The majority of India’s architectural heritage and sites are unprotected. They constitute a unique civilization legacy, as valuable as the monuments legally protected by ASI/ SDA and other governmental and non-governmental agencies. This legacy is being steadily eroded as a result of insensitive modernization and urbanization, and the fact that it does not command the same respect as legally protected monuments. Many unprotected heritage sites are still in use,and the manner in which they continue to be kept in use represents the ‘living’ heritage of India.
This heritage is manifest in both tangible and intangible forms (Article 2.2), and in its diversity defines the composite culture of the country. Beyond its role as a historic document, this unprotected heritage embodies values of enduring relevance to contemporary Indian society, thusmaking it worthy of conservation.
This ‘living’ heritage is not legally protected. The buildings and sites, which constitute it, are subject to demolition or unsympathetic interventions. The knowledge of traditional building skills with which it is associated is also in danger of being lost in the absence of patronage and official recognition. Conserving the ‘living’ heritage, therefore, offers the potential to conserve both traditional buildings and traditional ways of building.
Conserving the unprotected architectural heritage and sites ensures the survival of the country’s sense of place and its very character in a globalising environment. It offers the opportunity not only to conserve the past, but also to define the future. It provides alternate avenues for employment and a parallel market for local building materials and technologies, which needs to be taken into account when resources for development are severely constrained.
This ‘living’ heritage also has symbiotic relationships with the natural environments within which it originally evolved. Understanding this interdependent ecological network and conserving it can make a significant contribution to improving the quality of the environment.
The objective of conservation is to maintain the significance of the architectural heritage or site. Significance is constituted in both the tangible and intangible forms. The process of Listing (Article 5) must determine the characteristics of significance and prioritise them.
The tangible heritage includes historic buildings of all periods, their setting in the historic precincts of cities and their relationship to the natural environment. It also includes culturally significant modern buildings and towns. The intangible heritage includes the extant culture of traditional building skills and knowledge, rites and rituals, social life and lifestyles of the inhabitants, which together with the tangible heritage constitutes the ‘living’ heritage. Both tangible and intangible heritage, and especially the link between them, should be conserved.
Conservation of architectural heritage and sites must retain meaning for the society in which it exists. This meaning may change over time, but taking it into consideration ensures that conservation will, at all times, have a contemporary logic underpinning its practice. This necessitates viewing conservation as a multi-disciplinary activity.
Where the evidence of the tangible or intangible architectural heritage exists in fragments, it is necessary to conserve it, even in part, as representative of a historic past. Such conservation must ideally be undertaken in-situ, but if this is not possible, then it should be relocated to a place where it would be safe for continued contemplation.
Conservation in India is heir not only to Western conservation theories and principles introduced through colonialism and, later, by the adoption of guidelines formulated by UNESCO, ICOMOS and international funding agencies, but also to pre-existing, indigenous knowledge systems and skills of building. These indigenous practices vary regionally and cannot be considered as a single system operating all over India. This necessitates viewing conservation practices as a multi-cultural activity.
While the Western ideology of conservation advocates minimal intervention, India’s indigenous traditions idealize the opposite. Western ideology underpins official and legal conservation practice in India and is appropriate for conserving protected monuments. However, conserving unprotected architectural heritage offers the opportunity to use indigenous practices. This does not imply a hierarchy of either practice or site, but provides a rationale for encouraging indigenous practices and thus keeping them alive. Before undertaking conservation, therefore, it is necessary to identify where one system should be applied and where the other. For this purpose, it is necessary at the outset to make a comprehensive inventory (see Article 5) of extant heritage, both tangible and intangible, and separate it into two categories:
- Buildings and sites protected by ASI, SDA and other government or non-government agencies. Only the official and legal instruments of conservation and internationally accepted principles should be adopted here; ii Other listed buildings and sites which, though not protected by ASI, SDA and other government or non-government agencies, possessing heritage value or significance equivalent to that of protected monuments. Here too, the official and legal instruments should be adopted for their conservation;
- The remaining listed buildings and sites both modern and historic, including those produced within the last hundred years. Here, the conservation strategy may adopt either the official and legal instruments of conservation or those rooted in indigenous building traditions. Hybrid strategies, inventively combining indigenous and official practices, can also be employed to conserve this heritage category. The decision to adopt indigenous practices should be based on the availability of skilled and knowledgeable raj mistris. In all cases a rationale for the decision taken to adopt one or another system of conservation must be recorded.
