PERSPECTIVES ON ARCHITECTURAL PRESERVATION, PART ONE
Coordinated and edited by Madeline Legg
The following texts are written by a variety of architectural heritage specialists who were specially invited to contribute to this website. Individuals were asked to contribute because of their expertise in the history and architecture of the colonial built environment and they represent a range of views from different parts of the globe, from Haiti to Ghana to Vietnam. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Colonial Architecture Project. Each specialist has a regional focus, often related to a single city or site, but their views on heritage preservation is relevant beyond the context in which they work. Some are academics while others are architects or restoration experts; many have written books on the subject. Each specialist’s experience allows them to provide a unique opinion about the role of preservation and offer perspectives that may differ from that of the Colonial Architecture Project. Through including the opinions of other experts, the Colonial Architecture Project hopes to engage with questions about the legacy of colonial architecture and how or if it should be preserved. This is part one; as more people contribute a second series of essays will be added.
DR. BEN BANSAL is a finance professional and economic historian who has studied in the UK and Japan. His academic research focused on urban development studies in Japan but through his work travels he developed an appreciation for the architectural history of Myanmar. As a culmination of this interest, in 2015 he co-authored Architectural Guide Yangon (https://www.yangongui.de/buy-the-book/) with Elliott Fox and Manuel Oka.
In Yangon, a variety of factors have left behind an unparalleled amount of colonial-era buildings. The city’s surviving edifices embody its cosmopolitan nature, a result of the many communities that sought their fortunes at this booming trading port from the mid-19th century up until the Second World War. Afterwards, these buildings provided the backdrop to Myanmar’s tumultuous post-independence history. As Yangon develops in tandem with a relative re-opening of Myanmar, the heritage debate has, over the last years, grown louder. In 1996, the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) compiled the first list of 189 heritage buildings. It omits many obvious candidates by focusing on publicly owned buildings only. The Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT), arguably the key player in the public discourse, has subsequently updated the original YCDC list to broaden the scope of the debate, also including post-war architecture symbolizing the young nation’s hopes and dreams.
A too-narrow focus on such heritage lists may limit the “heritage discourse” on the preservation of monuments amid a whole cityscape that defied late-20th century modernity and evaded market forces in the years of self-imposed isolation. Sometimes this argument flirts with naïve romanticism and a misplaced sense of nostalgia for the colonial period. Nonetheless, Yangon’s status as a modern city is by and large a colonial invention and the cosmopolitan Yangon of the late 19th and early 20th century has never sat easily with a state-led vision of Myanmar culture during the years of dictatorship. Unsurprisingly, the junta gradually estranged itself from those buildings that embodied this cosmopolitan nature but also hosted the Burmese independence movement. In 1988, because of the opposition’s use of the buildings, the military narrative took steps to marginalise the historic relevance of Yangon’s cityscape, culminating in the move to the newly built capital of Nay Pyi Taw.
Urban preservation debates worldwide have long moved on from a narrow focus on monuments, to understanding the history of cities in richer and more complex ways. Perhaps the fixation with buildings in Yangon is unavoidable: where decades of neglect and isolation have bequeathed a rich body of old buildings but a paucity of records, the bricks and mortar are often the best archive material left. The YHT is more concerned with the wider city, not just the old downtown, allowing for a richer appreciation of Yangon. Daw Moe Moe Lwin, the YHT’s Vice-Chair, describes her organisation’s motivation as coming “not from a nostalgia point of view, but the current character of the city”. As an authority in this debate, the YHT has a special responsibility, with its leadership and a team made up of educated Myanmar and international elites.
The current economic boom has unavoidably commodified these old buildings. Many restoration projects have been concluded and many others are underway. While some may be laudable, giving an old obsolete structure a new purpose by providing a home, they will change Yangon. Cultural elites and community groups often insist on the old city’s preservation, yet this could transform the city into an open-air museum. Will Yangon become over-restored, a gorgeous shell for foreign tourists? Will the celebration of the city’s “cosmopolitan past” risk isolating Yangon from a country now led from a purpose-built city designed to enforce a narrower and state-led vision of Myanmar identity? What will be the compromise between the need for dynamism, preservation, economic growth and opportunity, while avoiding the pitfalls of gentrification and displacement?
Yangon’s heritage is rich and colourful. Its ethnic tapestry and marvellous monuments have captured time. But much of the city’s heritage has also borne witness to painful memories of long and brutal colonial subjugation and the violent post-independence period. This heritage deserves a memory. And yet, you couldn’t blame Yangon for wanting to move on.
DENISE HEYWOOD is a London based art historian whose experiences as a photographer in Cambodia instilled an interest in Southeast Asian Art. Since then she has published multiple books including Ancient Luang Prabang. She now offers lectures on her areas of expertise and has delivered lectures across Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, South Africa, and Europe, both to interest groups and University courses.
The colonial architecture of Laos
Luang Prabang in Laos is considered to be the best-preserved town in Southeast Asia. Its combination of French colonial and Lao secular and sacred architecture has given it a unique identity. For centuries this remote, mountainous kingdom, former royal capital of a landlocked country, had only the Mekong river as its lifeline to the rest of the world. By 1828 it had become subsumed into Siam and remained so until the arrival of French colonisers in 1893 when it became part of the Indochinese Union.
