Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Heritage, Development and Business Sense: Awarding entrepreneurs in architectural heritage

A fortnight ago, contemplating the sad state of Mapusa town, this column suggested that Mapusa’s woes were, in addition to the apparent neglect of their duties by the town’s officials, also a result of a lack of entrepreneurial imagination. The suggestion was that if older buildings are being pulled down to erect the multistoried monstrosities that are entirely out of sync with the rest of the town, it is because the entrepreneurs in the town (and the State at large) are entirely lacking in imagination to see the possibilities present in the older styles of Goan architecture. This week, this column will try to buttress that earlier argument by presenting a couple of cases to the contrary, where ‘heritage’ has been produced to enhance business prospects.

The first case struck me a couple of years ago as I was crossing the footbridge over the Patto creek toward the Rua do Ourem. Somewhere toward the left of my field of vision I caught sight of this multistoried building that looked like it had been built in the mid-1900s. I was convinced though, that that building had not existed a couple of years ago. On closer inspection it turned out that I was right. The building, an extension to the Panjim Inn, on one of the edges of Fontainhas, was in fact a new construction. The façade of this building had been constructed to be in harmony with the general style of the buildings in Fontainhas. The building, which is a ground-plus-two structure, soars above the buildings around it, and yet for reasons of maintaining the line of the street façade, and articulating its height within the architectural idiom of the neighbourhood suggests to the viewer that it has always been there.

A similar experiment, with not as spectacular results has been tried by the hotel Salida del Sol in Panjim. The Salida del Sol occupies a building whose earlier façade had nothing to recommend it. It was in fact quite like the rest of the offensive post-80’s concrete structures that have come up in Panjim and other parts of the State. In the course of the conversion of the building to the Salida de Sol, a newer façade has been pasted onto the building; giving it something of a European, if also kitsch, feel. While the Salida attempt may not be entirely aesthetically pleasing, it seems to have definitely been an attempt in the right direction.

In earlier columns I have argued that the opposition to ‘development’ that one sees in Goa, is to a large extent based on aesthetic considerations. Address these aesthetic concerns and one would see a substantial reduction in opposition to ‘developmental’ projects in the State. Thus you could still have multistoried apartment blocks rising if they attempted to articulate themselves within the architectural forms of the State. It is not as if these architectural forms have not been explored. In the Patto development there are a number of buildings that try to elaborate this aesthetic. One would be the proposed building for the Central Library. The main roof of the building that alludes to the sloping roofs of the West Coast is a joy to behold. Similarly articulated is the building in Patto that hosts a branch of the State Bank. In Porvorim, on the road to Mapusa, is another building, hosting the offices of Delta Peninsula, which by playing with its façade has managed an interesting conversation with the larger body of Goan architecture. Similarly the South Goa district headquarters, that are still in construction, at the entrance to Margão town, promises to be an interesting addition to the body of contemporary architecture that manages a conversation with Goan building traditions.

Highlighting these constructions would beg the question of what exactly constitutes Goan architecture. This is no easy matter to get into, let alone discuss within the brief confines of a newspaper column. However by returning to the two examples that were cited earlier in this column we can make a brief start. This architecture is influenced to a large degree by European (more properly classical) traditions. (Upto this point the Salida experiment gets it right). However this European influence is not simply a cut-and-paste job. It meets existing west coast architectural traditions and is articulated within this idiom. Take for example the beautiful examples of modernist Art-deco architecture in Panjim that are articulated within the traditional format of the Goan architecture.

What is called for then, is a certain amount of creativity and sensitivity to the surrounding built-forms when building newer buildings. In the case of both the Panjim Inn extension and the Salida del Sol, it can be safely argued that heritage has augmented earnings rather than depleted possibilities. Rather than tear down the facades of earlier buildings, could it not be possible to maintain the street-side façade, and incorporate the shell of the older building into the new construction? This has been done with great success in other parts of the world.

How does one encourage the conservation of existing built forms while allowing for continued developmental work (that in any case seems unstoppable)? One way to do this would be to award those entrepreneurs, like the owners of Panjim Inn, who either put up new buildings that actively engage with Goa’s built heritage, or make additions to existing heritage structures while enhancing the value of the older structure. Could we, with heritage groups taking an active position, contemplate a biannual competition, with a substantial cash award to the architects and entrepreneurs who erect such buildings? A competition judged by critical design and architectural experts, with a substantial cash award would possibly be a useful strategy in the cause of heritage conservation in Goa. It would remind us that heritage is not static moment that prevents future development but a dynamic force in conversation with the past. It would encourage innovation, and by awarding such excellence, allow for such innovations to be replicated, and the design logic internalized by others. Such a competition and award would send a signal to such persons as the owners of the Panjm Inn, to the owners of the Salida del Sol, Delta Peninsula and others, that their efforts have been noticed and appreciated, and encourage others to follow.

(First published in the Gomantak Times, 21 July 2010)

1 comment:

Selma Carvalho said...

I couldn't agree with you more. If only the Town and Planning office would take this column as their manifesto for development, Goa could be transformed into a glorious archipelago of townships rather than an ugly scab of "Development". Unfortunately what used to be a rather nice building, the Fidalgo in the centre of Panjim, is now just that..another scab of so-called misguided modernity.