The mention of heritage usually brings up images of old, beautiful, dusty, and often non-functioning buildings in our minds. Structures that are a glimpse into the bygone era, which may seem quite removed from the current style of buildings in a neighborhood. However, heritage is not just old buildings and patina; it is reminiscent of the struggle and also advancement of the world. 

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The late 19th and 20th centuries saw tremendous struggle but also progress for humankind in the world. Characteristics of the Modern age were Experimentation, Individualism, and Formality that led to the advent of the digital revolution, and architecture and construction reached new heights of development. 

What is Modern Heritage? 

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UNESCO’s Identification and Documentation of Modern Heritage (2003) defines Modern Heritage as “architecture, town planning and landscape design of the 19th and 20th centuries”. These structures are an icon of a past period, defined by rapid and unparalleled technological and socio-economic development. It is hard to associate a modern building with heritage because heritage usually has connotations of old, dilapidated buildings with considerable wear and tear, made with materials such as stone or brick. 

The ubiquity of concrete and steel buildings in our surroundings can make it difficult to determine the value of a structure; this is evident in the underrepresentation of such structures in the World Listing for Modern and Industrial heritage. 

Some Iconic modern heritage buildings in India with their architects and their year of construction are as follows: 

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  • St Stephens College, Delhi l Walter S George l 1938
  • Gandhi Ghat, Bankipore l Habib Rahman l 1949 Jehangir Art gallery, Mumbai l G. M. Bhuta and Associates l 1952
  • Textile Mill Owners Association Building, Ahmedabad l Le Corbusier l 1956
  • Azad Bhavan, New Delhi l Achyut Kanvinde l 1959
  • Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur l Kanvinde & Rai l 1966
  • National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai l Phillip Johnson & Patel Batliwala l 1969
  • Hall of Nations, New Delhi l Raj Rewal Associates l 1971
  • Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad l Louis I. Kahn l 1974
  • Kanchanjunga Apartments, Mumbai l Charles Correa & Pravina Mehta l 1983
  • Kala Academy, Goa l Charles Correa l 1983
  • India Habitat Centre, New Delhi l Joseph A. Stein l 1993
  • Amdavad ni Gufa, Ahmedabad l Vastu Shilpa Consultants l 1995
  • The Architectural works of Le Corbusier in Chandigarh, India in the 20th Century

Why is modern heritage undervalued?

After the abject demolition of the Hall of Nations in Pragati Maidan in the year 2017, a callous precedent was set such that the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad administration decided in 2020 to demolish their dormitories to accommodate more students in new ones. Faced with public backlash, the decision was withdrawn. 

The Kala Academy in Goa awaits a similar fate. The accommodation of newer needs of the public or the institute has led to many such decisions where valuable heritage is lost forever. The brazen obliteration of such structures implores the evaluation and recognition of modern and industrial heritage.

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Often as a result of gentrification or migration, many modern and industrial heritage buildings are abandoned to decline because of a lack of appreciation or knowledge of these sites. The loss of these valuable structures spells India’s broken relationship with modern heritage. A careful study by the “Conserving the Modern Architecture Movement” of the Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, has revealed a few reasons why modern architecture is not widely conserved or appreciated yet:

  1. A lack of acknowledgment and protection;
  2. A lack of a consistent analytical approach;
  3. Repair versus Replacement debate;
  4. The state of being obsolete (functionality, adaptability, and sustainability). The short period available to evaluate the Modern Movement within history influences how conservation is approached.

In most Indian cities, twentieth-century buildings dominate the urban landscape, and their existence is a living memory for older generations. Such areas do not yet appreciate which surviving structures could be recognized as heritage. As a result, questions arise about whether to preserve them and how to determine comparative standards of importance within these structures.

Conservation Strategies for Modern Heritage

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Conservation of Modern Heritage is a field where the future and the past meet, where designers and conservators can collaborate. Today, we have more first-hand knowledge of why and how places were built than ever before, and yet, there are many obstacles ahead. We have not yet gained universal appreciation and enthusiasm for the restoration of twentieth-century sites, nor have we established a consensus mission, strategy, or technique for doing so. 

It is, therefore, appropriate to reflect on how the tradition of conserving contemporary architecture has progressed to define places where future initiatives can be focused. A targeted solution to incorporate unused structures into the urban fabric and repair techniques for structures in use will rekindle adoration for the structure while maintaining the essence of its heritage.

Adaptive Re-use

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A sustainable solution for revamping the use of heritage buildings is Adaptive reuse which facilitates revitalization of the urban fabric and strengthens community attachment to the structure. Adaptive re-use is a crucial technique for cultural heritage restoration in contemporary conservation philosophy and practice. The Venice Charter, 1964, emphasizes the value of adaptive re-use as a conservation technique saying “The conservation of monuments is always facilitated by making use of them for some socially useful purpose.”