The overarching objective for undertaking conservation of unprotected architectural heritage and sites is to establish the efficacy of conservation as a development goal. What to conserve will, therefore, be determined by those strategies of conservation, which accommodate the imperatives of development and the welfare of the community while seeking economically to achieve maximum protection of the significant values of the architectural heritage and site.
The traditional knowledge systems and the cultural landscape in which it exists, particularly if these are ‘living’, should define the authenticity of the heritage value to be conserved. In the absence of such contexts, the official and legal guidelines, particularly as defined by the “Nara Document on Authenticity, 1994”, should determine the nature of the authenticity of the architectural heritage and site.
Traditional knowledge systems and cultural landscapes vary from one regional/cultural context to another or within the same region/culture. Thus, the values of ‘living’ architectural heritage can differ from one context to another, reflecting the cultural diversity of the country. In each case, however, conservation should faithfully reflect the significant values, which define the heritage.
Local master builders build, rebuild, restore, renew and make additions/alterations to historic buildings in response to contemporary exigencies or evolving local needs of the community; they must be encouraged to follow their traditions even when there is no available evidence in the form of documentation, oral histories or physical remains of previous structures. Appropriate craftspeople for undertaking such works should be identified as described in Article 5.1.4.
An exact replacement, restoration or rebuilding must be valued when it ensures continuity of traditional building practices.
Conjectural restoration or rebuilding must nevertheless respect the overall spatial and volumetric composition of historic settings. The parameters of the historical setting should be defined through comprehensive urban design studies. These parameters should also guide new urban development in the vicinity of heritage buildings and sites.
The ASI / SDA rule prohibiting development within a 100-metre radius of a protected building restricts the practice of restoration or rebuilding of sites, conjectural or otherwise, and thereby may result in harming the welfare of society. This rule should not be applied to conserve unprotected architectural heritages and sites.
The integrity of the heritage is to be defined and interpreted not only in terms of the physical fabric of the building, but also with respect to the collective knowledge systems and cultural landscape it represents. This knowledge system, where it exists, must mediate the process of conservation/ restoration/ rebuilding of the unprotected architectural heritage in order to reinforce an appreciation of the cultural landscape. This dynamic concept understands the integrity of the individual building as one which evolves in response to contemporary needs of local society.
The concept of an evolving integrity accepts the introduction of new architectonic elements, materials and technologies when local traditions are insufficient or unavailable. The introduction of new elements may reflect contemporary aesthetic ideals as modern additions to old buildings.
The patination of historic fabric due to age or natural decay should not compel the preservation of a ruin as it exists, frozen in time and space. In conformity with local aesthetic traditions, and for the well being of the heritage building or site, renewal, restoration, repair or rebuilding is acceptable. Patina may, where necessary, be considered as a sacrificial layer.
Rights of the indigenous community
Each community has its own distinctive culture constituted by its traditions, beliefs, rituals and practices - all intrinsic to defining the significance of the unprotected architectural heritage and site. The conservation strategy must respect the fact that local cultures are not static and, therefore, encourage active community involvement in the process of decision-making. This will ensure that the symbiotic relation between the indigenous community and its own heritage is strengthened through conservation.
Respect for the contributions of all periods
The contributions of earlier periods which produced the historic fabric and consequent interventions, including contemporary interventions, based on either traditional systems of building knowledge or modern practices, must be respected as constituting the integrity of the heritage sought to be conserved. The objective of conserving the unprotected architectural heritage and site is not so much to reveal the authentic quality of the past or preserve its original integrity, but rather to mediate its evolving cultural significance to achieve beneficial results.
