The Evolving Role of Contemporary Conservation Architects in India: Beyond Traditional Professional Practice | Ashima Krishna
The field of heritage conservation in India was formally established in 1861 through the creation of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and was the federal agency’s principal domain until only a few decades ago.1 The field did not quite overlap with architectural practice until the 1980s, after the creation of the advocacy nonprofit group Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).2 The post-independence period between the 1950s and 1980s also overlapped with the launch of various graduate programs in India that further trained architects in the practice of heritage conservation, like the School of Planning and Architecture (New Delhi) and CEPT University (Ahmedabad).3 Many architects also trained at US and European universities before returning to practice in India.
An examination of curricula of Indian graduate programs in heritage conservation, however, shows that they primarily focus on the design and technical aspects of heritage conservation practice. Mehrotra’s critique of the relative rigidity of conservation education in India and the United Kingdom also shows that graduates from both countries struggle to adequately interpret and understand the processes of what he has called the “kinetic city,” where urban processes, movements, and functions are part of an ever-changing system. Most graduate programs, he argues, mainly focus on the more static aspects of the built environment, particularly in relation to Western-created international charters and conventions that get blindly copied and applied in non-Western contexts like India.4 Thus, it is not surprising that academic programs both within India and elsewhere do not train conservation architects in dealing with conflicts in professional settings. This is problematic, because heritage- and heritage conservation–related conflicts often involve and are impacted by interactions between the public officials, concerned stakeholders, the conservation architect, and members of local communities who are set to gain or lose the most and whose participation is incredibly important for the conservation and heritage management process.5 Increasingly today, emerging professionals are helping to reshape practice; they are creating innovative ways of involving local communities in the process.6
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