Crumbling buildings of Kolkata

Kolkata building
Old buildings being demolished and new construction in order. Picture Credit: Instagram @calcuttahouses

A heritage that held similar importance to Victoria Memorial for more than a century was finally brought down to a status of no heritage value and architectural importance in March 2018. The terrace of this heritage hotel was beaten down by private developers to clear the area for the construction of a 35-storey residential complex.

“The hotel had ceased function and had no special heritage value or architectural value as determined by the Heritage Conservation Committee and was hence downgraded. We don’t remember being accused of bribery and I have no knowledge of this,” said Subrata Sil, head of the project management unit at Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

The Old Kenilworth Hotel at Park Street had Venetian windows and cast-iron railings. It hosted a number of diplomats and politicians.

People and heritage conservationists were infuriated. Amit Chaudhuri, a novelist, took it to Twitter and shared his concern over the issue.

History of old buildings

Kolkata is the hub of colonial buildings that became grounds of ruling authorities during British Raj. There are hundreds of buildings including homes, palaces, synagogues, and churches in the city that speak of tales from history.

Philip Davies, an authority on colonial architecture, said, “It is stumbling toward the future rather than grasping the spectacular opportunities afforded by its heritage. Its unparalleled heritage is crumbling from neglect, and falling prey to random, speculative development.”

The buildings were constructed with a blend of Indian and European architectural style, which came to be known as Indo-European design, keeping in mind the weather of the city. 

“Citing human safety as a key reason for demolition is something that one can rarely debate about. But the real motivation is obviously real estate benefit over tenant interests,” said Kamalika Bose, a heritage preservation planner at Heritage Synergies India.

Other old buildings in danger

Heritage conservationists in Kolkata were also angered over the partial destruction of a historical house in 2018. The building, in the southern part of the city, belonged to renowned Sanskrit academician Gurupada Haldar, an authority in Sanskrit scholarship whose texts are read in leading universities around the world.

The building, near Kalighat’s Basusree cinema hall, started to be pulled down during puja vacations, when the courts are closed. One of the heirs of the family has stated that other members of the family sold off their parts, thus embarking on the destruction.

Furnitures from this house were used in one of Satyajit Roy’s movies. His son Sandip Ray said, “It is very sad to see that such a house is being demolished.”

Campaigns to save the crumbling buildings

Online campaigns started in the past where petitions were signed against the demolition of old heritage that stood tall once. 

Amit Chaudhuri said, “The campaign is not related to Bengali pride. It is not connected to any ethnicity. It is neither pro-heritage nor anti-development too. It is just to preserve our unique architectural ethos which is being destroyed at an incredible pace,”

In fact, a lot of investors in Kolkata are now consulting architects and interior designers  to come up with new ideas so that the essence of old buildings can be saved and a new ambiance can be constructed in its place.

This is one way where the crumbling architecture will get a new look and still stand high among various other skyline of the city. 

While money sharks demolishing the eccentric buildings, an instagram project was brought into the play so that the very spirit of the city can be captured before we lose it completely.