved out. And they said 'there's no use putting any more money in the maintenance and let's move out.'
So then, we changed it into something which was as authentic as possible using the similar materials and keeping the character of the building and then in 2000 it became a hotel and then we could really show how we could transform a building which is, let's say in the normal sort of process, is written off- that means no future. So today, it's become one of the, let's say pathbreaking projects because after this there have been a number of hotels which have come up because, you see it has been also a very long learning curve for us, because when I started in 1986-87, we and others in INTACH, we all thought that we must preserve all these buildings because they need to be preserved, they are beautiful.
We didn't need any other argument to preserve. But then we noticed that nobody was listening. Then slowly some people told me that you have to tell them that it will improve tourism. And in the beginning I said, 'Why? I dont care for tourism. I mean these buildings need to be preserved.' But then, you know, we became wiser. Then in the 1995-96, you know Pondicherry had before that lot of tax breaks and a lot of people were coming and there were business, also postbox businesses and then like clearing house for big companies, you know because there was no tax or rebates and this was taken away and then at that time we found the opportunity to tell them that 'Look, Pondicherry has an enormous tourist potential'. So we started learning and then we found to our surprise that this was a little more interesting for them than preserving buildings per se, because they were to be preserved. So since then the government is on-board. You know, as far as the government is concerned, successive governments have declared that Pondicherry's heritage must be preserved but as we know...and they have done quite a bit but then a lot more needs to be done, but for that the will and committment is lacking.
So I'm showing you some of these projects..I'll just run through it.
So this is another Tamil town, which we also restored (slide) into...you know this was the old registrar's office and luckily again it got bought by somebody who thought that he could preserve this. So we made a scheme to add a first floor and we kept the front part of the building and made a new extension at the back, and this is how it was, and that's how it changes and this is another little Tamil house which the same owner, got this on lease. And this is being changed also into a small little hotel and then we have this..this is..these are some of the recent projects..this was a house which was bought by two ladies from Delhi and then they have made it into a home-stay and a little boutique and a small apartment for themselves inside.
And this is our own office. We rented this five years ago and we raised some funds, because you know, what is happening is that when we talk about preservation in Pondicherry, most of the bureaucracy and the political leaders, they think that this is the French heritage. And infact they can be.. Indians can be extremely chauvinistic when it comes to I mean, Kannada or Tamil or whatever it is. But when it comes to architecture, they look to the Western influence...it looks like that. So we wanted to always...we were saying that Tamil architecture is equally beautiful and worthy of preservation, so we decided to move into a Tamil house though we had an office in the French part. So we looked and then we found this house and then we got some funds together from different well-wishers. And we restored this building, as our office. The idea was to show them..to show people that even Tamil houses like the Hotel de l'Orient can have a future. And this is...and then we have a small...you know, what we believe is in a large number of urban or heritage interventions. You know, because there is no law, you can't insist that the building is protected. But if the building has to go, then we have to do something about what comes in its place. Because I showed you the pictures of what kind of architecture normally comes in place of the old.
So this was another project (slide). This was an earlier office which got also changed by..you know it's quite surprising that...you know just with a little bit you can change this. I mean people may call it 'cosmetic', but you know in Pondicherry we have a very small area and probably purely architectural...let's say the modern architecture dogma does not sometimes permit this but then we thought that we don't care about all that. We'll do what is good for Pondicherry and let people think what they can and maybe we are doing something wrong but it's better to do something than, you know just take ...let's say shelter behind some sort of ..some principles. So this is a small intervention.
And this is another building that we just completed (slide), which was...well I mean it was in a fairly good shape but then we have just made some changes because you know one of the things is that ....you know these concrete projections, they were added..but you know, Pondicherry is on the coast. Concrete is really deadly, and these buildings which are surviving two-three hundred years, they have no corrosive material in them. It's wood, mud, bricks..you know, that's it. That's why they survive, whereas the concrete building, start suffering. So many of these concrete structures, where they are already sort of damaged and then the steel was rusting, so we just took it out and then put the traditional type of sunshades and what was...you know normally the preservation means undoing all the sins of the past, you know where people are just adding something, without really considering its architectural quality. Just take it out and then it's already there. So a little bit touch here and there.
This was another one where, a French consulate building (slide) where they had put again this concrete projection over the balcony which was badly rusting...it was right on the sea coast..so we took it out and then put a wooden balcony and then non-corrosive verandah. And it had lot of other problems of leaking roofs and all that, you know so we did the...or even again you know...these were concrete beams put in, in the 80's. And concrete next to the sea is really a problem, so we took it out and put wooden beams and that's it.
So i will tell you now about the Asia Urbs projects which we did between 2002-2004 . This was a very interesting project, as between...the Asia Urbs projects was an European initiative to bring in an Asian city with two partner cities from Europe to share urban practices. So in this case, in Pondicherry we had two city partners..Villeneuve-sur-Lot in France and Urbino in Italy, and the title of the project was 'Achieving Economic and Environmental Goals through Heritage Preservation Initiatives'. Actually this title says a lot about what was to be done. Because unless you have economic goals today, you will not succeed in anything. So we had to show that preserving heritage can have economic benefits and also provide jobs for dying crafts...because you know we have things like Madras terrace and these techniques which are being lost today...but we have still masons who can do it and we are using it quite extensively in many of our projects.