With the arrival of the French came a new wave of building. Indochina became la perle de l’Extrème Orient. Elegant colonial villas were constructed in Luang Prabang and in the new capital of Vientiane, blending harmoniously with the temples and secular structures. These villas were perfectly adapted to the tropical environment, surrounded by lush greenery, palm trees and bougainvillea. They embellished Luang Prabang, but changed it, giving it a dual identity, Eastern and Western. The fusion of these two disparate cultures resulted in a singular beauty.
In 1995 Luang Prabang was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to protect its fragile culture, a status which extends to 177 sacred structures which make up the 35 temples that have survived, together with 443 civic buildings. Its remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions and is considered by UNESCO as the most authentic in the region.
Although buildings were dilapidated as a result of war and poverty, many have been restored by a new generation of French entrepreneurs and hoteliers who returned with nostalgia to l’Indochine. While Vientiane was not protected by UNESCO, Luang Prabang has flourished since its nominations, as tourists flocked to see not only its carved temples decorated with murals and gold leaf but its graceful colonial structures transformed into cafes and guest houses. This has brought unprecedented prosperity, creating jobs and opportunities, crucially in the heritage and artistic domain. Specialist tours offer visits of sacred and secular architecture with a focus on the harmonious integration of colonial buildings. Guides highlight Lao and French craftsmanship and the revival of skills such as mural painting, sculpture, silk weaving, paper making, basket weaving, shadow puppetry, poetry and intangible heritage such as drama, dance and music. In the wake of sustainable tourism, foundations have been formed, under the aegis of UNESCO, to relay these precious skills to a new generation of Laotians.
This transformation of colonial architecture from a political to an artistic context is an example of how preservation of a past heritage may be optimised for future use. Although commodification of culture remains a risk, the re-evaluation of the architectural significance of a colonial legacy and the incorporation of this into a new artistic and economic vision is a positive force for a country recovering from a troubled past.
DR. MARK P. LEONE is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland and has been the director of the Archaeology in Annapolis program since 1981. His research focuses on critical theory and museological interpretation of historical sites particularly in relation to African American history.
Annapolis, United States of America
Historic Preservation in Annapolis has made the City famous all over again, adding to what the Naval Academy did in the 19th century for the City, and supplementing what the American Revolution did for Annapolis at the founding of the United States. To summarize: Annapolis is famous and will remain so. How?
There is no religion in any of its buildings. Even the churches are famous for their architecture, not as spiritual homes. How to fix this?
Other than with the Banneker-Douglass Museum, there is no African American culture embedded in the City’s historical self-image of itself. How to fix this?
These questions lead to another set asked by African Americans in the 1990s of the historical archaeologists in Archaeology in Annapolis from the University of Maryland. “Do African Americans in Annapolis have archaeology?” “Can archaeologists find anything left from Africa?” “How can we learn about freedom for our people before and after Emancipation? We have heard enough about slavery!”
Fifteen spirit bundles were buried under the interior parts of the Charles Carroll House, of the Slayton House, Reynolds Tavern, James Brice II House, and the Adams-Kilty House. These are among the greatest houses in Annapolis. The concept of a bundle comes from West Africa, broadly defined, and is a device that survived the Middle Passage and involves trapping the soul (known as the spirit) of a dead ancestor and later capturing the Holy Spirit, in Christian terms, and invoking that power to cure, protect, heal, and turn away some sickness or harm. Bundles in Annapolis date from 1720 to 1920. They are part of African American Christianity and were often made outside of the early Black churches such as the Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Churches. Bundles are found under thresholds, doorsteps, hearths, and centers of rooms. They represent the development of African American religion in Annapolis, along with the more famous Black churches.
There is abundant African American historical archaeology in the City. It is most abundant where it is most needed for showing freedom before Emancipation. The Maynard- Burgess House was built by free African Americans by 1847. The James Holliday House was bought by James Holliday by 1850. He was free by the 1830s. The Holliday family still owns the house today.
How to celebrate these within historic preservation? Words won’t work. Pictures don’t work. Songs work. Words spoken in public work. Dance works. Played music works. African American historic preservation is performed. That was the original purpose of the Kunte-Kinte/ Alex Haley Festival in Annapolis.
Within this context everywhere in Annapolis, if historic preservationists care to look, one can find the enslaved, the free, the segregated, the resilient, or the third of Annapolis that is African American and has been there since the 18th century.
DR. WILLIAM LOGAN is an Emeritus Professor at Deakin University and was Director of Deakin's Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific from 2000 till 2009. Broadly his interests relate to World Heritage and its intersection with sustainable development, human rights, and politics, on which he has published numerous books. Dr. Logan is an internationally recognized scholar and was an invited expert to the Consultative Meeting on Cultural Rights at the UN Human Rights Commission in 2011.
The heritage that underlies Hanoi’s sense of place is almost entirely the result of the construction activities of past inhabitants. The city is located in the bend of the wide and shallow Red River on a flood plain with a high-water table and many lakes and ponds. Much of central Hanoi was built on land drained in the late nineteenth-early twentieth centuries under the French colonial administration. Today metropolitan Hanoi sprawls in all directions, including across the Red River. What mostly captures the imagination, however, is the tri-partite ‘Old Sector’ comprising the Thang Long-Hanoi citadel, the Pho Co market town and the French quarters of colonial villas. Hanoi is a richly layered city, with reminders of all the periods in its evolution under a sequence of foreign military interventions—Chinese, French, Japanese, and American.
