Tuesday Talks: Conversation Series on Instagram Live

Presentation CHC

The Center for Heritage Conservation (CHC) has initiated an online conservation series with practitioners, policy makers, researchers and educators on the topic of Conservation. The series is hosted as live talks with the Center Director Jigna Desai on the Center's Instagram channel (@chccept) every Tuesday. 

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The ‘World Heritage City of Ahmadabad’ is one where the city’s architecture is formed through a complex layering of multiple actors accumulated over time while ‘Adivasi’ heritage is discussed through the ‘Santals’ known for their precise architectural practice of traditional mud houses. The challenged notion of elitist history and the role of conservation display a complex continuum of the heritage site’s engagement and negotiation with the time, place, and politics it lies within. With the dominant narrative of alienation of land and dispossession due to industrialisation, heritage discourses are beneficial to ‘Adivasi' communities when mobilised for sustenance or political agency. Discussions within the talk extend from the contestations of dominant and marginalised voices in shaping the site's cultural identity to the power dynamic that heritage tags embody in relation to the experiences of communities living within these sites. The question of a shift/deepening of heritage narratives once various agencies enter the discourse reveals a complex scenario. The talk concludes with a discussion on the need for the cultural translation of words to further the local communities' engagement in defining their cultural identity.

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Imagined to be the ‘conductor of an orchestra’, the multidisciplinary nature of the Conservation Architect’s profession is highlighted in this talk. From being a scientific expert of urban, architectural, and material studies, the Conservation Architect’s skill extends to a community-led model with authenticity, sensibility, sensitivity, and morality mounted in its center. Recognising that local communities are the custodians of heritage properties, the skill of empathy facilitates a process of collaborative practice between the contractor, architect, client, and craftsmen. The talk further extends to the process of legislation in conservation practice, holistic representation through recording the imperfections of the process, looking at lime as a ‘daal’ unique to every household, the contextual response of conserving against rebuilding, and the responsibility of creating good architecture against mediocre architecture attempting to simply stick in or stick out. The talk concludes with addressing the ‘nostalgia bias’ which is argued to be the biggest mindset in the profession of conservation, where one romanticises the past forgetting its problems and complex layering.

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Starting with an overview of opportunities that young conservation architects encounter, this talk extends to discuss the techniques and softwares that emerging professionals bring into the discipline, the dilemma of principles learnt in education against its practical functioning on-site, and the role of organisations like the ICOMOS ‘Emerging Professionals Working Group’. The realities of emerging professionals are conveyed through discussions on the 'migratory syndrome' of being educated abroad, the power of networking and collaboration, the passion of emerging professionals, challenges faced through communication gap between the peers, and the advantage of mentorship from senior expertise of the fraternity. The talk ends with conveying the importance of an emerging professional to keep the company of economists, IT professionals, social workers, engineers, and individuals with development agencies. The importance of reducing the communication gap within peers, working collaboratively and through collectives to be supportive of each other, the synergy of conservation and development, and the passion to fight for culture and art conclude this engaging discussion.

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Acting as a repository of culture, the project started in Ladakh as a pilot project to explore the dimension of community and extended to eighteen sites encompassing professional training workshops, community awareness workshops, and documentation of the site's intangible and tangible heritage. The project is seen through a dual lens of empowering the researcher to understand the community’s heritage values while enabling the community with the power of interpreting their heritage, roots, and cultural identity through a museum. The talk further explores discourses on the differences between a community-initiated museum and a more formal institution, the question of de-contextualisation of the object, the role of heritage documentation in relevance to the contemporary lives of the community, and the dynamics and politics of the community’s cohesion through the role of women. Stories of the curatorial process, the community’s need to showcase their knowledge systems, the involvement of children, and the future trajectories of the project through growth and management further strengthen and display the complexities of this project.

In light of the ‘Covid-19’ pandemic, this talk discusses cultural heritage's vulnerabilities through high-density historic cities emerging as hotspots, the threat to the livelihood of craftsmen, the lack of staff and economic incentives, and the challenges of multiple hazards and the adaptive reuse of heritage structures for the purpose. Psycho-social support through online platforms, templates for the assessment of risks and needs, guidance on the closure of heritage sites, strategies for business continuity, the importance of stories of people's resilience, and the use of traditional knowledge systems strengthen the role of cultural heritage. The talk includes discussions on the decongestion of the city without risking its heritage, disinfectants affecting the structure's fabric, strategies supporting artists and craftsmen, and the challenges in adapting to a ‘post-Covid’ world. Participatory processes in decision making, the pandemic's short and long terms effects, and the opportunities presented by the digitisation of heritage strengthen the narrative. The talk concludes with the larger virtue of conservation extending beyond preservation and repairs to a narrative interconnected in people's lives with collaborative efforts of scenario-based thinking linking conservation to development. 

From the city’s origins to the recognised values of cultural exchange seen through neutrally accepted norms of community living, the outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, and the lifestyle of the city through its tangible and intangible cultural heritage, form part of its ‘World Heritage’ nomination. The case of the living city extends from conservation of heritage to economics, administration, development, and prevailing lifestyles. The talk discusses the city administration’s history and the structure of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation with its associated bodies facilitating the city’s management. Ahmedabad World Heritage City Trust’s involvement extends from documentation to guidelines of conservation, incentives for heritage properties, and tackling the challenges of gentrification, changes in community structure, and property owners’ notion of fearing heritage. The talk concludes with discussions on the perspective of managing a city through the pandemic, tackling the smuggling of historically valuable elements, the unique advantage of traditional timber-framed construction, and the importance of identifying a city’s language without freezing its development. 

Drawing parallel connotations of conserving Gandhi’s bicycle, the talk begins with the question of recording heritage of a man who prioritized the process involved over the artefact itself. Decisions of conservation affecting the sense of place, the relevance of conserving Gandhi’s heritage without it turning into pure symbology, and Gandhi’s ideology of scale observed through the bicycle’s joineries, details of the ‘charkha’, and the very idea of building a nation form the crux of this discussion. Gandhi’s ideologies affecting conservation of the built environment are explored through the ‘relationship of making’ and philosophies of architecture reflecting in program, activity, use, behaviour, ethics, morality, and materials. The pragmatic approach on originality against the contextual availability of materials is discussed to be the hook around which conservation navigates its practice. The talk concludes with the question of authenticity mounted in the question of whose heritage and what use. The importance of historicity of a particular narrative against the focus of valorised use raises complexities in understanding its authentic value.

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This talk explores the cultural narratives of the city’s historical evolution. The city’s narrative begins with the ‘gurus’ of the Sikh faith by understanding their cultural trail through geographical relationships. From the settlement developing around the sacred shrine of ‘Harmandir Sahib’ in the city’s water tank to major reconstruction of the city’s architecture and formation of the ‘bungas’ in the mid 18th century, French influence on the architecture of the city through Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the British realigning the ‘Mughal Imperial Highway’ to include the city of Amritsar, the city’s evolution of architectural style, urban design, and geopolitical influences are elaborated upon. With the co-existence of tangible and intangible heritage, important questions of the degree of their intersection, methods of intervention, and the selection of actors within that participation form fundamental discourses to be deliberated upon. The talk concludes with a quote on ‘calibrating reform and repression’ as a tool for conservation architects to objectively look at violent pasts and the trajectories forward.