Asia Urbs Project
And to keep all these things, it is very important to have this heritage preservation work going, otherwise all these skills will be lost and surprisingly, over all these years that we have done so many buildings in Pondicherry or Tranquebar or elsewhere, we have never found it difficult to find workers who can do it. You know, it's really amazing. I mean the carpenters and the masons, they need guidance and in a short time they pick it up and then some of them turn out to be very good. So we keep these people in mind and then...in another project we say that we'll send somebody...he will teach your mason. It's all very very informal. We just phone our contractor and tell him that, 'Can you send that mason to this site, and you know just show them two-three days' and then they go and show and the others also pick up, you know. I mean it's really in their blood, you know we don't have these very elaborate trade schools and all in India, but then this informal thing has...is also seems to work. Most of the carpenters, even when we did the Orient, i was amazed how quickly they knew what to do, you know. I hear a lot that, 'How do you find workers?'. of course I am a little bit exaggerating but you know, it is probably difficult but it's not impossible. There are always enough of those.
So now this Asia Urbs project had a number of related programs within this to be able to bring out the heritage character in the town. Like we had a program for replacing the street sign boards, historic signage. You know we have this blue and white street signs which were disappearing...we thought we'll put them back and we thought that non-polluting traffic would be a good idea, in the old town. So we made a battery charging station where these 'bijlis' could recharge and then...what we had very interesting was...you know what happens is, that with great difficulty we can persuade the government sometimes to put some money in government buildings but private buildings, nobody cares and there is no financial assistance whatsoever, unlike in the West.
So we thought 'we are going to open a scheme where we said ten buildings in the town belonging to private people, not the government ones, will get a matching grant' and it was a very modest matching grant, you know it was like two and a half lakhs...the owner puts two and a half and we put in two and a half. So this was the ..let's say a very interesting project because in the beginning all the owners we contacted thought that we had some hidden agenda...and why should we be giving them money. So many were suspicious but then few people who knew us went on board and then at the end of the project we had phone-calls coming, 'Can we also join?' We said, 'Sorry, you know there were ten projects and then it's finished.' And then we introduced heritage walk to visitors and schools and also local people so that you take them around the town and point out a few things which you normally don't see, because you know...you just take it for granted.
solid waste management
And then we also introduced solid-waste management- collecting waste from house to house, separated, composting- and then another interesting project we did was...like I told you, you know, we lost so many buildings in the Tamil part that though there are still isolated buildings left of quality and value, but there is no continuity. So we found a small stretch of street about forty houses where most of the houses had still these ...what you call the 'thalavarams' and the traditional character and we could repair a few more to give them...give a feeling of what Tamil street is like, you know, atleast as a historical record. And then there is Grand Bazaar in the middle of the town where we did some small improvements like the toilets and then the paving and also little bit signage because this is like..this is a place where everybody likes to go...the locals go there because they get best prices, the visitors go because they really sort of..the colors, the exuberance of the market, it is quite attractive.
So this is a few glimpses of how we changed the buildings on this Vysial street, (slide) where we did this facade restoration project. This is how it was before and after. And this one became like this.
And this is...this project got a UNESCO heritage award in 2008...I mean it's not that it's very important that you have to get UNESCO awards but then you see, it's important for us, because this is how we can interest the government, that, 'Look, you have something which even the UNESCO recognizes.' I mean, for me it's not really important maybe, you know, but for the government, they sit up and think, 'Yes what these people are saying is not entirely wrong but maybe there is a value even if they don't see it immediately.
And this is how...this is a historic picture of the Vysial Street (slide) in 1910. And then this is how it is today.
And then this was taken just after completion before the rubble was cleared and now there are also trees have been planted in this...and this was one of the matching grant...this is a school. This is again a file photo from 1980-98 and then it became like this, with all asbestos projecting roof and then steel grill in the front. Then we worked with the school, to change it..to put back some ...to introduce some improvements, not just from outside but also inside. Because inside it had a semi-finished courtyard, with an asbestos roof. And we brought in this traditional roof...you'll see it again ...this is how it was from the top and then it was changed. And it improved the light, ventilation and everything else.
Rue Calve Subraya Chetty
This is another building belonging to the government, right on the beach. This was a port building, and this was an old jetty and everybody who came to Pondicherry, even in the French times, they got cleared through this little office but over the years this little building got totally transformed into something like this, you know with all additions and invisible. But the core of the building was still there so..and it was running like a coffee house. So we just proposed a scheme...like this scheme also ...we had made like say, digital simulations and all that. And we had to try it with different governments and suddenly there was one secretary, he said, 'Let's do it'. And then we did it and then added a structure on the top to make it better to work as a cafe. Because you know, the buildings have to have a new life, otherwise it has no meaning. They're not just museum pieces. But buildings have to be lived in. So if this improves the functioning of the cafe, why not? So this is ...this is how it was (slide). I mean you don't even know what was inside. I mean we knew it, because we had seen it being changed to this (slide). And you strip away the external accrition and then you have that inside.
