“Heritage conservation is a viable practice for architects provided but considerable effort is required to bring it within scope of normal architectural practice.”

Part I: Introduction

India is known for its rich and diverse cultural heritage and Indians are proud of this inheritance, but paradoxically to this day, Indian historical architecture is, largely, outside the government’s purview of legal protection and management. Lack of protection means inadequate cultural resource information. Two reasons can be identified for the present situation: the first is the attitude towards historical architecture, which is the very same way that nature and the environment were perceived till very recently. The second can be attributed to the lack of ability to translate the language of good intentions into action. The problem stems from the post colonial Indian mind.

India’s colonial history has resulted in the inheritance of the western system of cultural resource management. The colonial hangover results in the non-recognition and application of traditional architectural knowledge systems resulting in confused “kitsch”. Heritage protection and management today is a very developed field, a long way from Victorian and Napoleonic times when it was confined to monuments and landmark achievements of civilizations. The existing Monuments Act is largely based on the earlier British act of 1904 and only protects about 5000 structures. . Official heritage protection and management is grossly outdated and inadequate. There is no protection for non-monumental structures, whole areas and historic cities. Therefore, historical architecture is at the mercy of all the pressures and forces of development.

The focus of this paper is on built heritage within a larger framework of Indian civilisational studies. It confines itself to historical architecture and cities as cultural resources. This approach, which I shall refer to as the Architectural Knowledge Systems approach, is based on the premise that problems with our heritage today can be solved if we understand traditional knowledge systems. Building on these knowledge systems is an essential task for protecting India ’s cultural heritage. One has to go back to decentralization and community participation that existed in earlier times, what the heritage itself tells you. It is not modern architectural design but a knowledge systems approach.

No one has made the effort to bring this source of knowledge within a management process. The widening gulf between the countries with developed management and those without leads to an unequal dialogue among countries in the International arena. In the west where heritage protection and management is more developed, professionals have a more comprehensive and methodological framework to follow. In India we are yet to formulate a comprehensive policy for heritage protection and management.

The current situation of rapid transformation and change is heading towards a cultural disaster which can be averted only with a major effort towards a comprehensive approach, an integrated framework and methodology that relates to the country’s cultural realities. Integrated frameworks for cultural resource management have to be developed for different cultural contexts. Based on the nature of heritage resources we will have to develop processes, methods, theories and skills which will enable evolution of heritage regeneration systems in a decentralised manner.

The Nature of Indian Built Heritage

Indian historic cities and settlements have always been viewed by planners, urban managers and architects oversimplistically. Historic cities have been seen as a blob on the Master Plan and simply called the “walled city” or the “inner city”. In truth, Indian historic cities and settlements are complex and highly developed cultural resource entities. They show a wide diversity in their morphological character, being products of different geographical contexts, specific historic times, characteristics and functions. These embody numerous dynamic “systems” and “sub-systems” with definite structures and hierarchies, performing their specific roles but operating together in an urban spatial entity, just like parts of a human body. There has been no attempt towards understanding it as a dynamic multifaceted cultural product. Every structure and fragment in a historic city is a true document of cultural and technical knowledge systems. The evidences of their history are preserved as ‘layers’ of built fabric, making them highly readable entities. Coherence is added by the specific nature of the heritage components, historic building typologies and structure.

The historic city is to be viewed both as a source and repository of architectural and technical knowledge. This knowledge system embodied in every historic city, has to be deciphered by dissecting the city, identifying its “contents” and understanding its complex relationships. Only through such a ‘rediscovery’, will we be able to define and describe the Historic City in a way that the ‘external’ word-view and the ‘internal’ one co-relate within society.

Potential of Heritage to Human Development

Studies in all undergraduate and postgraduate Departments at SPA have a strong bias towards historic areas. However each discipline follows their own methods, techniques and approaches in studying, analyzing and finding solutions for historic areas. Heritage as a subject is not a simple extension to the domain of the historian or planner or architect. It is complex enough to deserve its own domain and a variety of professionals to address its needs. But in this case all roads do not lead to Rome ! While it is well accepted that the Indian historic city needs expertise from numerous disciplines that work in the area, limits have to be set within which positive impacts have to be identified. There has to be an accepted framework, which encompasses complex and numerous techniques, and methods that improve, enhance and maintain inherent cultural values. Because of the lack of information about traditional and historic architecture, education is weak on this vital aspect. There is a need to redefine heritage and cultural value. The integration of this invaluable resource into mainstream planning and development and the need to train people who can work with the ground reality is of primary importance.

