Preserving Heritage Architecture and Design with this Golf Club Design in Kolkata | Spaces & Design

The most conspicuous part of east Indian history is its heritage architecture. The region’s unique bravura is brought to life by the terracotta temples of West Bengal, monasteries of Sikkim and the iconic temples of Odisha. These monuments stand as remnants of Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic legacies, stitching up a seamless narrative of the yore.

Preserving Heritage Architecture and Design with this Golf Club Design in Kolkata | Spaces & Design

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Although, in these fast-evolving times, some of these structures from the part of original heritage architecture seem outmoded. Pooja Bihani, Principal Architect, Spaces & Design, having worked in the east Indian heritage space on several occasions, believes that thoughtful conservation, restoration and in some cases, adaptive reuse of heritage structures can ensure that they retain their distinct character and evolve to stay relevant. But restoration is a painstaking endeavor that not only requires skill but an extremely informed approach towards history and the dynamics of architecture per se.

The process of restoration and subsequent adaptive reuse of this heritage architecture not only requires thorough documentation of the structure but also follows a set of guidelines to understand social, cultural and economic implications of restoration on the local context. The revived heritage can then pique a renewed interest in the history of the region and create numerous economic prospects for artisans and craftsmen residing there.

Adding soul to heritage

To achieve the desired outcomes of restorations, a number of factors often surface as hurdles. Recently, a popular bar – part of the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, founded in 1829, received a facelift. Synonymous with the game of golf in this country, RCGC is the oldest golf club outside the British Isles. Pooja Bihani, the brain behind the restoration and renovation of the Bar at 19th shared insights about the process, “The space was an enclosed area and aloof of the beautiful view outside. The goal was to create a modern sports bar but without compromising its heritage features. The shell or area defined for the bar wasn’t a normal, linear one- the curve at the exterior offered the potential to be opened up to the golf greens through the heritage arches. It was completely enclosed earlier, and the arches were covered with Aircons. Although the curve was asymmetrical, we chose to shift the focus and axis off it in a manner that this curve now looks symmetrical and anchored as if it was meant to be. We conquered this challenge by opening up and ‘restoring’ the five arches back to the hundred-year-old planning of the heritage building.”

If one is to walk through the bar, the modern elegance immediately meets the eye. Although, it is the arches that run across, offering the serene glimpse of the green course outside, that stay put in the mind long after one has left. In the past, Spaces and Design has been involved with resurrecting prestigious projects of East India to recall its ancient glory. Ask Pooja about her favorite feature of East Indian Architecture, and she promptly responds, ‘The arcade of arches, of course.’ Her design firm Spaces & Design sees conserving built heritage as an integral part of urban planning. The firm understands the soul of the city dwells in its cultural and architectural heritage. The challenge of applying new materials for restoration to achieve the aesthetic value of centuries ago is something that the practice thoroughly enjoys.

Conquering Challenges

The primary challenge, that most of these heritages edifices face, is working around the old load-bearing walls. Looking back at the previous restoration projects- Belgadia Palace and Osteostrong – a wellness franchise nestled in Loudon Mansion, Kolkata, Pooja shares, “The desire to upgrade to all concealed modern services that include wiring, plumbing, CCTV and WiFi set-ups as per set standards. The other challenge is to implement these over room heights of over 19 feet. Maintaining and touching up the old cornices, the old joist ceilings, the symmetry of all arch openings and doors…the list is endless!” It doesn’t stop there. Pooja goes on to explain that pests and water seepage get better of the thick walls, thus, wreaking havoc on these sturdy structures. Battling these take up a huge amount of time and effort. Pointing at Osteostrong, the outlet occupies a spot in Loudon Mansion, she further explains, “Loudon Mansion is an early example of European houses in Kolkata. The building stands out amidst the 19th-century structures that line up Loudon Street. The building per se has a simple three partite plan, double storied. Doing up the outlet here came with its own fair share of highs and lows.”

Not only retrofitting the structure but also making it suitable for contemporary use was a challenging task in itself. Turning a heritage property into a modern flagship of a global wellness brand through adaptive reuse–neededful design interventions with minimum tampering done with the traditional architectural elements. Even though it is always better to retain the original function of the building but in cases when it can’t be avoided—the new function must add to the architectural heritage instead of taking away from it.

The Sweet Taste of Victory

The restoration and adaptive reuse of various heritage sites not only opens more avenues for tourists but also contributed to the conservation of India’s rich history. The Belgadia Palace, an 18th-century palace, was restored to help visitors bask in luxury. It is through these monuments that India’s robust history speaks. Restoration of these structures is vital to showcase the historic evidence by halting further degradation.

The numerous temples, palaces and other miscellaneous structures strengthen the essence of the country’s rich past. The extravagantly decorated Belgadia Palace, of the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj is one such heritage building that depicts the rarest engineering skill and architectural excellence of a bygone era. The construction of the first phase of the palace began on orders of Maharani Sumitra Devi Bhanj Deo in 1804, who ruled the state from 1796 to 1810. The art deco features, stained glass and chandeliers, repaired and showcased strategically, give the essence of living in the turn of the century. Such is the charm of conservation and historic preservation; it establishes a link between the past, present, and future. Walking through the halls of the palace gives you a sense of the different periods the house has been through beginning with the 1800s.

A part of the palace has been converted into a heritage hotel for welcoming guests who are curious about the history of the palace and Mayurbhanj. The adaptive reuse of palaces as heritage hotels follows a long tradition which not only generates a renewed interest in the area but also offers employment opportunities to locals specializing in different artistic and cultural trades that are specific to the region. A certain sensitivity and understanding of the local traditions , history and culture is needed to successfully revive the architectural building legacy of such a place.

Besides, there’s more that restoration offers apart from saving bits of history for the future. When one talks about sustainable building practices, conservation, restoration and adaptive reuse become important talk points. The practice can be seen as an ultimate form of recycling in the field of architecture.

Fact File

Designed by: Spaces & Design

Client Name: The Bhanjdeo Family of Baripada, Mayurbhanj, Odisha

Project Name: Belgadia Palace , Baripada

Project Size: 23,500 Sq.ft

Location: Kolkata, West Bengal

Principal Architect: Pooja Bihani

Design Team: Subhasis Sau, Tuhin Bhattacharjee, Soumadip Mondal & Silki Agrawal

Consultants of the project

Contractors: KNB Associates, Kolkata

Photo credits: Vivek Das

Firm’s Website Link: Spaces & Design

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