And then the other thing I told you, that if we cannot preserve a building, atleast we try to work with the people to see that, somehow, what comes in is in harmony with the precinct. So this was a building where we saw...that one day we noticed that these first courses of bricks being laid....so we contacted the owner and we told him. And this is ...inside it's a traditional building. It has gone through these transformations here in the front, over the years, you know. Somebody has just added a chhaja and then put these windows etc. But inside it has those...all the traditional features which are still intact. So we went and talked to him and said, 'Can we work with you, since you are building?' and he said, 'Yes'. I mean it was free service...I mean free design so he said 'ok, let me see what you have'. Then we managed to sort of, take his requirements into account, and then we changed this building to this.
And this was another one (slide) which we could not save. But then, what comes in, is a bit more in character with the French part. We called these 'damage control exercises'. These are not really..This is not the most ideal situation. The ideal situation is when you really preserve the building and restore it, but then when you can't do that, then you have to be happy with what you get.
Or this one (slide). You know, I mean, we suddenly saw..this is one of the most beautiful churches in Pondicherry. This..I mean..you only see a bit of it and then this was coming up and then we said 'Look, why don't we do something?'. Actually it's not a very...it's not an example I'm proud of, but you know, like I said, it has its role in the overall thing.
And this was (slide) another...you see, when you don't have a law, it's very difficult to tell them that you cannot pull it down. So...this was changed to this. Two owners, infact and it was ...you know the two owners were ...we had to really sort of be in dialogue with both of them that they do something together. You know, that's why one has a balcony and one doesn't.
And this is another building (slide). Inside it is still old heritage structure, but outside changed during the eighties. And again by talking to the owner and persuading him, showing him other examples we were able to make the extension more heritage friendly. And I told you about this Asia-Urbs program. The Asia-Urbs program got selected to be showcased in the Urban Best Practices Area in the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. And our agenda was to show the Asia-Urbs program. Infact this Asia-Urbs program, the idea was that..it is..it doesn't exist anymore through the European commission. But the idea was that these are sustainable, but unfortunately in Pondicherry, we have been able to do some of it after the program, 2002-2004 but not enough.
But the...at the Shanghai Expo there was the ..an area preserved for fifty different cities from all over the world to show their Urban Best Practices, that they are implementing in their cities, in various levels. So Pondicherry's Asia-Urbs program was also shown ..again we made a ...we were given a space in a hall...it was for six months and we created a little bit touch of Pondicherry by bringing in...because for me, Pondicherry is this contrast between the Tamil and the French. So we had a French gate and a Tamil verandah as a welcoming inviting element for this project which was displayed inside these four walls. And we had the plan of Pondicherry on the floor and then some of these light boxes and then we talked about I mean... about history of Pondicherry, personalities of Pondicherry and architecture and Asia-Urbs preservation project.
And then like I said, we made a number of proposals which take their own time. But you know one of the ways of communicating with the government is a digital visualization which we use quite extensively, because just talking about or writing to them is less effective than actually showing them what it could become. Like a Maritime Museum inside...the lighthouse. Or..Like this is the police headquarters, right in the middle of the town and it used to be like this...you know all the windows and the verandahs have been closed and infact if you just take out the later additions, you have this thing hidden behind it...so, we have ..and you know, we have made this many years ago but we have still not succeeded in having it implemented, but however on a small...there's a small shed here next to it...we are restoring that now. So probably we'll come to it.
Or there was a post-office, in a..one of the large villas in Pondicherry. It had a gate like this...you know this is 1970s.
And later they built an addition in the front which...and then demolished this gate, which was one of the most beautiful gates in Pondicherry. I don't know why, but it was demolished. But everything else is still there behind. So we have made another, you know, the proposal. And we sort of try to see if one day we can sort of reverse this.
And what happened is that, there has been an interesting...you know though Asia-Urbs program, we could not really...all the elements were not carried out in Pondicherry but we got an opportunity to intervene in Tranquebar which is a Danish colony, 120km south of Pondicherry where after the tsunami, a Danish NGO came and they said, 'Look, we would like to restore some buildings here. Can we do it?' And we had already done another project for Neemrana in that same place. So we were quite delighted and today it is quite a unique thing where this Danish NGO, Bestseller Foundation, they have more or less adopted the place for heritage preservation, environment improvement, coastal plantation, educational projects and also we have been able to pull in the Tamil Nadu government also, because we had done quite a few projects with private parties and now we are also using some government funds to improve that place.
