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  • Writer's pictureMultilogue Collective

Modern Heritage | Of Reminiscence and Renegades

Hall of Nations

In the wake of popular patriotic sentiments, indigenization of cultural expressions gained grounds shortly after addressing the enormous challenges of the partition of India. The first flush of freedom demanded attention to the man and his immediate surroundings, as housing clusters sprang up untiringly to meet the rising demands. Architectural immortality was not prioritized and importance to monumentality ceased.

Thus, in the coming decades, the need was felt to develop new symbols for a free India, which would live to serve as marks of growth and economic development of this country. The second generation of architects in the Post-Independent era tried to bridge the gap between modernism and indigenization through material sensibilities and sustainability.

Our collective coping with the aftermath of our independence had cast us at the threshold of the 21st century as a nation having an exasperating amount of population. The liberalization of economy, which at one end, had paved way for newer means to engage and cater to a billion citizens of India, has also given rise to a new set of conflicts on the limited amount of resources. The demand for rapid development has taken a toll upon the multi-faceted fabric of our cities and the recent demolition of Hall of Nations has ignited numerous of debates and speculation for an uncertain future of our modern heritage.

With each day passing, newer developments are claiming their stake on the limited pieces of land, many of which will eventually qualify to be bracketed as modern heritage with the course of time. Mandi House- the residence of the erstwhile King of Mandi was demolished to pave way for a modern Doordarshan Bhawan, which was later termed as a modern heritage. Evidently, the present perspective of modern heritage needs to address its inherent flaws that will continue to be a menace, lest we opt for more inclusive and far-sighed approach. Hence, we build our thesis through the following argument:

A city is made more civilized and livable through the inclusion of diverse ideas, functions, and events.

The city of Berlin presents the refurbishment of its modern identity with the inclusion of its Nazi-era industrial heritage. Warschauer Straße, a street named after Warsaw - the capital city of the once Nazi-occupied Poland, barely hints of its virulent past.

Our western counterparts present successful attempts to inculcate their past and present with the future. The city of Berlin presents the refurbishment of its modern identity with the inclusion of its Nazi-era industrial heritage. Warschauer Straße, a street named after Warsaw - the capital city of the once Nazi-occupied Poland, barely hints of its virulent past. The wide road, which forms a major mixed-use walk-able axis and connects the erstwhile East and West Berlin, proudly exhibits its heritage ensemble having made room for modern transit entails, and a vogue of youth culture. Warschauer Straße had its neighbourhood repurposed as the liveability requirements of Berlin changed. One could notice an open art gallery facilitating communal engagements at the remains of neighboring Berlin wall. Many of the industrial buildings had been adapted into youth hostels, convention centers and corporate offices, without undermining their heritage value or attempting to erase the inconvenient fragments of the past. This infusion of modern public exigencies with a pre-existing neighbourhood has been a successful attempt towards appendage of larger public sentiment to the modern heritage of Berlin; and thereby, stipulating a blatant contrast to the Indian state of affairs.

Warschauer Straße

Mandi House is a prominent cultural district in the Lutyen’s Delhi, and its built heritage is adorned with numerous buildings that are famously designed by regional modernists of India. At the juncture of the roundabout, a barely visible Doordarshan Bhawan stands, which was designed to institutionalize India’s national television in a building that would not only serve its utilitarian purpose but also put a post-independent symbolism amidst the colonial legacy of Edwin Lutyens; while Rabindra Bhawan that stands on the other side, was built to mark the centenary of one of the greatest cultural icons of India.

Copernicus Road, Mandi House

Both the heritage buildings have failed to incorporate democratized public realms around them, and hence, no public sentiments seem to attach with these iconic structures. An attempt to stand around Doordarshan Bhawan, and perchance draw a sketch of it can be met with rigorous administrative scrutiny. Rabindra Bhawan, despite its iconic cultural affiliations with Tagore and architectural excellence, is hidden from the public sight line; and unlike Lotus Temple, which happens to be another modern heritage, finds no place in the public thought. While none of these buildings face an imminent threat of demolition, they are not theoretically secured from a potential ill-fated future because of their non-permeable and exclusive nature.

Why do we consider built structure as modern heritage but leave behind the intangible contextuality; and in doing so, miss the opportunities to establish active public connections and eventual public sentiments with the heritage?
What is our perception of modern heritage and why is such fluctuation there to be found in its management?

The modern times demand our built environment to be more functional rather than symbolic, hence our modern heritage should not be judged at par with our ancient and medieval heritage. They should be accommodating of the contemporary functions, and consequently, should not be hesitant of adapting to changing needs

60 Years to Heritage

Despite adequate representation of the architectural fraternity in the Heritage Conservation Committee, it fails to notify post-independence buildings in its ‘Heritage List’. As the modern paradigms focus more on the building’s functionality than grandiose, triviality continues to imperil buildings that don’t match up to the degree of the finesse of the popular colossal structures.

The absence of any amendment to Heritage Conservation Act of 1904 to include modern heritage,is a testament to the nonchalant attitude towards architecture, which in turn, portrays intellectual limitedness both on the part of common masses and the popular regime. At one instance, we undisputedly opt for an absolute demolition where possibilities for co-existence could have been sought, while in another scenario, we are so rigid of our legacy that we don’t allow a bye-stander to establish any connections with the modern built legacy.

The people’s perception of heritage needs to be broadened to accommodate these new edifices, as heritage cannot be enumerated by the number of years that a structure has been standing for; rather, it is a bond to cherish between the structure and the people. Invoking public sentiments to these structures by opening possibilities to accommodate new functions could play a pivotal role in building new bridges between the masses and their modern heritage.

Co-existence of different layers of heritage

The current paradigms of globalization demand the built fabric of a nation to serve as its image to the world. Unfortunately, the rush for flair and flamboyance is pushing the fate of our modern heritage structures to the fringe. If the current borrowed idea of ‘world class’ and ‘state of the art’ development prevails, to which our modern heritage structures fail to adapt, it will not be long before we wash away an entire layer of built tapestry that represents the architectural vocabulary of modern India.

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