History shapes the present and future of a region and the architectural world is no exception. The ancient buildings that still stand withholding their roots throughout the wheels of time are a treasure of our architectural history. Heritage buildings give a sense of place and identity in a world of increasingly ubiquitous new buildings. They represent a historic legacy and architectural culture of a region and an insight into the past events which helped to create the present. 

Writers' Building by Thomas Lyon: Kolkata’s first three storied building - Sheet1
Writers’ Building elevation_©kolkatatourism.travel

The structure speaks with its features, the stories, and events that unfolded within those withering walls at a certain time in the past. The identity and character of many historically important towns have been irrevocably altered by humans for many years now and it’s time to take responsibility.

Heritage is a legacy that needs preserving. 

Heritage sites display advanced townscape qualities that evolved over a long period and now present an ecologically sustainable example for future urban models. This is achieved by reorienting contemporary approaches to urban planning by urban designers to create a more flexible model per the demand of the present living conditions. This new approach is known as Urban Heritage

Urban heritage is a passive setting to the broader scope of development of modern cities keeping in mind the historic discipline. It takes an ethical, inclusive, and holistic approach to urban planning and heritage conservation by creating a stronger ground for the sustainable growth of cities in the future.

Architecture has been a part of a revolution for a long time. Architecture in the long run was a silent statement to convey certain thoughts and emotions. Our architectural history doesn’t just concern the key elements of an adopting style but also the historic value for a strong understanding of prevalent past occurrences. Believe it or not but most of these remarkable old buildings have caused a commotion in the past that led to massive history-changing movements. 

One such politically, socially, and historically influencing building is the Writers’ Building.

Writers' Building by Thomas Lyon: Kolkata’s first three storied building - Sheet2
Writers’ Building_©kolkatatourism.travel

This heritage building was the first three-storied building of Colonial Calcutta. Writers’ building is a 150-meter-long building that covers the entire northern stretch of the Lal Dighi pond and sits at the center of historic B.B.D. Bagh. This grand old structure was designed by architect Thomas Lyon in 1777 and now serves as a secretariat building of the State Government of West Bengal. Writers’ Building is the epitome of classic European architecture in India.

Writers' Building by Thomas Lyon: Kolkata’s first three storied building - Sheet3
Pre-independence Facade_©Image Library 5

Locally known as Writers’, the building was originally meant to serve as a principal administrative office to accommodate junior clerks or ‘writers’ of the British East India Company (EIC). The distinct Greco-Roman architectural style of the structure holds a portico in the central bay and several marvelously carved statues lining the terrace namely Justice, Commerce, Science, and Agriculture. The sculpted work of William Fredric Woodington in 1883 includes the figurines of Greek gods along with a sculpture of the Roman goddess Minerva capturing attention from the pediment. Red exposed brick surface adds to its splendor.

Writers' Building by Thomas Lyon: Kolkata’s first three storied building - Sheet4
Writers’ Building Statues_©Rangan Datta Wiki

Being intertwined with the social, cultural, historical, and political ethos of the city, the building kept evolving over the years. Initially, the simplistic structure comprised 19 residential living quarters outlooking three sets of windows each. In 1800, an iconic façade was created with 32ft high majestic Ionic columns supporting a 128ft long veranda to accommodate the Fort William College and the Government Engineering College within its premises. 

The period between the years 1879-1906 saw the addition of two new blocks, accessible by impressive iron staircases. Writers’ had a large courtyard with seven blocks before independence which increased to 13 by the year 1970. A French Renaissance-style makeover was given to the building under the rule of British Governance, to make it appear more ornate and almost palatial in terms of its architecture.

Writers' Building by Thomas Lyon: Kolkata’s first three storied building - Sheet5
Writers’ Building_©kolkatatourism.travel

The Writers’ Building has been a silent witness to many political events that made a major impact on the times. Among the many notable events that occurred during the building’s lifetime, the most memorable one was the assassination of the infamous Inspector General of Prisons, Lt Col NS Simpson by three Bengali revolutionaries – Benoy Basu, Badal Gupta, and Dinesh Gupta, after whom the BBD Bagh got its unique identity.

The importance of the Writers’ building is still afresh and immersed in the hearts of the Kolkattians as it is a reminder of the journey from suppression to oppression leading to independence. From flourishing trade to revolutions, murders to celebrations, slavery to freedom, the Writers’ has been a silent spectator to all. 

A testimony of the historical evolution, this landmark structure bears the history on its façade and figurines, for tourists to admire. This historic treasure now lays majestic and barren, as it is undergoing restoration. Writers’ building still manages to retain its grandeur from its glory days and remains a heritage site and a renowned tourist location in the city of Kolkata.

Rashi Jain
Author

Rashi Jain is an architect by profession and a writer by passion. She thinks every wall has a story that needs to be told. Her admirations vary from intricate sculptures of heritage buildings to the glamour of set designing. She believes that words have the power to change the world.

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