Thursday, October 27, 2016

Of Italian pizza and MysorePak; the question of heritage manufacture?


B S Bhooshan

Dr. B S Bhooshan, Architect and Urban Planner


A controversy is raging regarding fitness of the Devaraja Market, Mysore; to be conserved as a heritage structure or to be demolished as unsafe.  All kinds of opinions have been expressed especially after part of the structure collapsed during a conservation effort recently. We know that there are many poorer structures that were conserved elsewhere, but then that requires careful consideration of rehabilitation of not only the buildings but also its spaces and removal of overloaded functions. Simple rehabilitation is of no heritage value and will have limitations of use. Here we consider three aspects of the issue and some related misconceptions.

·                     1.       The market as originally built and its spatial heritage quality as an Indian Bazaar.
·                     2     The outer building’s conservation fitness and
·                     3      The overloading of the structures and spaces over the period of more than 100 years.

All these are interconnected questions.

The Market

Devaraja Market was built during the reign of Sri Chamaraja Wodeyar  1868-94. It is one of those several Market spaces built around that time in India,  in the tradition of Indian Bazaars. It is similar to Crawford Market in Mumbai, Russell market in Bangaluru or Connemara Market, Thiruvananthapuram. It is laid out with a two storied facade around and a series of simple rows of sheds inside, having tiled roof over steel trusses. Part of the rows were destroyed sometime ago and had been rebuilt in concrete with flat roof. The market is considered one of the surviving traditional Indian urban market heritage buildings.. To that extent it has value to be preserved

The plan, the spaces and the structures built around the bazaar space have served about 150 years and did it well. Made for a city of about 60,000 people upgrading a weekly open market in 1870 to a daily bazaar, this semi open market has been over crowded for its function as a main retail market today. The vegetable as well as the meat and fish markets cannot function as the only market for the more than a million population of the city. It is also not even a wholesale market. To be noted is that these functions need not be in the centre of a large city.

Naturally, the original use of the space and the spatial organisation that served for as smaller retail place has changed and modified most likely beyond the original. The heritage value of a retail market is to be assessed as to the value of the spatial structure and ambience it can project to the future generation as well as visitors and scholars, showing how it functioned originally.  This actually means museumising the past with some functions retained to make it financially viable.  The common place shed structures themselves has no heritage value other than falsified sentiments and to a large extent vested interests of the stakeholders. Especially so the whole idea of retaining the market and continue with overloaded functions, as it is.

Only way it can be meaningfully utilised would be to make it of a low intensity market. The retail fruits / vegetable as well as meat and fish markets are  to be decentralised in many secondary centres around the city first. A part of the the spatial heritage of market can be retained for the museum value for touristic purpose. It would mean that the place cannot be allowed to be used as it is now and then keep on increasing the intensity of use continuously. The market literally can be moved to other places as in this location it does not serve the whole city any more. Lack of secondary vegetable retail markets have created miserable road side vending conditions in many parts of the city. A project has to be thought of as to create many markets in different places.  This would go a long way in improving the city’s liveability.

The outer structure

Beyond this, the main contender for the heritage tag is the peripheral structure. That is the second question. Here again, the original structure seem to have been severely altered, even mutilated, subdivided and appurtenances extended in to the street. The heritage value is in its architecture that largely is an eclectic mixture taking cues from Mogul and other architectural lineages and using a technology of bricks, lime and Madras terrace of the time. The structure does not seem to be maintained well either. However, it is possible to conserve any old structure as a heritage piece, provided it is trimmed of the current intense function and is carefully structurally rehabilitated.  Conservation should not be confused with rehabilitation of a building for a continued utility alone. It is to conserve a piece of built heritage for the cultural and historical value of it.  To that extent it has a historical and technology dimension. It also does not mean only to conserve the building or part of it alone, but to change its functions and substantially change the quality of the precinct as well.  The spaces around the building and the roads make up the precinct including the pavements and approaches and to put them back as it would have existed originally, but not as of now.  It would also mean that removal of guardy neon lights, contemporary hoardings, signage etc and recreating an ambiance of the past, as much as possible. It will also include not allowing certain functions other than that would fit inside a heritage structure. A more relaxed places like coffee houses,  restaurants, book shops, curio and handicraft shops, library etc. In short museumising the whole place and creating a cultural-recreational-market complex. That would be largely be pedestrian including certain parts of roads and streets around, resulting in restraining of vehicular traffic.
It would have to be part of an urban design plan for the centre. The heritage value of the city would improve, then.

The rebuilding lobby and compromise formula;

Any structure can be conserved.  But its use would depend on many factors. The heritage value can be retained only by appropriately reducing and changing the present functional load and intensity of use. This would also ease structural conservation. However the argument of a compromise formula, as suggested by some and reported in news papers, to retain the facade and change the inside to high value commercial mall does scant respect to the idea of conservation and would do more damage to heritage than good.  It would be ridiculing of Mysore city’s heritage itself. The heritage is not in the facade or outer shape of buildings. It is in the spirit of the place. It is about retaining the expressive part of building culture of the time; the techniques, the skills and the meanings derived over time. If we do not understand the value of it, please don’t attempt to make a mockery of the heritage. Even the so-called heritage of some of the city’s buildings is maintained on too flimsy ground. Some identified heritage buildings do not have any long history or of substantial architectural value of the time. Many are of less than a century old and has been built to look old even at that time for political reasons. This is noted in already published historical research and published books by scholars. However, the retaining of the past structure is one matter and making false fascia by poorly copying, often pathetically disproportionate too, of the old features on a new building is another. It is an anachronism of misunderstanding and of poor taste and imagination. Is this what the compromise formula suggests? It is as farcical as arguing that any pizza made and sold in Mysusu should look like MYSOREPAK. That is after all one of our original product, a real heritage. It is not the look, please note, that matters in architecture as well in food. It is the content.

The increasing argument for rebuilding is largely stemming from commercial interest of vested interest, stressing on the high value of the land in the centre. From the urban design point of view, however, it makes no sense to furthering the central density without changing the already flimsy historical character. What is needed is to slowly shift intense retail commercial activity  away from the centre to a secondary ring and remake the historical centre to a less intensely built,  more pedestrian, cultural cum commercial place with more of open to sky vending spaces which would  give an original character back to the city centre. If we cannot be sure of what we can do, it is better to leave the place with minimal intervention. Let the future generation decide.

Pathology of false heritage mutiplication

 In the recent past experiences of public buildings built in the city is of fairly poor precedence, take the case pf the ourts, new mini Vidhan Soudha, the  buildings being built in the Northern side of Kukkerehalli Kere, and many more.  They all show  poor understanding of value of architecture as a total integrated art and not just facial convolutions of false arches and paints over concrete frame structures. They neither pay homage to our real heritage, nor the soul of the technology of the time. They are just monumental pretences. Some grossly vulgar too. The arches and decorative plasters are totally false “paste-on-extras”, aped from the past, a pathetic anachronism at display.

More pathetic is the replication of canopy structures of KR Circle and Chamarajendra Circle  to many other junctions around the city. They are disproportionately overpowering on the new statues, especially so in Vivekananada circle where the statue seems buried and the Kuvempu statue at a corner park in Kuvempunagar. In one go, we are insulting the personalities of these statues to stand in inaccessible traffic islands and also exposing our ignorance of history and built  heritage in mathematically multiplying and aping the architectural forms of past follies. In fact, the original circles themselves were made only around the middle of the last century. The architecture of most heritage structures also were clearly, as researchers of history have noticed, were acts of conceit to show the people the city itself was very old and of heritage alue. They were designed to look the instructions of then authorities. We seem to revel in pomposity .