Thursday, April 28, 2011

Village Rescue, Published in

So the project got an other publishing.
please have a look at the link below and leave your feedback and comments.

Click here for the Article

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Scenario 5: AN OTHER LAND (2015)

The village needs various initiatives so as to implement the conservation plans suggested. This scenario just mentions of one way forward that is through art as a common language that everyone understands. The issues need be dealt with a personal outlook, getting technical here would not help. The competent authorities should keep in mind initiatives of this nature and chart out a cohesive conservation plan, which is integrated with the future urban development plans.

There is a French couple at the door. Lorenz and Julie are young architects from France who
have received mixed reactions about India. They are curious to explore the country and
experience a different clientele. In India the obvious choice was to visit Mumbai as suggested
by a lot of their friends. They were also recommended to first go to Bandra because of its
distinct lifestyle and character. While hunting for cheap accommodation in Bandra, they
came across this charming little house on the chaotic Bazaar road. Coming from Europe they
were amazed to see the polycentric nature of the urban fabric in Mumbai and its suburbs.
Everything they needed was available right around where they lived and this held true for
any other part of the city.

After a month they were invited for an architect in residency programme at Ranwar village
close by. Ranwar is an East Indian Catholic settlement, with a 400 year odd old history that
runs parallel to Mumbai. It is a heritage precinct and one of the elderly residents started this
initiative of an architect/artist in residency in Ranwar to promote its cultural heritage. The
programme has already hosted 3 architects and 2 artists in the previous years. Lorenz and
Julie are keen to live here, curious to learn about the culture of the place, the community,
and do something to preserve and promote them.

The first few sets of architect/artist initiated workshops involved cleaning drives,
awareness drives, installations building up of street furniture and development of public
spaces. Although these programmes were well received by the residents, they still did not
lead to a substantial initiative, which could be a system in itself. Lorenz and Julie started
understanding the community with interviews, casual chats etc. to know the aspirations
they hold for their place. The initial collected data did help, but they wanted to investigate
some issues according to their process. They were at Mrs. Flanangin’s door for the same
reason. They wanted to talk to her, get to know her better and how her lifestyle has changed
along with the environment. After several such interviews they realized a few problems
that the village was facing. Taking this as a base they came up with an installation for the
village square. They also proposed for an interpretation centre in the hamlet that would help
visitors understand the place. They wanted to have solutions first for the villagers to begin
thinking in a similar manner, create awareness and generate a sense of identity for them
as a group and then move on to do something for the visitors who would come to visit the
hamlet. This could have scope to create a self sustained plan of conservation for the village.

Scenario 4: ITS MY VILLAGE (2015)

For obvious reasons like the social-economic-political reasons, the appearance of the village has changed. The people have not been able to accept the change openly. There have been no interventions to understand this change on the mind sets of such ethnic groups who held a distinct lifestyle which is now dead. It is the people of the village who give functions to the spaces they inhibit, it is their mind-space that translates into their physical space. How are we looking at development?, It is necessary but is there not a little conscience required while doing so? Do we enforce conservation strategies to behold beauty, without understanding the woes of the people who originally resided in them? Nostalgia at times is rendered to glorify the past, but in this case it is the reality that they render to get glimpses of the past.

Soaking oneself in a bucket of nostalgia and remembering old times has become a
regular affair for some residents in Ranwar today. The place has stagnated today with no
interventions that are helping the residents contemporarize their culture. Very few of the old
cottages are left as they are being razed down to the ground almost every other day. The
residents used to lead a lifestyle full of community activities and peace. It is the same for
Miss. Alice Flanangin, who lives in one of the old cottages alone. She is 72 years old and all
her 4 sons have settled in the Middle East. Today, while sitting by the door, which remains
locked from inside through the day why (unlike old times where all doors used to be open
always), she is reliving the streets of Ranwar 40 years back in time.

She sees kids playing on the streets outside her house in the Ranwar Square. In those days,
no one in the neighbourhood owned a car - or even a scooter or motorcycle and so no
valuable play spaces were lost to parking. There were no TVs or computers to keep them
preoccupied either. While looking at the women pounding the bottle masala, a cricket ball
flies past her, nearly missing her window. Her neighbour is constantly complaining to her
about the same problems.

She was reminded of the time when the last minute preparations were always at a high note,
just before the ‘Feast of The Cross’ rosary was supposed to be recited at the square. She
used to make marzipan for everyone to celebrate the month. Such gatherings were a very
common back then. The organic way in which the hamlet evolved at a low scale, gave in a lot
of ventilation and breeze, with an influx of natural light due to so many windows. Residents
would not feel the need to switch on fans at home. But things have changed for her and for
the other residents. This has been accepted with stoic resignation.

