Seeking to prevent the demolition of heritage buildings in the future and "empower" the owners of such properties, other citizens and young architects in working for their preservation, experts have developed a new digital platform. The Restoration Toolbox is a soon-to-be-launched, open-source participatory platform, inspired by the concept of circular economy, and also allows people to "flag heritage buildings at risk" and "build a campaign" to save old structures if those are suffering decay or threat of demolition.
Aishwarya Tipnis, a Delhi-based conservation architect with 20 years of experience, rued that "many gaps exist in the system when it comes to conservation and restoration of old buildings". "One issue is that many heritage property owners, particularly private owners, are choosing to let go of their old buildings and offer them to builders for demolition and new projects if they don't find maintenance economically viable," she told PTI.
Tipnis, who conceptualised the project two years ago during the lockdown induced by the second wave of COVID-19, said the pandemic "forced us to imagine architectural practice in a virtual space and the result was this digital toolkit". The project evolved in the past two years as multiple partners joined over time.
The pilot of The Restoration Toolbox has been developed by Jugaadopolis (Aishwarya Tipnis Architects) with technical support from Platoniq. The pilot was funded by Goethe Institut, Be Fantastic and ZKM Karlsruhe, the architect said. It has been selected among the eight innovative projects for international cultural relations as part of the European Spaces of Culture - 2023. The project is being formally launched on April 19 at the Alliance Francaise de Delhi, she said.
"When we analysed the gap, we realised that if heritage property owners are often hesitant to pay a conservation architect, if he or she has to visit from a different city just for consultancy, and we realised they could rather put that money in restoring the structure with right guidance, which the platform provides," she told.
Tipnis holds a bachelor's degree in architecture and PhD from the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, besides a master's degree from the University of Dundee, Scotland. She has worked on conservation projects in Delhi, and Chinsurah and Chandannagar in West Bengal, and has been an advocate for preservation of built heritage.
"Through this project, we want to offer this toolbox digitally to such owners, and offer guidance of experts who have signed up on our platform, all free of cost. Those who wish to further engage with architects or hire them can do so after connecting online via our platform. "The idea is to reach out to as many people as possible, and try to plug the gaps that we found in the practice," she said.
The platform aims to "empower citizens" to restore their own buildings in the hope to "democratise the process of heritage conservation", improve accessibility to right expert advice and provide a space for collaboration for citizens and policymakers to better lives and neighbourhoods while choosing preservation and not demolition as a way forward, the architect said.
"The state of the historic buildings in most Indian cities is dismal, plagued by issues of structural degradation, a host of economic and legal issues. Cities are rapidly degrading, old buildings are being replaced with nondescript buildings (that are) not only changing the urban landscape of the city but also severely impacting pollution levels, harming local communities and the planet," reads the project website.
Research has proven that restoration and adaptive reuse of existing buildings contributes to achieving the circular economy. However, in the Indian context, lack of access to information, experience and technical skills makes the decision to retain and retrofit an old building confusing and appear unviable. The Restoration Toolbox "aims to change this status quo," it says.
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, a circular economy entails markets that give incentives to reusing products, rather than scrapping them and then extracting new resources. This can provide a way to not only protect the environment but use natural resources more wisely, develop new sectors, create jobs and develop new capabilities.
The website further reads, "We have built this as a user-friendly platform that helps communities make sustainable choices. It helps citizens at every step of the process from conceptualising, designing, financing and implementing a project through a process of collaboration and co-creation." Tipnis said the project also aims to create "an army of young architects who will be sensitive to heritage and its preservation so that in the longer run its impact can be seen on society and both government agencies and private individuals will realise the worth of heritage, and choose preservation and not demolition".
The project also has a Restoration Clinic component that allows owners to connect with experts online to help them "nurse their houses back to health". It also has a material library, which is a compilation of user-friendly manuals co-created by students and young professionals to assist in the process of repair, restoration and new construction, she said.
Tipnis said the future plan is to engage with government agencies and various public institutions to take the message across the country -- from big metros to small towns, which are rich in heritage but lacking vision or a roadmap for preservation.
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