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How to conserve India’s heritage structures: A new manual offers some help

"This manual allows any architect, engineer, conservation professional, or even a non-conservation professional to understand the nitty gritty of conservation,” says Ratish Nanda, CEO, Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

delhi heritageThe manual details every inch of space one imagines would require a conservation intervention. (Photo: Aga Khan Trust for Culture)

A collaboration between Tata Trusts and Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has resulted in a manual, “Specifications for Built Heritage Conservation”, to help professionals, government agencies and lay people in preserving heritage structures. In 100-odd pages, it lays out details for every aspect of conserving structures, from walls and ceiling to tiles and roofing systems.

It elaborates dos and don’ts while working with materials such as stone, brick, timber and mud, how to be mindful in setting up scaffolding, applying lime plaster, and fixing minor cracks. AKTC draws from its own experiences, be it from their work at the Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi or their on-going work at the Qutub Shahi Tombs, in Hyderabad. The Tata Trusts too, brings in their decades of expertise in preserving monuments across India.

In the foreword, Ratan N Tata, Chairman, Tata Trusts, writes: “While the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) publishes a specifications manual, with regular updates, related to modern construction works, the field of built heritage conservation does not have any benchmarked specifications or rates to serve as a guide for undertaking projects… We hope that this document will support future conservation projects and enable decision makers – officials, donors, corporates, contractors, younger conservation architects, and government agencies – and serve as the starting point for establishing standards in built-heritage conservation.”

From how bricks should be stacked and handled and maps that tell us about the types of soil and rocks, to illustrations on how to repair cracks, the manual details every inch of space one imagines would require a conservation intervention.

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“At Tata Trusts, we often get proposals from architects or institutions. And we have found that every time we looked at the budget for the same procedures, there was a huge variance in what was being charged. The rates would sometimes be twice or thrice higher, and we had no document or manual for reference. We had to get experts on board to get this going. This is not a definitive document, there will be additions going forward, but it’s a promising start,” says Deepika Sorabjee, Head, Art and Culture, Tata Trusts.

“The manual enables a standardisation of not only construction techniques, but also of rates across India. Often, donors or even government bureaucrats hesitate to commission or fund conservation for this very reason. For homeowners, too, they will realise it is not as expensive as they think it would be. A lot of heritage, that’s in private hands, gets neglected because the homeowners have this misconception that it’s very expensive, or impossible to do. However, with this, they can get a good idea, a semi-accurate figure of what it would cost, and they can spread out the work over a period of time in a way that’s affordable. This manual allows any architect, engineer, conservation professional, or even a non-conservation professional to understand the nitty gritty of conservation,” says Ratish Nanda, CEO, AKTC.

With a fleet of experts from across the country, including inputs and consultant reviews from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), CPWD, engineers, landscape architects, and archaeologists, this manual has a baseline created for every material and work. And where rates were ambivalent, AKTC did demos with their own craftspeople to arrive at a standard.

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“We are planning to take this document to architecture schools and convince them to introduce modules on heritage conservation. We’re hoping that by having such conversations, that we can affect the community of architects themselves. As Ratish said, you don’t have to be a conservation architect to use it. We want to bring that awareness to people, that here’s a reference manual that you can use, and, and it’s accessible,” says Sorabjee.

First published on: 09-12-2022 at 14:51 IST
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  • Aga Khan Trust for Culture Delhi Heritage Tata Trust
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