When I first visited Hanoi in January 1990 the townscape seemed little changed from the 1930s. The generation of wars and United States-led trade and investment embargoes after 1975 had limited the amount of new building that could be undertaken. The absence of re-development pressures meant that vast numbers of pre-colonial and colonial structures survived. There was a strong appreciation of the city’s pre-colonial heritage among the city officials and professionals but not much official interest in the French legacy. This reflected a lingering anti-colonial sentiment, although a few major landmarks such as the Municipal Theatre (‘Opera House’) and the Presidential Palace were highly regarded. The growth of international tourism after 1990, especially from France, along with the interest of foreign diplomats in the city, gradually shifted the attitude of Hanoi’s policy makers towards the colonial heritage. Considerable restoration has taken place since then, such as the Governor-General’s palace and the Metropole Hotel, while core buildings of the colonial Hoa Lo prison has been converted into a museum that invites domestic and foreign visitors to remember to negative aspects of colonialism.
The Vietnamese government and Hanoi People’s Committee came to realise during the 1990s that one way to win international recognition for Hanoi was through its cultural heritage. Eventually, in 2010, the central sector of the Thanh Long-Hanoi Citadel was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) depending on three key features: longevity, continuity as a seat of power, and the presence of a layered record of vestiges, including both underground archaeological remains and above ground architecture. Over the last decade there has been a push for nation-building and tourism, reasons to reinterpret and remodel the citadel to emphasize the period of King Ly Thai To, whose reign from 1009 to 1028 is seen as the beginning of independent Vietnam. Media reports have shown official architectural drawings of the new works at the citadel that include rebuilding the citadel’s principal pavilion, the Kinh Thien Palace, which the French had demolished in the late 1880s to make way for its artillery headquarters. While there may be good reason to reconstruct the palace, the removal of other colonial buildings in the citadel threatens the cultural layering that is fundamental to the World Heritage listing. It is critically important that the OUV is respected and forms the basis of the site’s management.
Extending this notion of value sustainability to the city as a whole, it is equally imperative that other elements of the French colonial heritage are protected, notably the imposed colonial town plan, the broad tree-lined avenues, the villas and classical and modern public buildings, as well as the links with important architects such as Louis-Georges Pineau, Ernest Hébrard and Henri Cérutti-Maori. The French quarters were the most dramatically affected by redevelopment in the 1990s, with high-rise commercial towers now soaring above the surrounding villas and tree line, and the human scale and tranquillity are rapidly disappearing. Despite this, the generous character of the original French town planning and the tree-planting in this area remains elegant by world standards. In recent decades some Vietnamese, such as Hoang Dao Kinh, have called for greater public participation of all socioeconomic groups in the city’s planning. It would be desirable for community groups to be set up to lobby in favour of the protection of Hanoi's heritage, including the French colonial, although establishing independent non-government bodies continues to be difficult to achieve in a country where the Vietnamese Communist Party largely controls government policy-making. The challenge that faces planners in Hanoi is to learn to listen to all interested parties, to articulate a vision of the city that keeps the best of the past alongside new development, to win public and political commitment to that vision, and to take firm steps to enforce it. In this way they will not only protect the essential underpinnings of Hanoi's urban identity but proceed to create new high-quality environments – a new cultural layer, Hanoi's heritage of the future.
DR. RAPHAËL MALANGIN is a renowned expert on the heritage of Pondicherry and author of Pondicherry: That was once French India. He is now an affiliated researcher at the Institut Français de Pondichéry (French Institute of Pondicherry).
Les fantômes de Pondichéry
La mairie de Pondichéry (1869-1870) s’est effondrée en novembre 2014 en suscitant une grande émotion collective, par bonheur sans faire de victimes. Un reporter du quotidien The Hindu eut l’idée de poser la question de l’opportunité d’une reconstruction à l’identique à différents acteurs de la vie locale. A la surprise générale, l’un des membres les plus influents de la communauté francophone déclara qu’il s’agirait plutôt de bâtir un monument de verre moderne qui refléterait le « dynamisme » de la ville actuelle. Cette reconstruction problématique méritait bien d’attirer l’attention, en effet.
L’idée qu’il proposait, dans le fond, n’est ni neuve, ni indienne. Elle est régulièrement rappelée par des architectes internationaux en quête de projets prestigieux. A la population, attachée au paysage qui l’a vu naître, de s’en débrouiller car l’architecture reste bel et bien affaire de pouvoir, davantage peut-être encore celle de l’ère coloniale à Pondichéry. La même logique avait présidé, il y a quarante ans, à la construction de la Bibliothèque Romain Rolland et aux transformations de l’India Post Office (ancienne maison Gaebelé), expression achevée de la modernité d’alors, mais qui comptent désormais parmi les verrues les plus hideuses sur le visage de la ville. Depuis, elles se sont multipliées au rythme soutenu de la croissance indienne.
Car il serait vain d’évoquer Pondichéry sans prendre en compte les transformations subies par les villes en Inde depuis trente ans : étalement multiplié par dix sous l’effet d’une urbanisation nourrie par une démographie extraordinaire ; poussée verticale due à l’intense pression foncière; maquis de réseaux de communication à ciel ouvert ; infrastructures obsolètes sous l’action du climat et par l’effet de la déficience de l’État ; faiblesse de qualité des constructions neuves ; bulles financières alimentées par les banques ; mafias du sable, du ciment ou de prétendus avocats, intermédiaires indispensables des bonnes escroqueries… Le voyageur qui passe à six mois d’écart au même endroit ne sera jamais certain de ne pas s’y perdre. On comprendra donc que l’attention du gouvernement territorial soit concentrée sur des problèmes plus vastes et urgents que ceux du patrimoine urbain.
