Celebrating Heritage Architecture

In a fast-paced city like Mumbai it is easy to feel lost and alone among the diversity of people and influx of modern trends. While many find traditions archaic and irrelevant, I feel that there are several benefits in exploring our heritage. Be it cultural, social, territorial, or even political – heritage allows us to understand our previous generations, and the history of where our roots lie. Heritage marks the milestones in our democracy and freedom, reminding us of the struggles and sacrifices that have been made to reach where we are today. Understanding this heritage helps us create and discover an individualistic personality.

We thrive in the midst of buildings and structures that date back decades, each with its own unique experience to share. As an architect, I find the exigency to create awareness towards the diversity and the value of these historical assets; and to protect them for future generations.

Our architecture has been influenced by several cultures over the decades, and there is a remarkable fusion of styles that is testament to history and evolving cultures. For instance the Hawa Mahal (Jaipur) built in 1799 is a blend of the Rajput and Mughal style of architecture. However, what leaves us spellbound is that the 15 meter tall structure stands tall till date without a foundation. Such is the heritage we need to marvel and preserve.

Hawa Mahal (Jaipur, India) | Photo Courtesy : Wikipedia

Conservation and restoration activities by organizations such as UNESCO, as well as peers from the industry, are beneficial attempts to aid the heritage structures longevity. It is key to understand the structural behavior to make correct decisions for repair and strengthening techniques.

In the early 2000’s I had the opportunity to restore and refurbish a 100 year old Iranian mosque situated within the heart of Mumbai. The mud used in the original structure was imported from Karbala, the holiest city for Shia Muslims after Mecca. The stones and ceramic tiles were also imported from Iran. Over the decades, the structure had developed a huge fissure that ran through the plot, resulting in cracked walls and steps. Even the drainage for the hauz (a pond meant for mandatory ablutions before going for prayers) was affected. Keeping to its origins, the materials for the restoration were also imported from Iran, including the onyx stone that clad the two feet thick walls of the mosque, and the ceramic tiles that clad the entrance and the four minarets. Renovating a historic monument, especially a place of worship, is a huge responsibility.

Shiraz Mosque (Mumbai, India) | Photo Courtesy : ARK Reza Kabul Architects

As individuals we need to understand the importance, and in our own small ways help and protect structures and public property. What we are creating today, shall be heritage for the future generations!