Many listed structures that are dilapidated or vacant are being converted into spaces that are not only practical to the current society but also are vibrant and lively. This kind of adaptive re-use is revitalizing neighborhoods and making them socially and economically sustainable. A few examples of adaptive re-use in India are as follows:

Godrej Soap Factory, Mumbai

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The 90-year-old soap factory at Godrej Properties in Vikhroli, Mumbai was adapted to be used as an upscale restaurant and office. Designed by Studio Lotus, New Delhi, the project was derived such that the chimneys and vaults of the original factory are kept intact, preserving the building’s historic persona. The design includes the Imagine Studio Office space and the former broiler room is now the Vikhroli Social restaurant. 

The cast-iron machinery of the building is juxtaposed with a modern open plan and smart glass facades, creating a perfect blend of history and the present. 

Modern Heritage: Why and What we should consider Heritage in the current concrete jungle - Sheet1
Godrej Soap Factory Building _©https://in.pinterest.com/pin/659707045393598953/
Modern Heritage: Why and What we should consider Heritage in the current concrete jungle - Sheet2
Vikhroli Social, Studio Lotus_©Edmund Sumner

Ismail Building, Mumbai

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The 115-year-old building in the Fort Precinct of Mumbai was converted to a showroom for the clothing brand Zara. Designed by Architects Kirtida Unwalla and Mona Sanghvi, the structure was adapted to suit the current aesthetic in the retail industry while maintaining the charm of the heritage building. Modern glass windows, neutral accents paired with the Grandeur of this Neo-classical structure are a sight for sore eyes. The adaptive re-use of the building was undertaken when it needed immediate repair due to years of wear and tear. The giant retail store housed in the heritage building gave the structure a new lease of life and made it relevant to the current population. 

Modern Heritage: Why and What we should consider Heritage in the current concrete jungle - Sheet3
Ismail Building, Mumbai_©https://shop.factorysale2021.com/category?name=zara%20fort%20number
Modern Heritage: Why and What we should consider Heritage in the current concrete jungle - Sheet4
Flagship Zara Store_©AnilD

The Future of Modern Heritage

With time, appreciation for places that reflect the abundance and diversity of the Modern world will naturally rise. Surviving structures will feel more valuable, and there will be a sense of relief that they will be saved. Meanwhile, significant locations will be lost until we increase public interest, measure importance in the light of a vast number of survivors, and assist people in learning how to conserve them.

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References

  1. ICOMOS (1964), International charter for the conservation and restoration of monuments and sites (Venice). Page 28, article 5.
  2. Lopez, Rachel. Hindustan Times. A 111-year-old gets a makeover for a hip new tenant named Zara, (2017). Available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/fashion-and-trends/a-111-year-old-building-gets-a-makeover-for-a-hip-new-tenant-named-zara/story-SRmQ7tgXB9c9yUePnjRM8N.html [Last Accessed: 11/04/2021]
  3. Macdonald, Susan and Ostergren, Gail (2011). Developing an Historic Thematic Framework to Assess the Significance of Twentieth-Century Cultural Heritage: An Initiative of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Twentieth-Century Heritage. Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles. Available at: https://www.getty.edu/conservation/our_projects/field_projects/cmai/develop_historic.pdf [Last Accessed: 11/04/2021]
  4. Macdonald, Susan. The Getty Conservation Institute, Modern Matters, (2013). Available at: https://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/newsletters/28_1/modern_matters.html#4 [Last Accessed: 11/04/2021]
  5. Rudlin and Falk, 1999; Urban Task Force, 1999
  6. Sinha, Dipanjan. Hindustan Times. Check out breath-taking examples of adaptive reuse in five Indian cities (2019).  Available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/art-and-culture/check-out-breathtaking-examples-of-adaptive-reuse-in-five-indian-cities/story-AuXRN4ydcDyvOEF4FFEDrK.html [Last Accessed: 11/04/2021]
  7. Studio Lotus, Imagine Studio at the Trees (2015). Available at: https://studiolotus.in/showcase/imagine-studio-at-the-trees/144 [Last Accessed: 11/04/2021]
  8. Think Matter (2014), Modern Heritage: Listing. Available at: https://thinkmatter.in/2018/12/18/modernheritage/ [Last Accessed: 11/04/2021]
Author

"Shama Patwardhan, an Architect from Mumbai, is passionate about architecture and inquisitive about its implications on Social Equity. A human being with eternal panic, she is fond of poetry, art, literature and cat videos on the internet."

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