Cependant on doit reconnaître que leurs effets sur le patrimoine ont été dévastateurs, même si la ville jouit à ce sujet d’une situation moins dégradée que d’autres métropoles du Sud. De 1900 bâtiments patrimoniaux recensés en 2004 par l’Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Héritage, plus que 400 demeurent en 2018 dans l’enceinte des boulevards de la ville. En quarante ans d’ailleurs, aucune loi de protection n’a été votée par l’Assemblée législative locale, alors même que le gouvernement faisait du patrimoine un argument majeur de sa politique touristique. Les destructions y sont donc quotidiennes, plus exactement nocturnes, et des bâtiments historiques majeurs s’y effondrent. Qu’on puisse en deviner les raisons ne diminue en rien le fait que le patrimoine local est en danger de disparition à court terme.
Ces raisons ont donc peu à voir avec les considérations « postcoloniales » qui sont aujourd’hui souvent mises en avant. Si la ville dite « blanche » de Pondichéry avait été la plus affectée, on aurait trouvé là un juste retour de l’histoire. C’est à peu de choses le discours qui s’est tenu jusqu’aux années 1990 par les élites congressistes lorsqu’il s’agissait d’y construire des équipements certes utiles, mais hideux (General Hospital par exemple). Mais il se trouve que les destructions se sont accélérées depuis dans la ville dite « noire » faisant disparaître la majeure partie des bâtiments tamouls au profit d’une architecture fonctionnelle de qualité inférieure. Il est évident qu’on dénoncera alors la survivance d’une mentalité coloniale qui survalorise la « ville blanche » aux dépens de la « ville noire », même si la société coloniale qui la caractérisait avait déjà disparu bien avant le Merger de Pondichéry à l’Union Indienne en 1954. Pourquoi donc rouvrir de vieilles blessures « raciales » qui avaient été largement refermées avant la décolonisation ?
L’émergence du tourisme de masse a contribué à réactiver ces débats. Depuis la fin des années 1990, les campagnes de promotion touristique centrées sur la promotion du « Peaceful Pondichéry » ou de la « French Riviera of India » se sont succédées. Kollywood en a fait l’un de ses décors favoris. Le développement de la classe moyenne, de la motorisation des Indiens, l’amélioration progressive des infrastructures l’ont rendu une destination rentable. Si les premières années, ces flux touristiques ont profité au développement de la population, ces flux ont depuis été largement confisqués par un secteur hautement capitalisé. Mal contrôlé, trop peu soutenu par une politique culturelle ad hoc, ce tourisme induit désormais des nuisances considérables et participe à la bulle foncière dans la vieille ville. Quoi qu’il en soit, ces flux sont à 90 % indiens et à 10 % internationaux seulement. Ce sont donc majoritairement des Indiens qu’attire la « French Touch » de Pondichéry. Beaucoup y trouvent là une Inde d’une saveur différente, ce qui est le premier ressort du tourisme.
Que les associations de protection du patrimoine, en particulier l’Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Héritage, aient trouvé dans cette situation des arguments pour promouvoir la conservation, souvent partielle, des bâtiments patrimoniaux, n’a pas toujours permis d’atteindre le but recherché. Malgré des réussites remarquables, un discours néonationaliste teinté de théorie postcoloniale en a souvent stérilisé les efforts. Il faut ainsi jouer d’euphémismes, ainsi la ville blanche devient-elle « ville française » ; les réhabilitations pas toujours très fidèles ; même le projet de « smart city », soutenu par la France, se focalise sur le canal qui sépare les quartiers depuis 1827 comme s’il s’agissait aujourd’hui de combler un supposé fossé entre communautés, sans réaliser qu’il n’est jamais vraiment parvenu à en être un dans l’histoire de la ville. Parallèlement on met en avant une « créolisation » dont on exagère volontiers la profondeur et la portée.
Ce qui manque à la protection et à la mise en valeur de la ville, c’est donc bien une connaissance fine de son histoire. Patrimoine modeste pour certains, les maisons de Pondichéry n’avaient jamais été étudiées pour elles-mêmes. On les faisait remonter au mieux à la fin du XIXe siècle, ce qui est faux dans la plupart des cas. Si son importance pouvait paraître mineure, son intérêt se trouvait dans sa remarquable cohérence au début des années 1990. La ville la doit en partie à un plan hippodamien unique en Inde. Mais au-delà des qualités architecturales reste la signification historique. Comptoir commercial, ses remparts n’en protégeaient pas moins les quartiers indiens, fait suffisamment rare en Inde pour être signalé. Principal point de contact entre la France et l’Inde au XVIIIe siècle, Pondichéry a été le centre oriental de son premier empire et rayonnait des bords de la Mer Rouge à ceux de la Mer de Chine. Point d’appui excentré, elle n’en fut pas moins l’une des capitales de l’Inde lorsque le choc des impérialismes détermina le sort de la péninsule pour presque deux siècles.