A 4 storey building has come up right across her house, blocking all the ventilation and the
natural light. She does not know who lives there and neither have the people living there
tried to interact with them. The reclamation has land locked her vicinity, with an increase
in traffic. Now people squabble with each other as their vehicles pass through the narrow

One only imagines if there is a way to move out of the house and enjoy the streets, the
squares and the chatting with the neighbours. While she sits and thinks on, she is shaken by
a knock on her door…

Scenario 3: THE LIVING HERITAGE (2012)

The village will survive through its people and not only the architecture. The vernacular style may give way to newer built forms, but since the residents have an innate sensibility of aesthetics and style, they would be able to develop them. There are enough incentives for a resident to redevelop the spaces by himself and not sell it. A sub-economy is created to generate funds for the ones who want to maintain their old houses by preservation and restoration on a regular basis. The model seems to be successful because it is able to make a lot of people to join it. The community still lives on and so does a part of its glorious architecture. Even the newer built scape today matches the local style, with the added features of modern functions like parking, among others. The evolution looks natural. Ranwar is still the place where its own children continue to live. Can we look at similar alternative methods of conservation practices for other precincts in India?

Mr. Fonseca has been waiting for a long time to redevelop his property in Ranwar. His 170
year old cottage is not only a second generation type house on the main street but also the
only one with the oldest wooden grill façade. He was very glad to know that the laws that a
resident of a heritage precinct has to follow to redevelop his own house have become a little
less rigourous. Now, unlike earlier they no longer have to deal with the heritage committee
members. The Advanced Locality Management of Ranwar was one of the major speakers to
advocate this change in the attitude of the committee members. Mr. Fonseca and the other
residents of Ranwar are relieved, as now they will be able to live in the houses and vicinity
they have grown up in. Even though they might not be able to preserve the same old style
cottages due to the high maintenance cost, at least they will be able to redevelop them and
make the most of the space while tuning it to the functions of today.

The decision was taken by the committee mainly because they understood that the residents
can be trusted with the property, as the local aesthetics have been etched in their minds. It is
definitely better than having a third party developer or architect constructing something that
could stick out like a sore thumb. Since development cannot be stopped, the change has to be
accepted. How we participate in this change is the deciding factor. Mr. Fonseca understands
this very well and he consults an architect with a fine sense of vernacular aesthetics. He
is sure that he wants the façade intact. The architect suggests that the façade should be
retained and gives plans in which it is incorporated with the newer built form behind it. He
also suggests a set back of approximate 2 meters from the façade backwards. Mr. Fonseca
likes the new plan and starts finalizing the details. The building behind will be ground + 4
storeys, with all the functions required for a modern lifestyle. The façade treatment will be
contemporary, matching the local style. The interiors similarly will be based on the plan of
a typical East Indian Catholic house, with larger spaces for community activities within the
house, there is an open space in the ground floor which serves as a backyard for all who will
live there, and these will also become new nodes of interaction. He will make sure that only
people from his community will be encouraged to live in the new apartments. It seems like
a conservative call but he has seemingly justified reasons for it.

The rosaries continue to be recited as always. The foods still tastes and smells the same.
Fr. Larry still continues to get his bottled masala pounded in his backyard. The newer
generation might not be using the open spaces in the same way as their grandfathers did,
but they have devised new means to interact with their contemporaries in the hamlet like
meeting once in a while at a coffee shop. The process of evolution in the village looks natural
today. The happiest are the ladies of the 1/4 funds as some of the members who have decided
against leaving the hamlet. They celebrated this great news by hosting one of their mouthwatering

There are a lot of elderly residents who do not want to move out in the last few years of their
lives. They wanted to live where they had learnt how to live a life. To make sure that their
houses look intact and new, they planned to get regular maintenance work done. To generate
the funds for it, they worked collectively, like selling packaged bottled masalas, starting a
tiffin service, to learning new skills. They organised these activities either in their respective
houses or rent a small place in Ranwar itself. These kept them busy as well as taught them
new skills. Their model started taking shape in a few years and got a lot of people interested,
including the young. They liked the idea of having some economic activity, which will
generate funds exclusively for the maintenance of the old houses. This way they would not
have to depend on a third party for the financial backup for preservation and restoration.
Of course they also say this is all for the love of the place they live in and to keep the culture
alive. One would be inclined to believe them because of the sincerity with which they have
been doing these activities. The women now meet every afternoon, packaging masalas for a
nearby East Indian Cuisine restaurant, which sells it as a brand ‘Ranwar’ product. A part of
the profits goes back into the business and the rest of it goes into the upkeep of their houses
and the vicinity.