So this is a historic map (slide) and this is how the panorama..how it looks today. And this was the project that we had done earlier for the Neemrana. This was the Bungalow on the beach and ...yeah again, totally neglected and then the verandahs on the first floor are all taken down to sell the wood. So this was how it was transformed or this is how it was looking. And then...you know it's all picking up the story of the building from what is remaining and then changing it.
And this is another building in Tranquebar (slide). And when we do a restoration, obviously we have to add, we have to extend and we have to sort of bring in modern facilities and this is all possible without really compromising on the quality or the inherent strength or the architectural quality of that building. And these were the houses...just very very simple fishermen houses which were bought by this foundation...and we could just change them by just using the local language, the same materials, and today two of these are housing INTACH office and the other two are for crafts development.
And having done this...and we also introduced this solid-waste management and when the Government of India, Secretary of Tourism, we invited him to come and see and if they can add to it. And he was sort of...he just couldn't believe how clean the place was. You know, I had even forgotten to tell him that we had, since two years doing this solid waste management. And then he says you know...I was telling him about architecture and all and he was just not listening. Then I thought I don't have his attention. Then he says, 'Look, tell me, how come this place is so clean?' I said, 'Oh yes, I forgot to tell you', you know, and then I told him about it. He said, 'I go to so many of our places. I have to wade through garbage even to reach Taj Mahal. But here, what a place. I mean how come it's so clean?'
You know, so we had ...we could do all this because there was a corporate entity under the CSR program..they decided to support heritage protection. I mean we have probably even bigger companies here, but they also do social work....but there is nobody actually, who thinks that heritage also needs to be preserved. You know, that's why, we are not really getting enough funds or support for this work like you do for education or many other social activities. So this is the approach road (slide). Again this is still...you know we use this digital doctoring a lot, to communicate with people and the government and these are some of the projects. You know we have lot of historic records that are available on Tranquebar. So we can see how the town used to look...so, you know, we have made some of these proposals.
corporate social responsibility
And this is actually a governor's bungalow, which was, you know it's nearly three hundred years old...in a terrible state. And this is what we are now restoring with help from National Museum of Denmark and this whole landscaping around this parade ground, around the fort- this is being done with the Tamil Nadu Tourism and the Government of India, Ministry of Tourism. So these are all again simulations..the work is going on.
And you know, this fort which you see here, had actually a moat and bastions which have now disappeared, so we've decided to just use the footprint of this moat and the bastions as a landscape feature. So that people see..I mean there is no point in creating a moat and filling it with water today. But then atleast people can think and then if there is the right information there, they can relate to the changes that have taken place.
And this is the governors bungalow (slide) when we started , and we made several schemes what to do and then we discussed with the National Museum and then we decided that...this was a simulation and now the work is going on.
Here also again we are using the lime water, the Madras terrace and then the wood, and everything exactly like it used to be in the old building. And this was the solid-waste management project in Tranquebar that we have done. You know there is compost being created and then the paper and plastic gets sold and the compost is also sort of marketable.
Q & A
....Bathrooms, a good kitchen and you know air-conditioning...nobody is going to preserve the building. So we have to bring in these modern comforts and there is nothing wrong at all with that, but it depends with what kind of sensitivity you do it, how much you respect what is already there, or what could have been and you know. So that way, you have to sort of see building to building. But there is a basic difference between monumental preservation like a huge temple or a fort or whatever it is, which is an Archaeological Survey, let's say, preserved building for people to come and see. But then are other buildings which have to have a life going on, to different use, the houses become hotels or offices or still remain house, but with more modern comforts.
Q: The project after Neemrana, you had a first floor also built on that, so how do you structurally, you know, kind of support the first floor? Do you actually bring the building down and you rebuild it? Or how do u do that? And how do you, you know, change the concrete beams to the wooden beams. What is the process that you go through in this particular..?
A: First of all, in most of these buildings, adding a floor or two is not really a problem because they have the minimum foundation built at that time is normally enough. We do make a soil test, we do find out the spread of the footing and all that before we do it, but mostly it is possible to add another floor without any problem at all. Or even two floors. Then of course we have to make the walls a bit thinner, you know, to reduce the load. And the Madras Terrace had always the wooden beams which were as a repair, changed by concrete beams which rust very quickly. You know another problem is if you really have a very good quality concrete, it can last you longer but you know that in our system it is very shoddy work, and shoddy concrete is extremely dangerous in coastal climate.
Maybe they can get away with it in Bangalore longer than they can in Pondicherry. So we do use then, either old recycled timber or new timber, you know, to replace this. And that..the only problem is the termites. And wetness. So you have to make sure that your waterproofing is pakka and then you give it termite treatment and then you watch out for termites. But you know, these buildings have really survived two-three hundred years without...and some of them like the Orient was neglected for decades. They have taken all that abuse, and of course you have to put in a lot of effort to bring it back but now it's nearly ten-twelve years that it has been restored. Except routine maintenance, there is no really a major problem.
Q: Which wood do you use?
A: Well we use..we try to use old teak, or even kalemadu and illemadu or nowadays its becoming..but sometimes for structural members we do prefer using new wood...you know we use like, venguay, it's a very local wood also, which is..
