Sunday, 14 February 2016

The role of a Conservation Professional: Demystifying the jargon for the common man

A phone call a couple of days back from a friend inquiring about the meaning and methods of listing and how to go about doing a conservation project by the book in the city, prompted me to help demystify what words like listing, grading and restoration mean to the common man, after all the purpose of this blog is to help the common man restore his own heritage home.

So let's begin with the simple word, what is a heritage building? Is everything that is old considered to be heritage? By definition heritage is something that one generation has preserved and wants to hand down to the next generation, it is something that one generation has valued and wants the next generation to keep properly. It could be your grandmothers banarasi sari that she wore for her wedding or a simple piece of jewellery, a rare old book and in built heritage terms a building that you wouldn't want destroyed. Every old building is not heritage, only those buildings which have something special are considered as heritage buildings, they could be buildings that were great pieces of architecture of their times, they may have been home to important people or some important event may have taken place there or it may be just one of its kind thats left today. There may be multiple reasons why something is considered heritage.Everyone has  heritage, some of it is personal, belonging to the families themselves while others are shared, sometimes with neighbours sometimes with communities and sometimes with the city or with other cultures.

When Mr Bagla first contacted me in May 2010, he was merely looking for an architect to redesign his old house for him, when I had my first look at the property I realised that hidden behind all the grime and dirt lay a beautiful marvel. My first question to him was is this listed? He said to me what is that? Earlier in February that year the Delhi Government had notified some 775 buildings of heritage value as listed buildings. When I looked up the list I realised we were listed as a Grade II heritage building, albeit erroneously the address was given as opposite shop no 1242/5 Chotta bazaar, but the photograph of the gateway confirmed that it was the very same property.

Now what does listing actually mean? Over the years, architects survey the historic areas and come up with a list of the best surviving heritage buildings, that process of making the list is called "listing". Depending on the level of importance of these heritage buildings they are graded and protected by the different government authorities.So for example in Shahjahanabad, the old city of Delhi, the Red Fort is recognized as a monument of international value and is also a world heritage site, while it is also protected by the national law by the Archeological Survey of India, there are however other monuments which are of lesser importance and are protected by the Department of Archaeology of the Delhi Government. There is a full third category that is known as "listed buildings" which are all over the old city of Shahjahanabad and are protected under the Delhi Building Byelaws by the DDA/ MCD.Now not all heritage buildings are of the same value and depending on their overall importance, the ones which are important at the City Level are listed as Grade I such as the Town Hall, Old Delhi Railway Station  while Grade II buildings are something of a lesser important than Grade I such as Lala Chunamal's Haveli, Jain Temple at Dharampura and in Grade III is buildings of local importance such as Haveli Haider Quli etc. These grades are what determine what you can and cannot do for your heritage properties, for example in a Grade I building no changes to the exterior or interior are allowed and the original pattern has to be maintained, while in Grade II internal changes and adaptive reuse may be allowed while in Grade III some additions, alterations and extensions may be permitted by the Heritage Conservation Committee.Now anyone who wants to make any changes in their "listed" heritage buildings must seek the NOC from the Heritage Conservation Committee. Now you can't approach the HCC directly, one has to approach it through the appropriate local body MCD or NDMC as the case may be. Once your proposal is ready, you have to send it to the HCC for the approval, who will ask you to come and make a presentation as to what you want to do in your property.

There is a full process of how it is done, what are the criteria for listing, who decides, how they decide, what changes would you be permitted, for further detailed information on this you could go to the local INTACH office/ or North MCD or visit the Heritage Conservation Committee  (www.hcc.delhi). Here you will be able to find out if your building too is on the list, what is its grade what you can and cannot do in your heritage property.

Another important thing that impacts heritage properties in the walled city is the Ancient Monuments and Sites & Remains Act amendment 2010. What that means is even if you may not be listed as a heritage building by MCD/NDMC, if you happen to stay near a protected monument you need to seek the permission of the Competent Authority/ National Monuments Authority before carrying out any works in the building. In a nutshell, this law states that within 100m radius from a Centrally protected monument one cannot do any building activity, this is what is known as the "prohibited zone", while between 100m-300m from the monument is what is known as the "regulated zone" again where repairs, construction will need a prior permission of the Competent Authority.Now this is a Pan India Central Law for the ASI protected monuments and a similar state law exists for State Protected monuments known as the Delhi Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and remains Act 2004, in this case the prohibited zone is 50 m from the boundary of the monument while the regulated zone is a further 100m from the prohibited zone. You can see the details for the Archaeology Department at this (

In our case, we had checked the distance of our haveli from the main Kashmere Gate and it was around 500m so we thought we were clear and had just begun the work for setting up the mill for the lime mortar when the local police came and stopped the work, saying that without an ASI NOC work cannot happen, on visiting the ASI office we realised that there was a small section of the city wall that was surviving at a distance of 292 m from the haveli and hence we had to follow another process to first get the Competent Authority NOC and subsequently the NOC from the Heritage Committee. You can get the details about your property and its distance and procedure for NOC from
NOC from ASI and Heritage Conservation Committee hung at the entrance of the haveli during the entire duration of the project

One thing I would like to highlight here is that both the Heritage Committee and the ASI require that a "Conservation Architect" is entrusted with the process of the restoration, a Conservation Architect is essentially a little different from a regular architect, he is a specialist in restoration of heritage buildings. Just like you would go to a Cardiologist for your heart problems and not a general practitioner, you should ideally go to a conservation architect and not just an architect for the health of your building.The School of Planning and Architecture at ITO has an entire department dedicated to Architectural Conservation, INTACH based at Lodhi Estate is also a good resource, and of course there are many private practitioners, it is really your choice as to who suits your requirements the best.

So what is the benefit of hiring a conservation architect, well they are trained to understand materials, practices and their design approach is clever, unobtrusive, based on what is the value and significance of a space.

For example, when we showcase the pictures of our newly made kitchen in the haveli, most reactions are it is pretty so what?. Any body can do that, any modular kitchen company will do that for you. But the fact is in keeping with the conservation principle of like to like repair, our design was governed by the fact that we did not want to use any cement and therefore made sure the design is such that it is tailor made to use materials that are compatible with lime mortar. Especially hand crafted tiles have been designed and manufactured such that they could be used with lime mortar after studying the chemical compositions and many scientific papers on the subject while the cabinets are all made from locally available wood.

In case of the drawing room, the huge doors, windows fanlights have been conservatively repaired and not replaced with new.

Conservation is not jargon and a lot of big words, it is simple common sense, it is the sustainable way of life, you would repair because its more economical, the wood used in those days cant be matched today. When a conservation project meaning restoration as well as adaptive reuse is undertaken, the planning and approach of what materials to use what would be most significant to the building, what is the design language of this building would the material be appropriate here all are design decisions that one would take. The design methodology of a conservation professional would ideally be so subtle that for a common man it would appear that there is no intervention but to the trained eye one would be able to discern what is old and what is new. That fine line is the value a trained conservation professional brings to your project.

For further information visit the INTACH Delhi Chapter and refer to the " Handbook for Conservation of Heritage Buildings in Shahjahanabad : A Manual for Owners & Occupiers" available at INTACH


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