Part II: The Knowledge Systems Approach

This paper draws on one thread, which is to do with increasing the “content” about the place and giving a new cognizance to the city using historical and geographical information. One needs to appreciate the colossal information represented by the surviving heritage and the need to find a way to realize and harness the same for extending our knowledge of historical architecture. One has to begin by identification of heritage and using the heritage as a source of knowledge. This source becomes of primary importance in research and documentation. When one develops by starting with the heritage as a knowledge base one starts recognizing the different systems of knowledge followed is different from the western model which is a linear model. Then education and training skills of heritage professionals will get a different focus from the Eurocentric viewpoint.

The Process of Rediscovery and Knowledge Generation

Three types of information are required: historical, geographical and anthropological. The amalgamation of the three produces objective information. The knowledge systems approach is to break up and then reassemble information in a hierarchical order. This method of looking at all the aspects is the integrated view of the subject. This helps in making the historical context a source of knowledge. The ability to view the external world of historical architecture and to express this in language integrates the human mind. This ability to express will increase the quality of creative expression of contemporary times in terms of books, poetry etc. This is a long-term strategy for knowledge accumulation.

One has to be stop being selective. Instead we have to think of the complete picture, the interrelationships between the whole hierarchical heritage pyramid. The redefinition has to recognize all aspects: cities, capitals, complexes, big and small architecture, housing and the landscape, gardens, tanks, ghats. Rediscovery of Indian Architecture is as important as legislation and control measures and will lead to a positive safeguarding of the built fabric.

Does theory come first or practice? The generation of knowledge starts from looking at the historic city itself – the source of knowledge. The approach followed by us is of practice first because it is a new area. Start from practice as one is dealing with what exists on ground, the physical reality. Practice and then make your own theory. This can be done if the traditional building is defined in a complex and scientific system and if comprehensive information about the building can be generated that helps to perceive the traditional/ historical structure in the same manner as an object of contemporary technology.

It enriches the first stage of the design process i.e. – to fill the mind with information and develop a whole course of active involvement with building knowledge, which begins with redefinition of what we recognize as heritage and distinguish its various components.

PART III: The Holistic Framework for Integrated Heritage Management /Conservation

Over the past 15 years I have developed a holistic and integrated framework which I have used both as a teaching model, and a methodology for my professional projects . This framework makes a lot of sense in India which is rich with surviving heritage but lacks adequate protection and management of its cultural resources. The integrated framework was originally developed as a means of understanding Indian historical architecture, to rediscover the cultural entities comprising buildings, complexes and entire cities for the ultimate aim of protection and management.

It has helped me redefine heritage and construct a new paradigm for the country. With my continuous involvement in heritage issues over this period as activist, teacher, professional and adviser, I have always used this holistic and integrated framework. This framework approaches the challenge from a position of no authority by focusing on the knowledge potential of heritage and its relevance to long term benefits to create a society that is responsible to its resources.

Historical and traditional Indian heritage was produced through plural cultures that were within a holisitc and integrated paradigm. It is assumed that conservation is everyone’s business hence we will need to understand and intervene from within this frame. This framework is an attempt to reintegrate that which has been lost through the colonial and western intellectual processes that have been adopted in India over the last 200 years.

The holistic framework views architecture as a cultural product. It gives a way of generating heritage knowledge through simple objective means to empower the local community to look after the resources in a responsible way. It also creates healthy conditions within the community through the communication potential of comprehensive cultural resource information that enables the community to express themselves with this new knowledge. It is hoped that poetry, painting drama and other forms of expression will be possible thus integrating the external world and the internal mind of the community - the perfect condition for the historic city to become the playground of learning.

The framework consists of four levels which are not hierarchical namely: Context, Parameters, Components and Action or Intervention. These four levels together signify the complete process from ground reality to the ideas and theories, from subject area of heritage, knowledge generation to development of ways and means to management systems required. All these possibilities are embodied within the holistic framework.

The Context

Built heritage is seen as an embodiment of all the technical and architectural knowledge of the place. It is defined as the product of three elements namely people, place and time comprising the “context” of the place. The three elements are always examined together. Therefore, we have to look at three sets of information systems together namely, anthropological, geographical and historical, to extend and build upon the existing information.

“Place” or “land” refers to the natural environment, which supports life, the manmade modifications which gives rise to the architectural characteristics of a particular geographical region. The scale of this element varies from a nation to a building. Land also refers to the settlement that grows and restructures itself overtime.

“People” refers to the inhabitants who are the users, builders, and modifiers and to their culture, aspirations and values. Depending on the scale of action to be undertaken our conception of people also changes at an overall scale the emergent patterns will require techniques of analysis which differ from those required for the study of a community or family level.

