World Heritage Day with a ‘modern’ approach

INTACH sets up a month-long exhibition themed on “Modern Heritage” at national gallery of arts.

Written by Sumegha Gulati | New Delhi | Updated: April 15, 2014 2:17:55 am
The Asian Games Village, 1982, was designed by architect Raj Rewal, whose work is on display at the exhibition. (Archive) The Asian Games Village, 1982, was designed by architect Raj Rewal, whose work is on display at the exhibition. (Archive)

To mark the World Heritage Day on April 18, the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has set up a month-long exhibition themed on “Modern Heritage”.

The exhibition, set to begin on Tuesday at the National Gallery of Modern Art, will showcase the major works of architect Raj Rewal — Hall of Nations in Pragati Maidan and Parliament library.

Interestingly, some of these buildings might be demolished under the proposed Pragati Maidan Redevelopment Plan by the Urban Development Ministry. Earlier, Rewal, the chairman of Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC), had opposed the tearing down of these “iconic structures”, arguing that the demolition would adversely impact the landscape of the area.

Asserting that every country except India recognises modern-era buildings as part of their legacy, the curator of the exhibition, and INTACH convener, AGK Menon said, “Here, we focus on just ancient and medieval era monuments. What the state needs to understand is that if these modern structures such as the Parliament library, Connaught Place and Hall of Nations are demolished, it will be a loss to our cultural memory. We are trying to bring home the point that heritage needs to be defined as ‘modern’ too. We have even sent a list of monuments to the government that qualify as modern heritage.”

Menon said the exhibition will raise critical questions on what theoretical frameworks Indian architects should follow and if the benchmarks for evaluation should always be western models.

On display are not just maps, photographs and designs of popular buildings Rewal has constructed, but also lesser-known works he undertook for various government agencies, particularly the low-cost housing projects in Navi Mumbai and Delhi.

In every structure, Rewal’s inherent belief in creating open spaces — terraces, courtyards, balconies — is clearly reflected.

The Asian Games Village, 1982, to house athletes, for example, comprises 500 housing units designed in a 35-acre precinct. It has open spaces, linked with shaded pedestrian pathways and enough parking area.

Rewal said he draws most upon his inspiration from traditional Indian architecture, reshaping it to suit modern sensibilities. “The basis of traditional architecture has always been to counter the scorching heat of the Indian summer. The typology of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan is similar to Venice. Having worked abroad, it took me some time to imbibe these values. The narrow winding streets, cool and shady courtyards which diffuse light influenced my design for the Asian Games Village,” he told Newsline.

Rewal also believes in creating human living condition for the country’s poor. In Belapur locality of Navi Mumbai, he has tried just that for the CIDCO Low Cost Housing (1988-93) project.

With over 1,000 units varying from 18 to 35 square metres, the low cost housing scheme’s rough cast external plaster walls and stone plinths create small individual courtyards in addition to roof space for outdoor living.

The three four-storey units collectively form vehicle-free spaces between them, reminiscent of village courtyards. “There is no reason for India to remain shabby. Low-cost, beautiful housing is possible,” Rewal said.

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