Saving Varanasi’s Heritage

I have written about the old buildings of Kasi that are being yielded to the process of change. The process will go on. I can’t stand against it in any way. A single human being is puny and pathetically powerless against time and change: a single human being.

I have a raw kind of a blue print for saving the heritage buildings of Kasi. One of those buildings was destroyed just a couple of days ago. All that remains of it are two images and my fragmented blog post about it. I wish, for that’s the thing powerless people do, that Kasi does not lose all its characteristic architecture with the passage of time. Venice, Rome, London, Beijing, talk about any city with its history alive and preserved everywhere, and its architecture will always find a prominent portion of the talk. Kasi also has plenty to show in the department of architecture. Of course, it’s not an Old Delhi, so history can’t be seen scattered by the sides of the streets. Yet, there are many buildings of age two centuries and above (constructed some time in the 1800’s). How can I say so?

The paternal house of mine, they used to tell me in 1980’s, was over hundred years old back then. There are many houses in the nearby galis that are older than my house. The house in which my great-grandmother used to live around 1920 is still there, and inhabited too. It is at least 100 years old then, maybe more. The houses in the gallery above are very old too. They are important landmarks of their times. The modern landmarks may not include them, but those passing by do look back in admiration at these houses.

The old buildings in Kasi that I am worried about are: temples, temple compounds, private ownership houses and trusteeship houses. These buildings again fall in two broad categories: they are either used or not used by human beings at present, e.g. a temple may or may not have worshippers throughout the year or on any special day; a house may be abandoned or uninhabited for decades and so on. This last case is the easiest to handle I think, because no one other than the lawful owner has to be taken into confidence to do something constructive about the house.

I browsed through the pages google had to offer on “restoring old buildings in beijing”, “restoring old buildings in london/venice” etc. I saw that in these old cities too, there are forces of corruption and preservation trying to erase or preserve their history through their actions related to the buildings of the city. The most active and enlightened group for saving the cultural milieu of their city functions in Venice, out of the three cities I searched information on. There are some links with some information that’s relevant for my city. I’ll post the information and the links below. The information provided below may show direction to a concerted conservation and restoration efforts in Kasi.



Note: It’s very important to inform the readers and the posts from which the content that follows has been taken, that I am 100% against any for of plagiarism and am declaring beforehand that everything (content and images) below has been copied from other sources and pasted here. I have taken full care to provide the links to the originals to whom I’m indebted.

Link 1:

Cultural Exchange: Restoration is taking a hold in China

Crumbling buildings, instead of being torn down and rebuilt, are being revitalized into galleries, studios or boutiques. Beijing Design Week advances the effort.

October 20, 2012|By Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore

BEIJING — Behind a scrappy red door in an old Beijing hutong, or alleyway, stands a derelict late-Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) courtyard house. The expansive space, with open ceilings that give it the feeling of an abandoned abbey, has had myriad incarnations. Believed to have started as the luxurious living area of Manchu nobility, it was turned into a school, then a plastic factory, then a hostel. Now sunlight pours through broken windows onto edgy artworks temporarily there for a design festival.

It’s just one place, though, in a bigger plan for reinvention of Dashilar, a historical dilapidated neighborhood in the heart of this city. Tales of demolition and rebuilding of vast swathes of the old city, with locals forced to relocate to make way for malls and high-rises, are common, but here an urban development experiment is aiming to revitalize old buildings for more innovative uses.

Authorities have teamed with Beijing-based Approach Architecture Studio to breathe new life into alleyways largely considered slums, where residents cram into divided courtyard spaces without plumbing. Buildings in Dashilar, rather than being knocked down, are starting to be turned into galleries, studios or boutique shops.

“It’s hard for [the government] to imagine there is another way for them to develop old Beijing aside from destroy and rebuild,” says Liang Jingyu, principle architect for Approach Architecture Studio. “We want to give them the confidence to use the space in a creative way. And this will encourage the locals to follow or copy. Polish the old part and you see real beauty there.”

A critical part of the plan is Beijing Design Week, a fair of pop-up shops, cafes, design studios and galleries that took place this month. Forty participants (about half Chinese) from more than a dozen countries installed more than 100 exhibitions in four locations across the capital.

Link 2:

Stratford’s Street Improvements

Posted on August 2, 2011

One brilliant aspect of the Olympics is the ‘High Street 2012′ idea of improving the stretch of road from Aldgate to Stratford. This scheme is designed to remove the clutter littering the road, the street furniture that is intrusive and obstructing, which is ugly and mis-matched along the road. As well as that there is a process of cleaning and restoring buildings historic buildings along the route. See below for a before and after of some completed work in Aldgate –

Link 3:

Beijing Nanluoguxiang will restore old buildings:Former Residence of Qi Baishi Will open

By on 十二月 6th, 2011

Protect the historic look of the old Hutong, Dongcheng District, will gradually improve the neighborhood construction of related facilities, through the “micro-cycle” that property replacement, etc., to make part of the house, the courtyard as a place of business, the formation of favorable investment environment for development.