“Time” refers to the “past”, present and future dimension which provides the first two elements with much of their dynamic quality. It takes into account the modification of the landform through various periods of history. A consequence of this is also what is referred to as “layers”, each layer the culmination of the interaction between land and people at a certain point of time. As historic area and buildings live over a considerable period of time, many “layers” of identifiable cultures are superimposed one over the other.

The Parameters

This level establishes the place of conservation within and the implications of other National Policies on heritage management. Primary areas of concern are urbanization, development planning, housing and environment. Secondary areas of concern are tourism and building industry. Existing state planning Acts and Building Byelaws totally ignore historic areas and buildings. The legislation actually destroys the traditional fabric. Government polices presently do not recognize built heritage as a resource especially historic housing which is a major part of housing stock. Goals of development and physical planning have been detrimental to existing heritage. It has lead to indiscriminate growth of cities with a resultant change in space utilization, overcrowding, sub division of historic units and visual transformation in the structures. The high price of land has resulted in vast historic areas being sacrificed to accommodate poor quality structures. Complexity of ownership and occupancy patterns has lead to lack of attention to old buildings.  

The Components

Every conservation policy consists of components like registration, grading and documentation guidelines, the organizational structure required for conservation, measures of controls and incentives such as tax exemptions and finance.

Official policy is still monument-centred and there is a need to include the rest especially living areas into legislation. There is an almost total absence of control measures such as legislation as well as incentives. There is no comprehensive protection and management of all categories of heritage or a perception and understanding of the allocations of funds required for the task of conservation. The existing institutional arrangements are inadequate to cope with the colossal task of conservation which include identifying personnel, creating new agencies and restructuring existing ones. Concepts such as adaptive reuse, recycling, upgradation and rehabilitation are totally missing.

The Action

This is confined to interventions on historic fabric and includes all types and scales from individual buildings to large areas and imperial capitals.

Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary

It is important to understand that the realm of Architects and Archaeologists is very different. In the rest of the world people have broadened their perspectives about Architecture and Archeology. The methods have to be transdisciplinary. We have to borrow from other disciplines. The scholars who look at the city look through tinted glasses of their own subject and assume that it is the whole. But as the people who really look at city and architectural information which is case specific a method has to be devised which may take from other disciplines. Heritage legislation may require the inputs of a lawyer. Other emerging areas can be seen within the realm of heritage are new roles for economist sociologists, planners, and philosophers.

Vision for management and new design

Rediscovery part of policy: Should address the paradox GIH but unknown.

The lacuna about knowledge of the built heritage – in fact the traditional Indian architecture is yet to be rediscovered. Indian Heritage does not deserve a compromise. Bridging this gap is a colossal task. This calls for responsibility from the architectural profession to first recognise historical architecture as part of the subject domain. Commitment to the generation of architectural knowledge systems by support and influencing the authorities towards a strong and comprehensive heritage protection and management system from policy to action.

When one works on a conservation project one is confronted with the total absence of National level guidelines. The total responsibility from identification of heritage to its management falls upon the consultant. To meet this challenge the education programme must prepare the person to this situation.

Correct methodology and techniques

The technique of inventory is used to collect cultural resource information of a historic place. This is based on the assumption that the local community needs to be well informed about the heritage to take on the responsibility of local protection and management. Interpretation and communication of the cultural resource information for management agencies, local community, educational institutions and other concerned persons. If the application priority of this information is for local heritage management and community development, it will ensure that the area of historical architecture which were earlier subjective will transform into an objective knowledge system. 

PART IV: Practical Application of the Holistic Framework

The framework has been the basis of the Masters’ programme in the Department of Architectural Conservation, SPA since 1994. The disciplines that have been fragmented are being brought together once again and education is being imparted in a similar way as with craftspersons in the past. This approach has led to the development of new interdisciplinary areas that are being explored in the academic sector through the research thrust areas, such as the knowledge systems, (Ref1). We are in the midst of the dialogue process with institutions and professionals such as economists, philosophers and lawyers. Foe the framework has been the basis for holding a dialogue with the people of Delhi to solicit their participation in the active protection and management of the city; The campaign “Historic Delhi World Heritage City 1995-96 “ helped in increasing the heritage vocabulary of an Indian city.

This framework has also resulted in new ways of management such as defining Heritage Zones and Archaeological Parks for historical areas such as Mehrauli, Khajuraho, Hyderabad and Champaner. These concepts, resulting in the preparation of management documents become part of planning and urban development based on integration of cultural resources. The concept of the Archaeological Park is currently being discussed at State Government levels both at Manipur and Gujarat , as a potential new legislation for places where unprotected cultural resources occur both under and above the ground.