De cette histoire, il reste encore quelque chose, mais pour combien de temps ? Accusés d’être des « héritiers », tantôt par la majorité indienne, tantôt par la presse française, parfois même dans ses propres rangs, les « franco-pondichériens » quittent l’Inde après avoir vendu fort cher leurs biens à une élite venue du Nord de l’Inde. Nous sommes désormais assez loin de l’idée de Nehru, selon laquelle Pondichéry devait rester « une fenêtre ouverte sur la culture française » pour l’Inde même si des institutions culturelles y demeurent avec des fortunes diverses. Toutefois on se demande quel intérêt auraient les Indiens à faire disparaître, au nom d’une idéologie revancharde, trois cents ans d’une histoire qui a non seulement façonné la ville telle qu’elle est, mais a aussi largement contribué à lui conférer une particularité, ce qui aurait pu jouer comme instrument d’intégration des populations, et qui reste encore l’unique argument du maintien d’un Union Territory dans l’Union Indienne. Quel intérêt, par ailleurs, aurait donc Paris à laisser effacer les dernières traces d’une expérience, mise en place par la République en Inde en 1870, qui doit être considérée comme un cas d’école pour nos sociétés contemporaines ?
De ces atermoiements, de nos discours préconçus qui ont largement échoué à rendre compte de leur présence, les fantômes de Pondichéry rient, qu’ils soient français ou Indiens, de briques ou d’éther. Ils rient de nous, avant de s’effacer.
Ghosts of Pondicherry
The Town Hall of Pondicherry, built in 1869-1870, crashed unexpectedly to the ground one November afternoon in 2014, mercifully without causing any casualties. However, it triggered a great wave of collective emotion among the locals. A reporter of The Hindu, a daily newspaper, went around asking the different sections of the population if they thought rebuilding it identically was a good idea. To everyone's surprise, one of the most respected members of the French-speaking community declared that erecting a modern glass monument would better mirror the "dynamism" of the present-day town. This whole question of its reconstruction, therefore, verily deserves attention.
The idea the gentleman was proposing was basically neither new nor Indian and is regularly brought up by international architects in search of prestigious projects. It is up to the population, attached as it is to the local setting where a monument has sprung up, to deal with it, because architecture continues to play a crucial role in society vis-à-vis the exercise of power, perhaps even more so when it is connected with the colonial era of Pondicherry. Forty years earlier, the same thinking had prevailed over the construction of the Romain Rolland Library and the transformation of the India Post Office (formerly Gaebelé House). They were faithful expressions of the modernity of the time and are today among the most hideous alterations of the townscape. Since then, these have multiplied, keeping pace with the growth of India.
It would be pointless to mention Pondicherry without taking into account the transformations that cities in India have undergone over the past 30 years: The sprawl has increased tenfold as a result of mounting urbanisation caused by a galloping demography; vertical growth due to an acute want of land; the sprawling web of open-air communication networks; obsolescence of infrastructure due to climate and the State’s incompetence and inefficiency. Anyone who returns to the same place six months on cannot but lose his moorings. It is quite understandable then that the attention of the territorial government is focused increasingly on larger and more urgent problems than on issues of urban heritage.
That said, it must be recognised that the government's impact on heritage has been most harmful, even though the situation of Pondicherry seems less degraded than other southern towns and cities. Of the 1,900 heritage buildings identified in 2004 by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, more than 400 survived until 2018 within the town boulevards. In the last forty years, however, no protective legislation has been passed by the local legislature, even though the government proclaims heritage to be a major source of attraction for tourists in its promotional policies on tourism. Destruction continues thus on a daily, or more precisely, nightly pace, and major historical buildings have been razed to the ground. The reasons for this, though not hard to guess, do not diminish in any way the peril of a total loss of the local heritage in a very short span of time.
The reasons for this, then, have little to do with "postcolonial" considerations that are often put forward today. Had the so-called "white" town of Pondicherry been most affected, one could have seen therein a fitting reversal of history, a poetic justice of sorts. This was the line of argument advanced until the 1990s by the Congress elite when they began building certain facilities that were necessary and useful, no doubt, but quite hideous architecturally (the General Hospital, for instance). But the destruction has since accelerated in the so-called "black" town, causing most of the Tamil buildings to disappear and be replaced by a functional architecture of inferior quality. It is thus quite natural to denounce this survival of a colonial mentality that overvalues the "white town" at the expense of the "black", even if the colonial society which characterised it had largely vanished much before the Merger of Pondicherry into the Indian Union in 1954. Why then reopen old "racial" wounds which had largely closed before the decolonisation?
The emergence of mass tourism lately has reactivated the debate. Since the end of the 1990s, the promotional campaigns for tourism have focused on advertising the town as "Peaceful Pondicherry" or the "French Riviera of India". Kollywood, the Tamil film industry, has adopted it as one of its favorite locations for shooting. The rise of the middle class, the increase in car-ownership among Indians and the progressive improvement of infrastructure in the town have all contributed to making Pondicherry an attractive destination. If during the initial years, these tourist arrivals were economically beneficial to the local population, tourism has since been largely cornered by a highly capitalized sector. Besides, due to the lack of proper checks or even support because of an ad hoc cultural policy, tourism has become now a source of considerable nuisance and has contributed to the surge in land prices in the old town. 90% of these tourist arrivals, it must be said, are Indian and a mere 10% international. The Indians are attracted by the "French Touch" of Pondicherry, for they discover here a flavour not found elsewhere in India - a veritable springboard for the continuous rise in domestic tourism.