But you know, wood is another whole big story that it has become very unfortunately unavailable because wood is the only, let's say, greener than green building product. And I think in the 80's the public works department said, 'We want to go green, we aren't going to use wood, so that the trees are not cut.' I mean, this was the logic and you know, in India, unfortunately, we could be the supplier of timber for the whole world but we don't even have enough for our own use. I mean certified timber i.e. safe, sustainable forest...nothing. But still we do find, sometimes we have to unfortunately use teak from Burma where forests are being cut, but then, you know, we are in a system where, we have to somehow, you know, do what is possible.
Q: So is this just for the listed buildings or for all the buildings? And for example does INTACH have to be involved in the architectural design, guidance for you know, the new work that comes along or can this be... how easy or difficult is it to have these guidelines as part of the regulations and for INTACH to play a more regulating/monitoring kind of role as opposed to...because possibly it doesn't have the manpower to be involved with each and every project.
A: Yeah, I mean, to give a short reply to the long question, you see the thing is that the guidelines have to be...you know what happens is that we do have guidelines but you know, these guidelines have to be also applied correctly. So like I told you, that our office has become like a clearing house and when we do make these...we get..yeah first of all, I think your first question was the different pressures on Tamil and French part.
I will tell you..you know, you saw the plan of Pondicherry. In that old, what we call a boulevard town, there are about 6500 properties, you know, that means the building parcels. Of which only ten percent are in the French precinct..650..of which we have listed 300. So you see, in the Tamil part there are smaller properties and more numerous than in the French part and also in the French part there are people who are more, let's say, enlightened or ready to preserve their buildings, than in the Tamil part. Like in the French part, of the 300 odd listed buildings, 25 percent belong to Sri Aurobindo Ashram which is fortunately kept most of the buildings like it was. If you walk the four streets around the main ashram building, you really have a journey into the past, like how it was. They had no preservation program or something, but just fortunately it has happened. And today they are really aware of it and then, you know, they are ready for it.
Whereas in the Tamil part, you have so many buildings and the most of the commercial area is in the Tamil part. And you know that everybody wants to be in the oldest part. And also the planning of Pondicherry hasn't helped, in the sense that they haven't opened up new areas of development outside this, in a city. So the Tamil part is under enormous pressure, because you know, people want to build shops and flats and you know, the land price is very very high and the properties get inherited by two-three brothers. And in India, it's not that, even if there are two inheritors, they don't say, 'I keep the ground and you keep the first'. But each one wants a piece of the land, because for Indians land is more important than the building. For the land they have more heart and attachment than the building. Building can go.
And I think this is a general observation and maybe I'm wrong, but Indians as a whole...we don't really care much for the built environment and also we care more for the intangible heritage like family relations, the religion, the marriages and all the rituals, rather than a house which has been in the family for 300 years and so many generations were born and grown up in that, but that destroying...I have never seen anybody shedding a tear for that. They say, 'No, we need it. We have to have the land. We have to do it.' And sometimes we said, 'Look, why don't '...if there were only two people I say, 'Why don't you buy it off?' No, but each one has to have that land there. This is ancestral property; ancestral land and we have to have that. It's really like that.
real estate development
So that gets magnified in the Tamil part because of smaller parcel, bigger pressure, commercial development whereas the...you know the time has..at one time we wanted to...I was really thinking that we should preserve everything but then we have almost come to terms saying that, 'Ok, if we can preserve most of French part, it's already something'. You know, so your standards and your expectations also come down because of the reality, the politics, the real estate development, all these forces that are working in this..you know.'
Q: I just wanted to ask you a question which is sort of related to an earlier question. What is the kind of, you know the guidelines that you have ...how do you make sure that there is diversity? Because what I'm seeing is that a lot of the preserved buildings are going to look similar. And how do you make sure that the buildings have a character which is different and yet it's the old character? Because everything is going to look the same after a while.
A: I would say that the beauty of the traditional architecture is that they all look same, but not exactly the same. You see this is what I try to tell you, in the beginning. You know what has happened in the modern architectural education is that we were never told to design in a context. You know, these are all stand-alone. And then the architectural education has become such that everybody has to leave his own impression, his own creation in life which is something extraordinary.
So I think..a lot of trainees come to our office to work with us and all that. But there are very few who are really aware of putting something new in an old context. So what we do is that..you know we have a book on the architecture of Pondicherry. But I tell everybody that the best book on architecture is Pondicherry of what is left..is the 3D book, 1:1 scale. So you just go and observe and then pick up lessons from it. And then you apply it. And I know there is big...it's quite controversial. You know, I mean I know about all the architectural debates and you know the approaches etc., where what is gone is gone and you are not supposed to really build something similar and all.
But I think...I mean this was a long debate for us also. You know, we have lost many opportunities of making the corner of Pondicherry a bit more simpler and easier on the eye and you know, look a bit more decent. Because we thought that we couldn't save this building, now let anything happen. But then, later, as we went along, we found that it is...there is no harm..