The Rest Ranwar is revived today and the young have taken charge of its activities. With the
initiatives of the villagers, apart from being a gymkhana for the community of the village,
it is also an interpretation centre and retails brand ‘Ranwar’ products made by the women
of the village.

Fr. Larry says that the village is living again, well, some old cottages may have given way to
newer buildings, but he is grateful to God that Ranwar’s kids are still here praying rosaries
in the month of May and October.

Scenario 2: THE DEVELOPER (2020)

The developer needs to be sensitive; who understands these modes of living heritage. Since Ranwar’s investment returns are high, a lot of potential investors are ready to invest in the development of the place. The thought of sustaining a conservation plan of this nature has to be noble and not just profitable. If the heritage committee is letting itself loose by allowing commercial activities of this kind, it also needs to take care of the economic balance by putting in better urban planning strategies in place. While the old dwellers are gone, there should be some way in which their lifestyle, which was very interdependent with the spaces they interacted with, is highlighted. Such preservation methods are one of the only ways to do so and with utmost delicacy.

… The phone rings and it is Rustom Cyrus calling Fr. Larry again. Rustom is 30 years old
and is a young developer with an innate sensibility towards emerging aesthetics, which is
visible through his restaurants and cafes. He is a young, enterprising property developer
with a conscience. The property rates in Bandra have been on a rise for a long time now and
today it falls in the same league as any other in the extreme south Mumbai like Marine Dirve
or Napean Sea road. This is mainly because of two reasons, one being that Bandra’s culture
is popular amongst the youth, it has an unmatched character when compared to the other
suburbs of Mumbai, the second is because of gentrification, Bandra is home to some of the
most affluent people in the Mumbai lifestyle. Any newwell thought out venture in Bandra
is sure to become a hit.

Tapping the same opportunity, Rustom wants to open his second café in Bandra, packaging
it as a neighborhood café that celebrates the Bandra character, its culture and heritage. He
knows that Ranwar has become one of the best places to invest in, because of its strategic
location being in the centre of the Bandra Reclamation, Bandstand, Hill Road and Bazaar
Road. Walking is always a pleasure there and the quaint lanes with its local vernacular
architecture make it an ideal location to have a corner café, chic boutique, or a designer
store. Venturesome investors and developers have bought most of the properties that were up
for grabs when the old time residents were moving out of Ranwar. The Trellis, which is Fr.
Larry’s house is one of the last ones left on the main Veronica Street of the hamlet. Rustom
is trying to convince Fr. Larry to give his property on lease to him before he succumbs to the
pressures of the other builders and sells it in utter dismay.

Selling the property would fetch him a one time amount, while if he retains the ownership
and gives it for lease, it would be profitable for the future for him as well as for Rustom.
More over Rustom agrees to the fact that he will run the café as per the village norms.
He wants to open a neighbourhood East Indian Café that would promote the culture and
heritage of the hamlet to its guests. The café would follow a contemporary look and the
aesthetics of the village architecture. While serving East Indian Cuisine it will showcase a
lifestyle that used to be followed here through a small interpretation centre and a gallery. As
it is a neighborhood café it would follow the system of having patrons who would contribute
to this place with their knowledge about the history of the place. His sensitivity towards the
space would be reflected by the fact that he will maintain the façade as it is.

While this conversation is on, Fr. Larry is thinking about there being no kids playing in the
square and how development has affected a noble lifestyle. The elite who move around there
will be provided with an experience that they can take with themselves and share it with
others. Rustom also understands the stakes he holds while he starts this café in terms of
heritage conservation and preservation, but he is ready to do his best for the place with his
sensibilities and at the same time earn a profit from the venture.

Scenario 1 : THE PRESERVATIONIST (2020)

Today Ranwar has been declared a heritage village and heritage tourism here is at a high. The built scape and the architecture has remained as it is, and is taken for granted. The residents may not be important and they will move on as a natural process of evolution. Also as a natural economic reformation, Ranwar has been gentrified and the average income of the current dwellers has gone up. The original dwellers cannot afford to live there anymore, and hence they move out. ‘Is the preservation of the built form / architecture the only way to deal with conservation of such sites?’, ‘What about the people who give functions to these spaces?’

