Our tragedy is that we are again blindly aping the west without realising that while it may be a neccessity for skyscrapers, we are not bound by this strict adherence to geometry. Some hope, however, stems from a quite unexpected source. The delicate 'brickwork and
jaali' design of some new government buildings like the newly-restored Arts Emporium and the Sangarmal Shopping Complex makes them totally blend into the city, rather than sticking out like a sore thumb, as in the case of the unredeemably ugly GPO building.
While modern building ‘technology’ may be unavoidable, the same is not true of ‘design’. Buildings may incorporate architectural details simply to delight the viewer.
Private commercial buildings may have to be given up as a lost cause
given our propensity towards ‘bhed chaal’ so it is home builders who
should consider using traditional embellishments for a unique,
instantly-recognisable kashmiri design, rather than simple cut-and-paste
jobs from western house-plan magazines. What stops our highly-talented architects from evolving a ‘Kashmiri post-modern’ architectural ethos? It cannot be very difficult to incorporate traditional elements like dub, varusi,
dour etc. into our building designs. The onus is on our own architects and
homeowners to maintain a link to our rich architectural past.
In this context, the building heritage survey of Srinagar carried out a few years ago by the Centre for Heritage and Environment, Kashmir (CHEK) and INTACH is an invaluable effort. Their team of researchers compiled data from over 800 properties on the basis of historical, archaeological, and architectural significance into a five-volume report. An impressive exhibition of photographs based on this mammoth project was organised at SKICC in September 2005. Though the official website design and layout, including the presentation of photographs is not very impressive, it is well worth a visit for the wealth of information on our architectural heritage.
Update: The INTACH website seems to have gone AWOL.
P.S I am currently planning to build a new house for my family. Let us see how far I can use traditional Kashmiri architectural details on the exterior. I will post pictures as the construction progresses. Watch this space.