Heritage protection bodies, such as the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, have taken advantage of this situation to push for the conservation of heritage buildings, often with limited results, sadly, which has not really helped in achieving the desired objective fully. Some remarkable successes notwithstanding, a neo-nationalist discourse coloured by the postcolonial argument has often retarded these efforts. We must thus fiddle with euphemisms, so the “White town” has become the "French town"; the rehabilitation of the areas has not always been very faithful; even the "smart city" project, supported by France, focuses on the canal that has separated the areas since 1827, as if the purpose today was bridging an alleged gap between communities, without understanding that, in fact, the division of the town by this canal never really managed to create one in the history of Pondicherry. There has also been an increasing talk of the “creolisation” of Pondicherry which is needlessly exaggerated both in its extent and impact.
What is lacking in this desire to protect and highlight the distinctive qualities of the town is actually a detailed knowledge of its history. The architectural heritage seen as modest by some; the houses of Pondicherry had never been studied as such. They were dated at best to the end of the 19th century, which in most cases is incorrect. While its importance in the early 1990s might have seemed minor, its interest lay in its remarkable unity and coherence. This distinction comes from the Hippodamian or grid plan that is unique in India. But beyond its architectural qualities, there is also its historical significance. As a trading post, its ramparts protected the Indian quarters as well, which in India was very uncommon and therefore to be noted. As the pivot between France and India in the 18th century, Pondicherry was the eastern centre of its first empire and stretched from the shores of the Red Sea to the China Sea. Although it was an eccentric base, it was nevertheless one of the capitals of India during the clash of empires that determined the fate of the peninsula for almost two centuries.
Something of this history remains, but for how long? The "French-Pondicherians", accused of being "inheritors", at times by the Indian majority, at other times by the French press, sometimes even from within their own ranks, are leaving India after having disposed of their properties at a very high price to a new elite from the different parts of India. We have moved quite far away from Nehru's vision of Pondicherry enduring as "an open window on French culture" in India, even though a few cultural institutions remain with varying degrees of success. However, one wonders what interest the Indians would have in wiping out, in the name of vindictive ideology, three hundred years of a history that has not only shaped the town in its present state, but has also largely contributed to giving it distinction? This uniqueness might have played a cementing role in the influx of new populations, and which still constitutes the only argument for maintaining Pondicherry as a Union Territory in the Indian Union. What interest, besides, would Paris have in being privy to the disappearance of the last traces of this experiment of a universal French republic in India set up in 1870, and which ought to be looked upon as a textbook case for our modern societies?
The ghosts of Pondicherry then mock at us, be they French or Indian, made of brick or ether; they mock at all these procrastinations, at our preconceived speeches which have mostly failed in affirming their presence. They mock at us before they vanish into thin air.
FRÉDÉRICK MANGONÈS is an Architect and heritage conservation expert working in Haiti. He has had a varied career working internationally in Belgium, the United States of America, and Haiti. The Citadelle Restoration Project has been one of his most significant contributions to conserving the heritage of Haiti.
Notes on the relevance of Colonial and Post colonial Architecture in Haiti
It is difficult for me to talk about Colonial architecture in Haiti because the colony left very little “Architecture” with an A in the country. Above all, it left utility structures, aqueducts, mills and other agricultural infrastructure; but few remarkable houses or civil architecture and even very few institutional buildings such as churches or palaces.
Apart from cities such as Cap Haitien with its character and its particularly orderly structure from the colonial era. I will say that most of what remains of the old which is remarkable, is due to the Haitians. In cities such as Les Cayes or Jacmel, the grid is of the colonial era, but the vast majority of buildings date from after the revolution of 1804. In particular the most important of our built heritage are the fortifications. It was necessary to defend this freedom so dearly acquired, and to do this a whole network of fort, batteries and strongholds were built across the country, the most important of which was the Citadel Henry in Milot near Cap Haitien.
"A ce peuple qu'on voulut à genoux, il fallait un monument qui le mit debout." ("For this people who were wanted on their knees, a monument was needed to make them stand up.")
These words that Aimé Césaire lends to Henri Christophe in his play "La tragédie du Roi Christophe" are a perfect illustration of the place that the Citadelle occupies in the collective memory of the Haitian People. It is a symbol of the will of the people not only to free itself from the chains of slavery but to keep, at any price, that painfully earned liberty. As fate would have it, the Citadelle never had to defend itself and remains an unfinished work of surprising beauty. She is a witness of both the great mastery of its builders and the heroic fervor of the soldiers who fought for the conquest of Liberty.
Since 1972 a long and strenuous restoration effort has been going on supported by UNESCO; until 2000 it is now the responsibility of the State with all the hardship that goes with such an endeavor in a nation in such dire need of everything. It is hard to put resources into preserving history when food and education are so lacking. We manage it given that there is no history without memory, and it is to preserve and revive this memory that ISPAN has dedicated so many years of continuous efforts to safeguard the Citadelle, Sans-Souci and other monuments of that time.
In spite of the failure of our people to build a strong Nation, The Citadelle, undeniably the work of the Haitian people, remains a symbol of what this Nation might have been.
At this crucial moment of our troubled history when, after thirty years of the most ferocious dictatorship, followed by 34 years of desolate search for stability and a new direction culminating in the disastrous earthquake of January 12 2010, we are struggling to establish the basis for a new beginning, the existence of this fortress should serve to remind us of the ideals and vision in her incarnate. And perhaps, motivate a realistic evaluation of our past errors to revive the fervor and determination of our ancestors to finally realize the great destiny which they outlined for us.