Fr. Larry sits by the verandah of his 200 year old cottage Trellis on Veronica Street in
Ranwar. He is 75 years old and has been a priest all his life, but his home has always been
here. Fr. Larry is a keen observer and has an immense interest in history mainly related
to his community, The East Indian Catholics. Today his house, ‘The Trellis’ is one of the
oldest houses in Ranwar, a very famous heritage village in Bandra (west), Mumbai. He has
now retired from the services of priesthood and is spending the last few years of his life in
the vicinity he grew up. However, the neighbourhood does not look the same anymore.
Visually it definitely looks as it was in the past, but the innate culture of the place is dead.
Fr. Larry sits in his verandah every evening as a routine, while looking around he is trying
to adapt to the changes that have happened in the environment around him. Ranwar is a
heritage village and the heritage committee have become very strict with the implementation
of the guidelines for heritage precincts. For the same reason no cottage in the neighbourhood
has been razed down to give way to the newer built form. Instead the residents have been
encouraged with various financial schemes to come ahead and restore and preserve their

Today Ranwar looks beautiful, an impression almost similar to as it used to be when it was
alive in a village environment. Fr. Larry is one of the last few of the residents from old times
who live in Ranwar today. He knows that a change has occurred, as he has been a part of
the changing environment at all times. Some of the old time residents have moved out, as
they could not afford the maintenance of their houses in spite of the financial support from
the government. Some were looking at a more prosperous future in another parts of the city,
so they sold their properties and moved on. All these were bought or leased by corporates,
trusts of various sorts, developers and the rich who could afford living there. Gentrification
did affect the community culture of the village, because of which the village looks different
culturally in spite of it looking the same visually. The emotional attachment with the hamlet
that the original community and the residents had is lost today. Due to a strong change in
demographics and the changing functions of the space, people do not know each other; one
can blame it to the change in the socio-economic conditions that are inevitable in any part
of the world. The interpersonal interactions in between the community are dead as well.
There are new stores, hi-end fashion outlets, cafes, restaurants, and chic boutiques in and
around the vicinity. Fr. Larry is looking at this new environment where community activities
do not take place today. The new residents define these new age functions of the place.
The rosaries do not take place anymore, not even in the month of May and October. The
main reason for such a change is due to the high return value on properties, as Ranwar
has become a very famous heritage village. It has risen to become one of the few surviving
villages with least interventions by the development sprawl, after the heritage committee
implemented the guidelines more strictly.

The women with innate culinary skills have given way to the new chefs in the up market
restaurants. Heritage tourism is on a high and Ranwar has visitors exploring its spaces
everyday. Little do they realise that the beauty of the hamlet has been defined by the adaptive
reuse of the houses. The Ranwar square looks posh. For e.g., the rustic environment has
been replaced by swanky window displays across porches of the old houses. The cross still
exists but there is no one to pray there, once in a while old timers like Fr. Larry stops by and

People like him remember the days when it would be common to see other residents reading
newspapers in the morning or staring at nothingness while sitting there. He understands
the need of time and is also happy that at least the change is in sync with the natural
environment of the place. But, the question he asks to himself is “Is this the only way this
place could have been preserved, devoid of its people?” He never thought that he would see
such changes in his lifetime, but has accepted the with stoic resignation. It is almost dark
while he looks at the street lit by modern street lights, to appreciate the physical beauty of
the place, unlike earlier when there’d be someone sitting in the verandah across the street
and playing the saxophone.

While he ponders about this situation, gazing at the ESCADA store across his house, the
phone rings…

The Scenarios

In a research project it is difficult to see an outcome of sorts. A lot of study and analysis
goes into such a project. For this apart from the technical analysis it is also important to
have something with a strong emotive quotient, mainly because a precinct conservation
involves people who live there and define the functions of that particular space. Hence the
scenarios came into picture which would give various (in this case 5) directions for charting
the future conservation plans for Ranwar. The project also did not involve the typical/
technical survey and propositions for conservation. Instead it was aimed at resolving a
few questions (that have been raised through the scenarios) that are normally missed while
implementing conservation plans.

The first of those questions was, ‘Like most of the implemented conservation plans, specially
in India, is saving the built form/architecture the only way?’, ‘Can conservation be looked at
from the point of view of the dwellers or the people who give that place its function?’, Many
more questions were raised, the answers for which are still being looked for, more than the
people working on the project, it is the decision making authorities who need to introspect.
In most of the conservation projects in India, a noble initiative comes to a halt just because
of red tape and bureaucratic hassles. Can the dwellers of precincts initiate methods of
sustainable conservation practices? Efforts from organizations like THE BUSRIDE are a step
in that direction.