And you know, also there are many examples in the West where you have very ultra-modern...you know, you go to Amsterdam, you have fifty houses. You know, all similar and then you have a glass box. That is okay, but here you have fifty glass boxes and one this thing...you know, that is not really acceptable. Because in Europe there is completely a different level of architectural debate where this can be done, and here these are mostly builders and when I tell them, 'Look, we have to follow French style', they're more ready to accept than if I start debating about the quality of modern architecture that will fit there. You know it's really impossible. So it took us a long time to come to terms with this kind of an approach. Then we said, 'Okay, what is easy, you know you cannot debate.' You know a fellow comes, you know, 'Why should I do this, sir?'
'Because' I say, 'It's there already and your building there.'
Then he's ready to accept. But if I say that 'Yeah you can also do modern but then it has to be like that', then you are out of control. And I feel that this is a very small space where we can do that, but then, the government says 'Any new buildings, anywhere has to be French style.' That gives me the creeps. And I feel that...I find nothing wrong in following a similar architectural language and materials in a context and I think..I find it's quite legitimate and we've had some successes. But only through dialogue, each building by building and also it's very difficult to...you see in India you get a building permission for a certain plan and what you build is different. And we know this.
Anybody who comes to our office we tell them, 'You show me the plan you are going to build, because we are going to be after your skin'. The government may not come and control you, but we are there. So then, you know, we know actually what he wants to build. I mean they do reveal. We tell them it's like the doctors thing...you have to tell me the whole. All the symptoms, otherwise I can't help you. But then again, we have our own limitations like you said. We concentrate more on areas which are more important. Because we can't be controlling every building, because the government control is very very lax. But we can pull the government for a few buildings which are really important. Or there are also people now who are ready to do it because they see other buildings, and they think it's not too bad, you know.
Q: I'm sure you've been asked this question earlier, but one of the most seminal buildings of the modern movement, is actually in Pondicherry. I think 75 years old, built in concrete, built with asbestos louvers and it's one of the most wonderful examples of a building in context, built for climate, built with local materials, other materials that are local. My question is very simple- Is there a case..is there a project where one can actually look at atleast in the Tamil part, since there is a certain...I don't want to say romance, about the French part, to be able to infuse some sense of modernity within the language of the vernacular. I dont mean post-modern obviously. But is there a movement to be able to look at it, and then tell these builders like you said, 50 glass boxes in one. Is there a movement in Pondicherry to do that or is it just this repetition..which I don't know, maybe Nina meant that...that it will finally all look the same...may not be bad. But is there something that can change and say 'Hey, this was built in 2010' because Golconda is now 75 years old?
A: ok, now Golconda is on INTACH, heritageless as great to a building..you know, so it's not that...but you know, this is a very interesting question Edgar has raised. A lot of people have asked, 'Would you allow Golconda now?' I say 'No'.
I mean, it's not because I don't like that, because I have taken..I have been with Edgar way back to admire that building. It has to be seen to understand how beautiful that building is. But again, the thing is like I said, if you want to preserve a section of the town, you have to have a certain very simple, understandable guidelines. And I think there is enough area outside the old town where it can happen or in certain areas which have already lost the character anyway. But there is no program...maybe you'll come and make one building like that, you know, if somebody wants, why not.
Q: It shouldn't happen by default, it should happen by design. There should be a need to bring in a sense of modernity...I don't know how to describe it.
A:Yeah, I know what you mean. Like, you know, we have also..what has happened is also, you cannot save the old town, unless you have good plans for expansion of the whole city. You cannot do it in isolation and we have been working on that also for quite some time now and one of the proposals which is, let's say, more or less accepted but not fully enough to implement it, is to move all the government offices and the general hospital from the French precincts to outside. And we were wondering where to do it. But about two years ago it suddenly flashed on us, that there is a big industrial complex just outside Pondicherry- that is the Swadeshi mills, where we have 25,000 sq.m. of space, where you know, we could move all these offices and in that we have in fact, tried to...I mean only in block form now, but where modern architecture can come side by side with this restored mill buildings, for example.
You know it's not that I'm totally against that idea but the area that we are preserving is so small and it's, let's say a modern architecture introduction is fraught with lot of misunderstanding or non-understanding or whatever it is. So we are sort of trying to keep the rules very simple and very elementary rules. We have to do this here. And I think it is yielding some results. Probably what we are doing is not really right, but this is the best, with the most sincere effort that we think should be done now. And only future can tell you know, whether our actions were really appropriate or not. And probably I won't be around when the final balance is drawn. Doesn't bother me.
Q: Let me ask a question that is in a way an extension of Edgar's question. You ask people to name worthwhile urban environments and probably 8 out of ten or 9 out of ten times, they will name traditional cities. They very rarely name a modern city. So perhaps one part of heritage studies is conservation but perhaps there is another more reflective part which is looking at this and trying to extract, say principles of city-making, which could be applied to the contemporary. So i was wondering whether you've had a chance to reflect or work on that aspect of it?