LUIS MARTÍN BOGDANOVICH is an architect and scholar whose work has focused on the art and architecture of viceregal Peru and immovable cultural heritage. After completing his Master's in Art History, he was a lecturer at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú leading seminars about cultural heritage. Additionally, he has engaged the public through exhibitions curated at the Municipal Gallery of Art Pancho Fierro. He is currently the director of PROLIMA, the Municipal Program for the Recuperation of the Historic Centre of Lima, which works to preserve the Historic Center of Lima as habitable while following the guidelines set forth by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
The Titanic Task Of Recovering The Historical Center Of Lima
“Lima is the homeland of dreams for the American. What twenty-year old who was born in America, did not dream of Lima? For everyone Lima is the illusion, for very few the reality … And something intimate, tender, painful, moves in me as soon as I hear its name pronounced." [N. Avellaneda]
The Historic Center of Lima, like no other place, has witnessed events that have marked the history of our country. Our memory, our identity, our legacy lies in its picturesque squares and streets with suggestive names; inside the glittering churches; or in the tranquility of the courtyards and cloisters of houses and convents; between mysterious balconies, graceful domes and sonorous bell towers; at the foot of Cerro San Cristóbal and on the banks of the Rímac River.
Time has passed and the city has changed, but its spirit is still alive, authentic, and persistent. Because of this, and due to its exceptional universal value, its historic center was recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1991. Three years later, on July 13, 1994, to bring it back to its material and immaterial authenticity, the Municipal Program was created for the Recuperation of the Historic Centre of Lima, which has been working since then on the recovery of the heart of our city.
Twenty-six years have passed and despite the progress made, much remains to be done in the difficult and seldom-understood task of preserving with integrity and authenticity the cultural values of old Lima. Others came before us in this work in the past. Initially, it was the National Council for the Conservation of Historical Monuments, chaired by Father Rubén Vargas Ugarte S.J. and made up of several illustrious people of his time. Those were the years of the earthquake of 1940 and the unfortunate widening of the of Tacna and Abancay avenues, which brought with them the first massive destruction in the historic center, in search of a poorly-understood idea of progress.
By then, Raúl Porras Barrenechea, speaking on behalf of many others, asked for a truce for Lima, and pointed out: “at least leave for the old Lima residents the talkative river of the Yungas, the stone bridge of Montesclaros and the romantics, and the Alameda of Micaela Villegas … and that the friars, within their threatened cloisters, add, among their morning prayers, this beseeching plea to the city: Deliver us, Lord, from the mayors, from the earthquakes and from the developers”.
After some unsuccessful attempts to protect the urban complex, on August 31, 1961, during the administration of Mayor Héctor García Ribeyro, the Metropolitan Deliberative Board of Historical, Artistic and Archaeological Monuments was created, having as its main function the identification and registration of buildings and urban environments with monumental value.
Among the members of the Board, the architects Rafael Marquina y Bueno, Héctor Velarde, José García Bryce, Víctor Pimentel Gurmendi and Luis Miró-Quesada Garland clearly predominated. Unfortunately, at that time, as in ours, outside pressures and private interests opposed to the conservation of Lima put an end to the existence of the Board, which, if it had remained in force and with executive powers, would have guaranteed a legacy of a more uniform urban landscape. The Board was dissolved in 1964 and no other similar body existed within the Municipality until the creation of PROLIMA. The work of this group of architects, historians and urban planners laid the foundations for the declaration and delimitation of the Historic Center of Lima as cultural heritage of the Nation in 1972.
The trail of the defenders of Lima is long and if we review their legacy we will see that they were always in a struggle between light and darkness, with those who, due to ignorance or treachery, promoted the denaturing or destruction of Lima. A few months ago with the approval of the Lima Historic Center master plan and its administrative regulations, we began a new stage, this time with a firm management structure that will supervise the integral recovery of the historic centre for the next few years. A Titanic task, certainly, although full of hope for the most substantial ones that will come in the coming months and that we hope will never stop ...
It is a good time to renew our commitment to Lima, to remember those who fought for it, and to thank those who work for its recovery.
FACT: The Historic Center of Lima has a total area of 1,033 hectares, with 678 buildings declared monuments, 1,292 buildings of monumental value, 25 buildings of modern monumental value, 64 urban-monumental environments, and a hundred public sculptures. The historic center of Peru has the largest number of monuments, churches, convents, monasteries, museums, and movable cultural assets. It also cares for the National Archives.
JOE OSAE-ADDO is an internationally-acclaimed architect and in 2010 became the chairman of the ArchiAfrika Project. He is a vocal advocate of contemporary African design both in his native Ghana and around the world. He supports initiatives that encourage Africans to take ownership of their built environment and create creative solutions to the challenges they face.
Engaging with the Everyday: Jamestown Cafe concept and Beginnings
The idea for this project was to understand the need to use local resources as a trigger for a new urban rejuvenation model. Old Accra, first inhabited by the Ga peoples, is a fishing community known for its seafood and Kenkey, a corn-based starch. This project evolved around the notion of tapping into this culinary delight and adding value to it by developing a restaurant that would sell ‘nouvelle’ cuisine, kenkey, and fish. The idea of the ‘kenkeytrification’ was born and is embodied by this new development.