Over the last decade we have developed an insight into Indian historic cities and are categorizing these accordingly. Based on their historical morphological character and functions, our preliminary investigations” show that the Indian historic city can be classified as sacred (Vrindavan), princely (Bundi), Imperial Capital ( New Delhi ) or vernacular settlements (Badami). They may be planned and designed (Jaipur, Shahjahanabad) or ‘layered’. Depending on their specific typologies, each of these kinds of settlements have characteristic landmarks and components which give a unique identity to the historic Indian settlement. These inter-related heritage components organised in a compact manner add distinct quality, richness and diversity through the accumulation and accretions of time.

1: The Deserted Capital of Champaner (1989-90)

(Champaner: Draft Action Plan for Integrated conservation Sponsored by Heritage trust Baroda and INTACH Dec 87 it has been a continuous process in 1999 it was inscribed in the World Monuments Watch List. The original work resulted in the proposal of Regeneration programme for Champaner Pavagadh – A Participatory Conservation collaborative.)

The 15th century capital was abandoned when the region merged into the Mughal empire. Champaner lay at the bottom of an underground archaeological area with a few standing structures. The thick forests recaptured the site and till today most of the land comes within the Reserved Forest Act except for 34 monuments protected by the ASI and the 70 odd that we inventoried. Within the inner citadel area, a small village exists since 19th century, which derived its subsistence from the temple of the Kalikamata on the landmark Pavagadh Hill. Champaner was high on the religious map of the region, but pilgrims largely bypassed the historic city.

The late Dr. R.N. Mehta, an archaeologist with twenty years of first hand knowledge about the site had a complete mental map of the capital and knew every road, living quarter and dwelling in Champaner. He would point out to some little evidence on the site to hinge his story to ground reality. Another worldview of the site comes from a poster made by a local artist. It is complete picture of the site from the little railway station, the important festival of “garba”, the Pavagadh hill, the temple and the fortifications, everything except for the archaeological excavations, a total ignorance demonstrated by both the local community and the pilgrims.

The issue is the difference in the information content and the quality and quantity about cultural resource information for responsible management. The framework when applied to the situation rediscovered Champaner with all its components, the geography, the archeological remains, the living heritage and the people of the place. It took years for Dr. Mehta to acquire the information base that he had. This information has to be communicated to the local community because they are the guardians of the site and should have a good knowledge about the contents and a true definition of the cultural resources. This led to the proposal of an Interpretation Centre to be located at a point half way up the hill, where the real and the represented and the presented could be seen in one visual sweep. Besides communicating the archeologists’ knowledge to the people, the experts and specialists should also acquire a more holistic picture of the same.

The Interpretation Centre still remains an idea, but through the framework, the local institutions have been strengthened to enable generation of cultural resource information. Some progress has been made regarding a new management plan. There is also an attempt to introduce a new legislation called the Archaeological Park Legislation that envisions the need of cultural resources and foresees management of site and resources with the local community participation.

2: Mehrauli (1988-89) (Ref.2)

The heritage of Mehrauli as understood till 1988 was the ASI protected Qutb complex and the walls of Lal Kot . But our holistic approach helped us to understand that Mehrauli is much more. Starting with inventories of every historic building we saw on site we compiled a computerised database of over xxx monuments. The main “rediscovery” was that Mehrauli was the complete 19th century setting of the Late Mughal kings and associated closely with Bahadur Shah Zafar . The importance of the Mughal Palace complex at Mehrauli shows the stylistic evolution of Mughal architecture from Shahjahan’s Red Fort. The entire urban structure of thisMughal capital can be discerned with its cultural spatial components and social community groups.

Mehrauli has been the subject of children’s and teachers’ programme called “Mehrauli, a ‘Playground’ for Learning” in the early 90’s. The programme represents the ideal conditions in society that supports heritage management. A society that is informed can interact and intervene proactively and creatively with the historic environment and knows is responsibility to it. This condition is only possible after the built heritage of the city has been rediscovered.

3: Campaign Delhi as World Heritage City

(It was an initiative started by the Conservation society of Delhi a Heritage pressure group. The author coordinated the programme. The group was active through the 80’s to 1997 when the author resigned as the president. The Author’s role was that of a professional speaking from a platform)

Delhi has many Cities that were inhabited at various times. Thus consisting of myriad heritage components such as Settlements, historic villages, Walls, Tombs, engineering Structures, dargahs, temple etc. A city much more than Qutb, Humayun’s tomb and India gate. Only when we look at each component that we get the holistic picture.

