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     Volume 2 Issue 13 | April 8, 2007|


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Workshop on Architectural Heritage Conservation Dept. of Architecture, NSU, and British Council

Rubaiyat Manisha

Ancient edifices are the material evidence of our past, a major means of communication with the tradition and heritage of a nation. In absence of adequate historical sources and writings, architecture, as a vehicle of cultural expression and experience, is a veritable document- an exceptional common denominator between generations of people, linking the past to the present and the future. Buildings and monuments which symbolise a particular civilization, a significant development, or a historic incident, and reflect high points in human achievement, acquire greater significance in our cultural and national life with the passage of time. In addition to architectural, aesthetic, historic and even iconic value, these possess great emotional value as symbols of our cultural identity.

Products of accumulated wisdom expressed through the language of space and form, it is the moral obligation of one generation to preserve this inheritance for the future. Unscrupulous development interventions have endangered their survival, posing a serious threat to the preservation of cultural heritage. The older section of our cities or buildings of significance are to be held in trust by us for our future generations. A civilized society must know about its origin and roots in the local, regional and world contexts to be able to understand and appreciate its being and be able to charter its course into the future.

Bangladesh is yet to define its stand on the issue of architectural conservation. The legislations toward archaeological preservation cannot meet the present day need of architectural conservation. Besides resource constraint, for Bangladesh there are fundamental inadequacies- at the root of which is the lack of public or professional concern. Awareness in Bangladesh started in the 1980s, followed by a few conservation projects, one of which won the ARCASIA Gold Medal, providing impetus for several studies and projects.

Dhaka existed for centuries before it became a Capital city 400 years ago. Its traditional architecture is reminiscent of the Mughal and Colonial periods. There are a good number of aesthetically designed buildings like forts, mosques, temples, churches, gates and large mansions. Many of them are in use in an unsympathetic manner. Most surviving structures, a miniscule fraction of what the city had in its glory days, are in a dilapidated condition due to negligence and misuse, leading to faster decay.

Many of them are under illegal occupation, threatening their existence further. People of the locality are usually oblivious of the treasure they have and could not care less.

There are many ways, often inexpensive, to promote the cause of architectural conservation. This on one hand requires examples of successful conservation work, and on the other hand awareness, cooperation and participation of the community in which the heritage structures are located. The measures need proper documentation with measured drawings, visuals and texts. Since the 1990s, the awareness about their value, the need for conservation, and means of economic regeneration has increased, especially among the architects and environmental pressure groups. A handful of efforts faced formidable challenges brought by other issues as criteria and listing, awareness and participation, management and funding. The enthusiasm of the 1990s needed resurgence.

The idea of holding the recent architectural heritage conservation workshop cropped up when the British Council received a few posters on urban regeneration and wanted to put these on display. They came to know about drawings of old historical buildings in Dhaka by students of the North South University architecture department. So the Chairman of NSU Architecture and the Cultural Manager at the British Council decided to hold a joint poster exhibition on the theme 'Old but New: New but Old'. Eventually it evolved into a 3-day event when the British Council Director suggested that they would fly in Michael Morrison from London- a conservation architect who has been putting new life in all sorts of listed buildings in the UK by restoring and making adaptive reuse. Neer Ltd. came forward by sponsoring Dr. Sharif Imon from Macao, who as a Consultant to UNESCO and World Heritage Cen

With this cross-section of stakeholders, the deliberations were lively and informative. People participated in discussions and opinions, and queries and criticisms were rampant.

The conclusion was drawn on evening the third day at the British Council, with two more keynote presentations by two visiting experts summarising the findings, a report by the coordinator on the activities during these three days and the future ahead and certificate distribution by Prof. Hafiz GA Siddiqi of NSU. The exhibition of measured drawings by the students of architecture at North South University and Ahsanullah University of Engineering and Technology continued till 31 March at the British Council Lobby. It brought together 35 panels of detailed drawings and brief history of as many buildings in Puran Dhaka and Panamnagar. The issue of ongoing work by the Department of Archaeology at restoring some buildings in Panamnagar came under heavy criticism by the workshop participants. The Director General of Archaeology, who was present in the workshop, defended his department rather unconvincingly.

He was shown through slides and drawings in what ways the work was being carried out without the involvement of relevant experts and professionals. The workshop participants in fact went to the length of extending their support for free in order to save the historic Panamnagar, which the DG promised to include.

Two days after the workshop a team of enthusiastic young architecture students and academics went to Panamnagar along with officials, technical personnel and fieldworkers of the Archaeology department and showed them how things should have been done. The overwhelming feeling was that all work in Panam should be immediately stopped, further studies and documentation should be undertaken, and work should be carried out only after having a clear road map, that too slowly and technically even if that takes longer. The NSU architecture students have been working on the documentation of heritage buildings for more than a year. So far they have worked on 52 religious, institutional and residential buildings. They started with a dozen buildings around Bahadur Shah Park. They not only want to learn about these buildings, traditional architecture, and documentation techniques, but also want to celebrate the fourth centenary of the city being made the capital in a befitting way.

The aim of the workshop was to raise awareness among all concerned quarters about the issues regarding urban regeneration through heritage conservation, adaptive reuse of architectural resources, exchange of idea and searching for ways to overcome the obstacles. It wanted to identify problems of architectural conservation in the context of Bangladesh; discuss and resolve cross-discipline issues; form a forum of concerned individuals or groups currently making isolated efforts; become aware of the existing and future policy and legislative needs; and sensitise the different stakeholders and important players. The 1989 workshop had a profound impact on the architects, resulting into the best referable material on architectural conservation in Bangladesh, several study-documentation projects and a bunch of enthusiastic professionals. This brought an informed awareness among the architects and architecture students, but did not raise similar understanding among others. In reality there are greater obstacles to heritage conservation beyond the realm of an architect. The multi-disciplinary issues not only involve building professionals, but also government officials and policy makers, local representatives and people, and the media, and require the knowledge of sociologists, anthropologists, historians, lawyers and economists etc.

The workshop brought in experts from all different sectors, and important players in heritage conservation, to exchange ideas and learn about related problems, taking place in a more interactive way in small groups who collated their thinking with the help of local and foreign experts.


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