A: Lots. You know, I think this is a very interesting question because, you know also people ask me, what is the relevance of all this that you are doing, you know, what does it help, besides preserving these buildings? And what I say is that, 'Somehow, I have like a cut-off point in my reckoning' i.e. the world before the Second World War and the world after the Second World War. I'm now talking only about the volume of construction that was there before the second world war and the volume that has been added after the second world war, or in the last 50-60 years. It's like..it's probably mind-blowing. If somebody would sit and say we had so many cubic meters of built space before the war and it's probably ten times what it was and also the number of architecture schools, the number of planning professionals, the number of...the whole debate and questioning, the aim to make cities better and coping with the urban mobility and traffic, and the whole works is gigantic.
But if you really see, we have...if you want to check, what has it brought in terms of urban quality or urban wholeness. See, most of the things that have been built after the war, you have outstanding modern pieces of architecture. You know it's not true that i don't like good modern architecture. I very much like it. But the failure of the modern architecture is that they're all more stand-alones. And not..each building doesn't add to a whole and this is the main difference between the traditional and the modern. That means the traditional cities, they were built by master-craftsmen, they had a shared language which was inherited through tradition and they built it and nobody even knows who built which one, you know. There are no names left.
But today we are so obsessed, not just in architecture, but in every field that we want...we value very much the star quality. The architect has to be very famous, the artist has to be famous, the singer or the movie star...they have to be all extraordinary, otherwise we just don't pay attention to it. So what you said is that, it is very much missing in our architectural understanding, education and practice of culling out what is good in the traditional cities and trying to apply it, in our daily practice and making cities better. You know like, you take, I mean I can't help but give European examples, but you know the automobile was really a death knell of most of the inner cities..but then they woke up to that and they have been able to control the ingress of motorized traffic in many of the cities, made them pedestrian and controlled the cars, and these towns which were rather seen as irrelevant at one time, because they said, 'Look, the cars are there. This kind of mobility is going to be there. So these cities are dated. They have no future.'
But then they proved that you can preserve atleast certain areas of these towns and make it again pedestrian scale. So you see, if we can understand from the traditional town in the modern context, I would say that it is creating an architecture where there is...every building adds to the whole, rather than each building standing by itself. That means when you build...because every city grows; it's an accrition..it keeps growing. And if you can choose the right patterns. You know you have traditional pattern, from a smallest village to towns like Paris or Berlin which are really like quite large cities, in terms of sheer number of people living in a certain given area. So if these cities can function even again today, after urban repair, what I'm saying is that it's also possible to build. Like that by taking into account certain architectural guidelines, or scale and making people more the center of cities rather than vehicles. Like it is happening, like the car taxes keep coming down and then the roads are widened just to accommodate cars and people have no place to go.
And if you want I can just show you the...I dont know if it's too late.
I think... this is about some public spaces in Pondicherry. And this gives an overview..this is the beachfront, and this the le cafe which you saw..and we have this beach promenade and there is an open space in front of the Gandhi statue, which is let's say the center of Pondicherry. There was statue of Dupleix in the place which has been moved, and Gandhi is there. And this was the park, which maybe Edgar also remembers, and you see, during the Asia-Urbs project, besides doing those projects, we also studied certain public spaces...how to change them, how to make them more for pedestrians, bring in a bit more calming effect on the town and these projects are now being implemented.
So for..we did make a study about beach promenade. What people value is that the space in front of the Gandhi thiril, the natural landscape, cleanliness, landmark, the park nearby and monuments and relaxing space. And this is the Google image of Pondicherry (slide). And we thought that these red dots are the pedestrian area which we wanted to introduce and here at the end of the beach we wanted to provide parking and also have a connectivity with the park. This was the park, which was...has a monument and was like a ..you know, vehicles going through -like a roundabout. So we decided to fence this park and make it all pedestrian and then link it to the beach promenade through this Gandhi thiril.
Though we have not been able to successfully persuade people to do the commercial areas as pedestrian. But we thought, it's important to have even cultural or entertainment or recreation spaces also for pedestrians. So this whole stretch of beach has been designated as 'pedestrian zone' in the evenings for quite sometime now. So this was the park, where we made a fence around it, so that vehicles do not go in, and then repaved the tar roads with granite paving and this has now been successfully converted to a pedestrian area. And now we wanted to have this pedestrian linkage going through the Gandhi thiril -'thiril' means plaza in Tamil - and across on the beach.
And we also had an old pier...I think you remember when I showed you the pictures of that little porthouse, there was also a pier which got destroyed in a cyclone in the 1950s. And we thought we could also recreate that.
This was the old pier (slide), so that to rebuild that pier, was just for people to take a walk and experience the sea a bit more close. Now I come to the first of these projects...was the Bharathi park. This used to be the parade ground earlier. And it was turned into a park in the 40's and then it became like a roundabout around these paved tar road, these pathways. And then it became like a roundabout.