The original site is a 30,000 m2, old trading warehouse, which will be converted into the retail and artists’ lofts zone. This development is about creativity underpinned by economy. They are more than just apartments and lofts to be lived in but ‘spiritual cathedrals’ where memories and forgotten cultures are rediscovered and celebrated through an ‘inno-native™’ response to site and place, achieved through architecture. Our design and development approach are to let the community have a hand in imbuing their spiritual ‘imprint’ not only on the home but the environment as a whole. Our contribution is not about the edifice but the environment. We need to engender that communal spirit by encouraging ownership of ‘real estate’ beyond their physical boundaries of ownership.
The heart and soul of this project is the large garden, which will be open to the community and public, and hopefully will be the trigger for the greening of Jamestown itself. We plan on immediately extending this to the adjacent police compound by building a playground for families there.
The interstitial spaces and outdoor spaces will take on added significance and will be all about flora and light. These will need to permeate the indoor spaces seamlessly. This may be a wonderful opportunity to introduce other trees and plants form the African Diaspora into the local mix which not only soothes the senses of sight but the palettes of taste - the edible landscape. Plants that can provide sustenance and have homeopathic attributes. In our approach, certainly the architecture matters, but more importantly will it and its environs nourish the soul? We know it will, the spirit of Jamestown that extraordinary blend of Ga indigenes and other, will ensure that.
Our concept is about interstitial green spaces (the courtyard) that shape an architecture that requires no air-conditioning. It is all about different outdoor space experiences weaving seamlessly through the project establishing clear indoor/outdoor relationships. This courtyard scheme is contextual both environmentally and culturally. It acknowledges traditional building layout principles which takes into consideration climate, culture, and heritage. Basically, our project responds to contemporary lifestyle via an ‘inno-native™’ design hostel solution and is referential to contextual house typologies without being literal. For budgetary and other reasons, we took ideas from a much smaller building built in 1915 in the same neighborhood. As with the original landscaped courtyard, it became the focus of a new program of galleries, an eating area, and a hostel.
ASHOK PANDA is a co-convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) Pondicherry. He oversees projects of urban development and heritage restoration in the former Danish colony of Tranquebar (Tharangambadi), where they have completed restorations of historic Tamil architecture. He works to promote tourism in the region and leads heritage walks through historic Pondicherry.
Amidst the multitude of post-colonial British territories in India, Pondicherry is unique, having been the capital of French India. Today, India is grappling with the exodus of its rural population seeking better economic opportunities in the growing cities where the potential for economic growth lies in the tourism and heritage sectors. While tourism brings in investment; the cultural and natural resources have all been exploited in attracting the tourists. This approach reduces the cultural heritage and the environment to an economic commodity. Tourism may offer acculturation which affects attitudes, and spreads new concepts relating to society and culture but in some cases, tourism results not only in physical deterioration but also a social or spiritual deterioration. Tourism is one of the main sources of income in Pondicherry, having increased over the last 15 years. The local population, NGOs and the Government have transformed to create a heritage city sensitive to its local population. Pondicherry could be a model heritage city for the rest of the country.
The cultural assimilation policies of the Third French Republic have formed a distinct identity for the people of Pondicherry and have led to “creolisation". Creolisation is a new reality,resulting from the synthesis of the elements that were in contact with one another. Pondicherry was one of four cities intended to be administered based on its historical links to France after, the 1956 Treaty of Cession. In 1962 the Union Territory of Pondicherry was created and was administered from New Delhi which resulted in the other cities being integrated into the neighboring states.Today, it has integrated with the rest of India, through the adoption of the English language and British institutions while retaining unique French features. The city has a pan-Indian character as a result of being built from people across India. Different from the starting components, and other cities, the intermingling of French and Indian cultures has gone beyond the state of hybridity to creolization.
The built Franco-Tamil architectural heritage of the city vary: the French quarter has structures in the European classical style, whereas the buildings in the Tamil quarter are in the vernacular style of Tamil Nadu. Within the intimate fabric of the town a morphology of built-form is observed, ranging from the simple country-tiled single storied houses to the two-storied houses with considerable colonial influence, the styles of which can be termed “Pondicherry-ness”. The benchmark for Pondicherry’s future would be to achieve ‘UNESCO World Heritage’ status, making it the first heritage city in India. Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is a non-profit organization that has been involved in the preservation and restoration of the architectural heritage, improving the urban environment and promoting sustainable tourism in Pondicherry.
Local Government in Pondicherry and the Indian Government aim to improve the urban environment,so public spaces carry positive communal meanings by upgrading pedestrian areas, heritage buildings, and infrastructure. Heritage conservation, which was the privilege of the cultural elite, is now a major theme for the citizens of Pondicherry since it employs both those in tourism and craftspeople. The local authorities have approved a plan to ensure a holistic development of the region, with a heritage regulation plan likely to be approved and will include legal and financial incentives for local building owners.
Plans for Pondicherry must aim to achieve sociocultural sustainability by preserving diverse histories and values in relation to the wellbeing of contemporary peoples. Achieved by conserving places with rich and diverse histories evident in the built environments and networks enhanced over generations. Opposing scholarship blames conservation for creating gentrification. In Pondicherry, many properties are owned by people who look upon their houses as living embodiments of their family history with only 25% owned by institutions. The aim should be to make the city beautiful and livable for its citizens first – if this is done then both Indian and foreign tourists will be attracted automatically. For Pondicherry, what is required is a comprehensive improvement in urban infrastructure, and architectural heritage protection with which, it could set a new trend– bringing cities back to its people.