The holistic coherence of the heritage in terms of its urban design, architectural composition and the meaning it holds for the local community should determine any intervention in the process of conservation.
Inseparable bond with setting>
An unprotected heritage building or site is inseparable from its physical and cultural context, and belongs to the local society as long as its members continue to value and nurture it. The conservation process must be sensitive to this relationship, and reinforce it.
If the unprotected heritage does not possess any bond with contemporary society, then its relevance for conservation may be questioned and modern re-development may be considered an option to meet the welfare needs of society. This decision must invariably be taken in consultation with INTACH’s Advisory Committees as described in Article 7.2.5.
Conservation may include additions and alterations of the physical fabric, in part or whole, in order to reinstate the meaning and coherence of the unprotected architectural heritage and site. In the first instance, however, conservation should attempt minimal intervention.
However, substantial additions and alterations may be acceptable provided the significance of the heritage is retained or enhanced.
Minimal loss of fabric
The nature and degree of intervention for repairing, restoring, rebuilding, reuse or introducing new use, should be determined on the basis of the intervention’s contribution to the continuity of cultural practices, including traditional building skills and knowledge, and the extent to which the changes envisaged meet the needs of the community.
The principle of reversibility of interventions needs not dictate conservation strategy. In order to use the unprotected heritage for the socio-economic regeneration of the local communities, the historic building and site can be suitably adapted and modified for an appropriate reuse. For this it is only essential that the process of intervention contributes to conserving the traditional context as far as possible in the modified form. This decision must invariably be taken in consultation with INTACH’s Advisory Committees as described in Article 7.2.5.
The legibility of any intervention must be viewed in its own context. If traditional craftspeople are employed then it must be accepted that their pride derives from the fact that the new work is in complete harmony with the old and is not distinguishable from it. Thus, historic ways of building must be valued more than the imperative to put a contemporary stamp on any intervention in a historic building.
Where modern material or technology is used, it could be used to replicate the old or be distinguished from it, depending on the artistic intent governing the strategy of conservation.
The concept of jeernodharanam, or regeneration of what decays, must guide the nature of conservation. This belief is fundamental to conserving traditional ways of building and maintaining the continuity of local knowledge systems.
If, however, local conditions are such that all strategies to conserve the unprotected architectural heritage and site are found to be inadequate, then the option of replacing it should be examined. This process is also rooted in tradition because it recognises ‘cyclical’ perceptions of time, whereby buildings live, die and are rebuilt. This option must be discussed, debated and decided in consultation with all concerned stakeholders, including INTACH’s Advisory Committee as described in Article 7.2.5.
Where the existence of a cultural resource is under severe threat by natural calamities or man-made hazards, the building may be dismantled and reassembled at another appropriate site after undertaking thorough documentation of its extant condition.
If a historic structure has outlived its significance and its meanings to local people are lost, it may be preserved as a ruin or, if circumstances do not permit that, left undisturbed to meet its natural end.
If removal in whole or part from the original site or context is the only means of ensuring the security and preservation of a building, then a comprehensive documentation of all valuable and significant components of the cultural resource must be undertaken before it is dismantled.
Relationship between the conservation architect and the community
In dealing with the conservation of unprotected architectural heritage and sites, it may become necessary to temper the role of the conservation architect as an expert professional by taking into account the desires and aspirations of the local community and the traditional practices of raj mistris. This does not assume, a priori, that the interests of conservation architects and those of the community and traditional master builders are incompatible, but rather that there must be room in the process of conservation for dialogue and negotiated decision making.
In order to achieve a more satisfying result for the community it may be necessary to override the professional imperative to adhere to the principles governing the conservation of legally protected monuments. This is acceptable when dealing with unprotected architectural heritage and sites provided, as stated in Article 2.7, that conservation strategies seek economically to achieve maximum protection of the significant values of the architectural heritage and site.