So this is how it was. I think Edgar remembers this, from those times. And then we just made it pedestrian and then it was really a very very tricky situation. Till the very...till the opening day, especially the PWD people who were in charge of looking after this work, they would just drive in with their jeeps.
I thought, 'This is a hopeless case. It will never happen.' But on the opening day we said, 'Today we can't allow any vehicles' and they said, 'Ok, today we will not allow'. Because we had all along wanted to make it pedestrian but they were saying 'Can the cars go?' If we had said no, they would bring all kinds of arguments and kill it in the beginning. We said, 'Yeah but the cars can drive on this.' And infact one of the..the Chief Minister at that time, got the work stopped and said, 'Can lorries go?'. I said 'Yes, lorries can also go.' He got a 20 ton, big vehicle loaded with stone, because they were dumping rocks on the sea. He said, 'Go there and check'.
So they drove on a part of it and drove up and down and then they said, 'Yes, it's okay'. Then they said, 'Alright.' So then on the opening day, there was such magic. You know, that people really couldn't believe that there are no cars and they can just mill around and just enjoy themselves. And from that day even if the gates are open, nobody is driving. Touchwood. I mean, it's now five years and nobody drives in. So you see, if..once they see the advantage of not having cars, then there's no stopping.
So this is our next phase..this is at Gandhi thiril, what I am calling. So this is like a parking place, or you know, events take place with coming up and down ...built and destroyed. So then, we have now implementing this, like an urban plaza with some nice trees and also we have a Dilli Haat type of stalls which will be used in rotation. Because this is a very public space, where all kinds of crafts bazaar and they were all happening in temporary structures, so we are trying to make that into a more defined and controllable...and this is actually now under construction..I mean it is..you know, this is going to change the way people experience. You can walk along the beach, and then you can come onto this public area and then it's connected to the park.
So these are some of the things which is...and also you know, there were schemes to do similar things but using all kinds of you know, so-called heritage tiles..all kinds of colors and all that. So then, we had to...actually this was quite a controversial project and we had to actually make different alternatives and show that it's better to use natural material, which lasts better and doesn't change color and it's more sober and more simpler. It fits in the heritage style. So you know, we have been able to, sort of, slowly, win the government decision makers to something which fits the old-town. So this is how it looks and this is how it was proposed as a digital thing (slide). But we wanted to pave it all in one level. But then, PWD put their foot down and said that 'No, no, no, vehicle thing-there has to be a separation.' So it's going to be concrete and then this is the granite paving which we have introduced and then tried some trees. It's a very very harsh climate for trees along the beach..because we have lost the beach.. you know there was a 100m beach and now the water really literally hits the wall. And any tree there is.. has to be...only the coconut tree which can grow.
So this is how it is (slide)..this is the beach promenade, this is that cafe and this park is on the other side. This is Gandhi thiril and these are the stalls which will be, hopefully like the Dilli Haat where people from all over India and around Pondicherry can come and sell their wares by turns.
So this whole area, we are trying to sort of redesign as, let's say, as entertainment and culture space for Pondicherry. We have a band stand here which we would like to revive. This is the plaza. And then there is another government building here which we want to turn into food court, auditorium and art gallery. And this is the crafts bazaar. And the old lighthouse which i told you, a Maritime museum with a cafe and gallery and then an urban plaza and a seawalk.
So this is another scene of that Gandhi thiril (slide) which would be made into the crafts bazaar on one side and this is the old jetty, and we thought we can have a new pier with some sails, but we don't know if this is going to happen. So we have a little bit of modernity, Edgar. Just a small touch. And we also hope that we can restore all these public buildings, which are along the beach. And also providing parking is equally important. We thought at the ends of the beach promenade we can have parking for the buses and cars. And this is the Nehru street (slide) which is a main shopping area. We have made some proposal to take the cars off that road. But now I think there is a chance that we're going to try, on a trial basis, without actually doing any physical changes, but just to stop the traffic on certain days and see how people and the shopkeepers take it. That's it.
It shows the amount of commitment. I think, more important, the resilience to be able to battle government agencies and all other agencies that are involved..to be able to do as much as he has done. Sad commentary actually, on the architects in Bangalore. I'm also an architect. I've done actually much in the sphere of restoration. You have seen the character of Bangalore is very different from Pondicherry. But not much has really been done to look at how heritage preservation could really become an important aspect of the city.
We've seen very many importance just go to seed, and some of them that are actually scheduled to do so. And for instance, one small building that all of us have gone to, which is the 'Doers Bar'-small building that represents something very beautiful in the language of cantonment, colonial, has shuttered down three or four months ago. There was an interesting exhibition that was shown recently of some 15-20 photographs. So another thing is that it's a very welcome change to experience...one can keep an image of a city alive. One's all the time exposed to works of architects that actually become heroic in some form. Things that transcend..not transcend, sorry, that don't account.
Ajit, it was a very nice evening and thank you all for coming. Especially as I said in the beginning, when there were so many other places to go to.