Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Panjim and the New Jerusalem: The New Pitched Roofs of Panjim and Urban Design

By the Rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down,
Yea. Yea we wept,
When we remembered Zion.

Growing up in Panjim, at the foot of Altinho in the 1980’s, Panjim was my Zion, Altinho, my Temple Mount. Ever so often a bunch of us kids would climb up to this spot on the hill and gaze down onto Panjim, catch a view of the river and Betim on the other bank. The scape is one that will remain forever in my minds eye. It was a pretty sight, of tiled roofs, a few apartment buildings going down to the river. In which my childish imagination, I would see dhows sail in up the river, from across the Arabian sea. There was a lyrical element to it all.

Fast forward to 2000, I climbed back to this spot from my childhood and gazed out again over Panjim. This time round, I sat down, and wept, as I remembered Zion. The city of my childhood and imagination had disappeared almost completely. There were now many more apartment blocks than I remembered from the 80’s. Irregular and flat roofed, with strange boxes sticking out of them, they marred the sky line of the city, ruined the view of the river. I would have to rely on my imagination hence forth to recreate the Zion of my childhood.

While I dare not return to that spot again, for fear of my fragile heart, as I ride and walk through Panjim, I notice signs of change. Over the past few years, the older of the flat-roofed apartment buildings in Panjim (and in other parts of the state as well I imagine) have begun erected pitched roofs over their flat concrete roofs. I would imagine that this latest development would change the skyline of Panjim a great deal; would prove to be an improvement, taking us back to an era when the skyline of Panjim was dominated by pitched (and tiled) roofs. Viewed from the ground, these new roofs soften the heaviness and harshness of the concrete apartment block. The building doesn’t seem weighed down anymore by the weight of a thick concrete slab, but wears its crown as it were, lightly.

These roofs present underline a significant home-truth; the architectural model represented by the old Goan homes, and public buildings, is relevant even today, for reason of working within the environmental matrix of the local area. The upper-storey of these buildings are clearly going to be much cooler through the summer and the building less prone to water-seepage, as the rain slides off the roof, not collecting on the ‘terraces’ of these buildings. Aesthetically too, they manage to hide the irregularities of the design of these buidings. For example, the water-tanks that pop up on the roofs of these buildings, the box on the roof that shelters the entrance to the terrace. One primary reason the contemporary building does not appear as pleasing to the eye as the older Goan buildings, is that these newer buildings have too many design elements sticking out all over them, and secondly they are composed of too many broken lines. The pitched roof over the apartment building manages to tie together some of these incomplete lines, and integrate them altogether through the meeting of various lines at the top of the roof.

Having after many decades ‘completed’ the buildings, these pitched roofs also suggest to us a new agenda for urban dressing – in crude terms for the builder’s lobby, urban redevelopment. Having resolved the issue of the roof, the façades of these buildings can now be altered; to first integrate all those broken lines that mark the apartment block. For example, the balconies that stick out of the façade, and seem to hang in mid-air, without presenting any vertical line that links all of them together, from bottom to top. Secondly, get rid of those excessive elements that clutter the building façade. Example, the concrete chujjas over windows. Finally, it could also present us an opportunity to once more have a street face that is composed of harmonious elements. Buildings which retain their unique personality but through the common elements of the pitched roof, and harmonized façades are in conversation with each other, rather than pursing a radically independent direction.

Ofcourse none of this is going to emerge from merely erecting a pitched roof over the contemporary apartment block. A good number of these pitched roofs still need to have regard to the manner in which they also contribute to the façade of the building. A good number of these roofs do not merely rise from the edge of the terrace, they provide a roof to the terrace, thus requiring us to have regard to the integration of the roof with the façade as well.

For those who can see, there is clearly a good amount of money to be made for pushing for an urban renewal policy that seeks to re-develop existing buildings and harmonise them with an earlier building aesthetic; an aesthetic that in fact draws tourists to Panjim. In such a policy, perhaps we also need to contemplate the wisdom of the current setbacks, that disrupt the street façade, do not contribute to pedestrian comforts since the reason for the setback is largely to accommodate street widening for automobiles. But this is another matter. Development in Goa today is by and large a bad word, primarily because it is absolutely unimaginative and quite frankly ugly. How do we generate profits while also contributing to the larger benefit of society, while not necessarily being philanthropic? One way I would argue, would be a rethinking of urban design in the manner only vaguely suggested here.

Subsequent to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the dispersion of the Jewish peoples all across the globe, there arose among them (and their other brethren in faith) the belief in the re-establishment of Jerusalem through the hands of the Messiah. The New Testaments ends with the Revelations and the vision of the coming of the New Jerusalem, shining brilliantly like a diamond. While I continue to mourn the destruction of my own Zion, perhaps the new pitched roofs of Panjim give reason to await the second coming of the city?

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 21 Jan 2009)


Kenelm Santana Lopes said...

Not sure how I got to your blog, but your comparisons of Panjim to Jerusalem and the whole idea of us Goans being seen against the story of Jews is quite wonderful. I see the same pain in many a Goan heart at their disappearing identity and their migrating families. My compliments!

Anonymous said...

Dear Jasonbab,
The whole idea of seeing Goans against the backdrop of the Jewish diaspora, their temple destruction, the Inquisition and the recent German Holocaust, all took me back to the 16th Century when Afonso Albuquerque first entered Goa, and SFX called for an Inquisition and Luis Camoes and Garcia de Orta both admired the beauty of our Goan girls.
Following the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, I wonder how many Jews fled to Goa while at the same time Hindus were fleeing Goa? Jasonbab you have struck a deep chord in that Goan heart who finds himself today confronted with Hindu zealots and fanatics and perhaps now find themselves in a similar position like the real biblical Jews?
Kind regards.
Rodolfo de Sousa.