Heritage restoration needs holistic approach and proper planning

 In the last one decade,  awareness to restore old heritage structures has been gaining currency across India, thanks to the media and to the heritage lovers. Of late state governments are vying with each other to preserve the age old buildings that stand as vestiges of past area.  In this respect  west Bengal, Kerala, and Gujarat are in a fast mode. States like Tamil Nadu,  Karnataka  and other states have already started taking steps to save the slowly dying heritage buildings in their respective states. 

.Victoria hall, Chennai. wikiwand.com

Though it is a welcome move, special attention is to be paid to heritage structures, their conservation techniques, etc., without losing their old values and design. 

heritage restoration hehindu.com

Preservation of old building is not that easy and mere repair works here and there will not serve the purpose. To begin with recovery of such structure, though time-consuming, must be be done in a strict manner.  Encroachment/illegal occupation around ancient monuments and sites has been a major menace. 

A good heritage conservation strategy and planning includes  all aspects of a region's heritage - historical,  natural and cultural legacy and ethos.  Conservation methods include various phases:  holistic planning of  deteriorating structures, resourcing  matching construction materials, etc., consolidation, reproduction, reconstruction, preservation,  rehabilitation, and restoration.  Thorough understanding of  structures, their history, aesthetics,  construction materials used in he past, intricacies of design work done in them should be given primary attention.  

The solution is approaching experienced conservation experts to carry out the work. To cite an example though restoration was done on the RSRM Choultry, Chennai  (built in 1888) in 2020, the structure was not conserved in its entirety. The front part was restored, but the rest of the building was pulled down for no reason.  Yet another annoying fact is  the structure is now below the road.- impact of 2014 metro rail project. The very purpose of conservation is nor  served. The Engineers approached the building carelessly. In the future, such mistakes should not be repeated.  Yet another  hurdle for the restoration agencies  is cost of  conservation  of heritage structures that need special work, skill, etc. It may cost Rs. 9000/- plus per sq. foot.

That the  TN Govt.'s PWD has embarked on a grand project to  renovate 36 heritage structures at a cost of  Rs.100.13 crore across the State, including some in Pudukottai and Kanniyakumari is a good news. PWD already gained needed experience after the renovation of  248-year old Kalas Mahal of Chepauk palace, Chennai  that was severely damaged in a fire accident in 2012.  The proposal included  Registration building, George Town; Government Press, Mint and Clock Tower building, University of Madras in Chennai, including  some educational institutions, court houses. It also covers hitherto unheard of   Kuthiraivandi court or old labor court in Coimbatore.

Heritage restoration. thehindu.com

To take care of such old structures  the Building Centre and Conservation Division was formed in 2017 and as many as 25 engineers were trained in this sort of sort. The center is testing construction materials  sourced from specific locations  for their suitability and strength. The engineers are also keeping abreast of  latest techniques available in the area of conservation of heritage  sites.  The plan to set up heritage conservation committees at the district level is  a right approach and this will cover  many structures that remain unnoticed but the government should strictly follow the Tamil Nadu Heritage Commission Act as illegal occupation or trespassing of monuments is continuing unabated and it may be true  of old structures that are selected for conservation work.

As for heritage structures owned by private parties, many of them are disappearing as the owners are lured by real estate barons who are more interested in mark-ups than in their historical and cultural values. 

The PWD already began the conservation work in earnest in the recent past and the work would continue as funds were made available.  To resurrect the conservation of heritage structure in a poor state, a compressive and collaborative approach is a must coupled with the team's capability, technical knowledge and commitment to preserve the core of heritage values with original touch, besides such renovated structures can be put to  adaptive reuse for   contemporary purposes.  

Some restored structures should be open to public to appreciate their history, architecture and culture. A good example is the recently restored  Chepauk Palace of Chennai.