Urban sketches to preserve Kerala's historic legacy

A group of young architects from Kollam is sketching Kerala's urban landscape.

KOLLAM: A group of young architects from Kollam has launched a project to sketch the urban landscape across the state to document the historic legacy of Kerala. The sketches, which will cover the urban architecture of the state, will serve as cultural signboards for the future generations. The architects are making an attempt to record the surviving remnants of the past before they disappear owing to the negligence of the people. As a first step, a series of sketches titled ‘Urban Sketches’ was made and exhibited at a programme organised by the Institute of Urban Designers India (IUDI) at the 8-point art cafe in Kollam. It put forward the idea to sketch the historic sites in the cities. The exhibition was curated by Dr. Manoj Kini, architect, urban designer and faculty in charge of the masters programme in urban design at College of Engineering, Trivandrum.

“The sketches lay emphasis on the elements of a place, otherwise unseen in photographs. Thus the sketches of Kollam city by urban designers, architects and students focus on the built-up heritage and natural surroundings,” Dr. Manoj Kini says. The volunteers sketched spots, including Ashtamudi lake edge, Thangasseri, Ashramom, Chinnakkada, Chamakkada, T.S. Canal stretch, taluk kacheri and Thevally.


According to Dr. Manoj Kini, there have been no serious studies on the architectural history of Kerala which has affected the preservation of its heritage. Several of our ancient buildings were ruined due to the adverse climate in the state, he says. “In Kerala, we have a fully blown tropical architecture, which can be claimed only by a few heritage sites in the world. We had a highly evolved culture with our architecture using timber, lime and stones, all derived from nature,” he added.

The most important aspect of the conservation of our heritage is the cultural landscaping, which was propagated by an American geologist Carl O Sauer. According to Mr. Sauer, cultural landscape is defined as “a geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources, and the wildlife or domestic animals therein, associated with a historic event, activity or person or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic values.”

In ancient times, Kerala had geographical boundaries that demarcated its culture – the Odanadu, Desinganadu, Travancore, Kuttanadu and Valluvanadu – which stand as striking examples of its culture with each ‘desa’ existing because of this cultural geography. The geography defines the culture associated with it. They have specific language, attire, aspects of agriculture methods –which are part of cultural geography.

The architecture has also evolved as part of cultural landscape with the peculiarities of each area reflected in its architecture. And what Kerala was once lies in this cultural landscape through which the state can be identified and related to. “Today, out of ignorance or mere laxity, this cultural geography lies unpreserved which has in turn made us lose the heritage itself. The effort by a group of young architects is to sketch at least the existing ones before they vanish entirely. These sketches will remain as remnants of time in future. While sketching, we learn a lot about the proportion and minute details of the construction. The structure will leave a lasting impression on the mind of an architecture student,” Mr. Manoj Kini says.

The sketching is done in the open space with the people all around. This is deliberately done to help them develop an interest in the object and make them aware of it. This process is conservation-oriented. Sketching is the simplest method to conserve the cultural landscape and document the remnants of time. “It is an attempt to document the natural, cultural, and built-up urban heritage of the state. This documentation connects a lot of interdisciplinary studies, including geography, history, culture, anthropology, architecture, and landscape,” according to Mr. Manoj Kini.

The project initiated by the IUDI Kerala chapter is led by architects Biley Menon, Ajith Vyas, Jacob Cherian and Dr. Manoj Kini. The sketching camp conducted in Kollam was attended by professionals and students identifying locations within the city to sketch them. The programme has a team, including Soorya, Vivek and Abilash, architects, and the students from the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi, College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram, Bishop Jerome School of Architecture and TKM College of Engineering in Kollam led by Dr. Manoj Kini. Professional sketches by architect Manu Mahajan, a renowned urban sketcher and faculty in the Department of Urban Design at SPA, were also exhibited at the show.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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