In addition, Nanluoguxiang South Side, next year is also expected to build an underground car park, convenient for visitors to stop people and vehicles while reducing the inconvenience of mixing lines. qian yuanen will build a temple there are 100 parking spaces.

Link 4:

Richard Hoggart Building Restoration Project

The iconic Richard Hoggart Building on Lewisham Way is our main building and is the first port of call for visitors, staff and students.

uilt more than 160 years ago, it still remains at the heart of the College‘s activities and has become something of a landmark for those stuck in traffic on the A2!

We are about to embark on a re-design aimed at embracing the architectural history of the building, enhancing period features of the façade whilst making better use of its space. The building forecourt will be landscaped into a green social area with outdoor seating and vastly improved pedestrian and disabled access. We hope to use this area for outdoor arts and events, to which you will be very welcome.

The entrance lobby and reception of Richard Hoggart will be widened and a larger, more inviting reception area will enhance our welcome.

Link 5:

Dashilar Hutong: Tripping through Time
    2013-01-28 14:55:17      Web Editor: Duan

Hitting the Hutongs Part 2: Dashilar Hutong: Tripping through Time

By William Wang

Just off of the tourist fair at Qianmen Street is the somewhat smaller scale destination of Dashilar Hutong. Just south of Tiananmen Square, this is the capital’s one hutong (traditional Beijing alley) that seduces pedestrians with its dramatic progression into the past.

Centuries’ worth of architecture can still is found, though none of it is glorified as it is on the Qianmen side. No, this side of Dashilar is charming for its lack of pomp.


Link 6:

designboom brings the venice architecture biennale to beijing

for this occasion, together with governmental developers, designboom has restored an old building in (dashila or) dashilar,
in one of the strikingly vivid roads – yangmeizhu – and has converted it into a pop-up-gallery space.

under the direction of BJDW creative director aric chen and as part of the efforts of dashila(b), a platform for an open approach to
redevelopment, a brimming schedule of workshops, forums, exhibitions and site-specific installations were woven into the rich urban fabric,
creating a truly festival atmosphere.

under the direction of BJDW creative director aric chen and as part of the efforts of dashila(b), a platform for an open approach to
redevelopment, a brimming schedule of workshops, forums, exhibitions and site-specific installations were woven into the rich urban fabric,
creating a truly festival atmosphere.

 Link 7:

Namrata Acharya  |  Kolkata  March 29, 2013 Last Updated at 20:47 IST

Glory dreams of Kolkata’s rajbaris

A slow and costly effort is on to restore these heritage buildings

These decaying Kolkata edifices could regain their glory with a rebirth as commercial spaces, but old tenancy, litigations, family dispute, lack of clear laws and administrative issues are hampering efforts. Take the 180-year-old Silver Mint House in Posta Bazar. Designed as a replica of the Temple of Minerva in Athens, it was expected to be restored as a tourist destination, with a convention centre, archival services, open air theatre, food court and a heritage hotel. But a dispute between the Security Printing and Minting Corporation of India Limited, the Central body which owns the mint, and the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority over a flyover encroaching on the property has stalled the restoration.


Octogenarian Alok Krishna Deb sits in a small room in one of the houses of Sovabazar and sifts through a set of finely preserved, but brittle sheets of paper. One such paper is an invitation card to a ‘nautch’, or a dance, as the British called it. Deb remembers the days when the courtyard of the Sovabazar rajbari was frequented by governor generals and viceroys of British India for cultural programmes. In a well-maintained house, where Durga Puja sees the reunion of more than 200 family members, looking glasses of the 19th century and chandeliers of the 18th century are still in good shape. Deb is sternly against the conversion of the rajbari into a hotel, and family members prefer to pitch in to ensure proper maintenance. “Our small contributions are enough to continue our tradition,’ says a nostalgic Deb. Possibly, it is because of people like Deb, the rajbaris of Kolkata will continue to exist amidst newer glass and cement concrete structures.

Link 8:

Kolkata heritage buildings losing out to indiscriminate renovation

First Published: Fri, Aug 24 2007.

The Mackinnon Mackenzie building will join some of Kolkata’s finest old buildings that will be lost to history forever amid irreversible structural changes and indiscriminate renovation. A Rs100 crore makeover will transform the Mackinnon Mackenzie building into a mall, preserving only its stone facade.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Havelis of Shekhawati, Rajasthan.

A handful of these havelis are being restored and given a new lease of life by private organizations, historians & architects. Some of them have been converted into heritage hotels.

Nadine Le Prince is a french artist whose love for Indian cultural heritage has inspired her to restore a haveli built in 1802 by a rich tradesman of the silk road.

Ramgarh Fresco, a restored haveli, earlier known as the Khemka Haveli is 100-years old and has been renovated by the Khandelwal family who wanted to showcase the beauty of the frescos and the architecture to the visitors.

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