4: Bundi the Princely capital (II semester project in 1990 of the Master’s of Architectural Conservation Course)

The Anthropological aspect was of utmost importance here and a study of that really unraveled the place that how society spatially locates itself on ground depending upon the inter relationships. This rediscovery is done based on what exists on site only and one refrains from conjecture. The physical indicators on site through their spatial arrangement and architecture explain the social structure of the times. The level of local Knowledge about the place was tremendous ulike Delhi where majorities are either refugee, migrant or from some place other than Delhi .

5: Khajuraho (1998 project, worked as consultant)

The framework is complete in its form in this project from conception to action. The process begins with the rediscovery of the place through inventories and it is concluded that it is much more than erotic sculptures but a heritage region with myriad components and their specific management needs. The local people are of utmost importance and have to become a part of the process.

  • The Khajuraho Heritage Region
  • The Khajuraho Heritage Zone
  • The Kahjuraho Heritage Area

The management system requires new institutions, laws and new documentation as well as integrated approach where development and planning make heritage an integral part.

6: Hyderabad (1999)

The last Nizam of Hyderabad a much-misunderstood man was reinstated through the study of the city and the architectural products of his times. Only through the existing proofs the story is reconstructed and the real city is rediscovered. Important for the management of the city.

7: Vrindavan

(An IGNCA, Janapada Sampada Project, Braj Prakalp , a trans - disciplinary project of which the author was responsible for the Architectural Module. The project was documentation of one building the Govind Deva Temple , which was made into an exhibition – Govind Deva a dialogue in stone. Later on one settlement Vrindavan was studied by the II semester, 1997)

Vrindavan is not only a sacred settlement, but also a cultural region, which is very important to the people’s sensibilities and emotions. The metaphysical and religious rituals are spatially represented in the region. The same holistic approach is used to study and evolve a conservation plan for the region taking into account every aspect of the region – religion, people and the architecture. Thus not taking architecture for granted but treating it like a product of specific conditions peculiar to the place.


Many disciplines have tried to do what they think is good for the Indian heritage and the historic city. Planning processes have invaded the cultural regions, cultural landscapes and historic cities with Special Areas plans, master plans, landuse plans, zonal plans, Byelaws and now heritage regulations. Traffic planning has eroded much fabric in an attempt to give modern benefits to the people and improving the environment. Architects build new landmarks in old places. Do the Town Planning Acts need to be critically reviewed in order to address cultural values? This question needs to be addressed by the planning professionals. I am only concerned with the negative impacts of planning documents and activities on heritage areas. As a society it is time to assess objectively and retain or safeguard what is beneficial to society and discard the rest.

Many alternative frameworks are required to truly internationalise heritage management. The role of each alternative within the global to local arena, adds quality, because each region has things to offer to the world and this is a way for a dialogue to be conducted. The Indian experience is only one such.

True consensus is required and India has to participate because its cultural resources are so vast and varied. Only dialogues are possible from a locally informed position. The World Heritage Convention and the subsequent World Heritage Sites require that Indian cultural resource management is at par with the international level. Different regions and contexts have to formulate their own systems of management based on the same principals for consensus within the member states.

I shall conclude that it is possible to have a definite approach and philosophy towards the conservation of our built heritage. Various types of cities with their many components present an undiscovered source of knowledge. Knowledge of life styles, history, people, building techniques and many other aspects that may present some lessons that we could learn. There are historic cities and complexes, water systems, buildings and streets that need to be understood and described as an entity. It is a big challenge. The design architect is “informed” with architectural knowledge systems. This not only enables a viable conservation practice but also quality contemporary design.

  1. The protection of monuments is with the center as well as the state governments. Both have acts that are replicas of the British Act. The Central List has about 3000 monuments and the combined state’s list has just over 2000 monuments listed under them
  2. The author started the concept of the proposal with the Dissertation done as a part of the York course. It was expanded in the report prepared for NCU and later on through the projects dealt with as a consultant and the time spent as faculty of the department of conservation since 1990. The framework also was useful in the work done as a part of the conservation society of Delhi . It has been a long and considerable experience.
  3. The Forest Act is from 1861 a British act. The heritage components of the site are mostly archaeological and scattered through out the dense teak Forest . When the work was started there was a drought in the region and the enormity and scale of the forest was not visible. In 1994 when the forest grew back it was realized that the heritage could not be protected through the Forest act. More over the heritage is threatened because the Act excludes Heritage and in this case the Heritage is an integral part of the Forest and a new legislation is required that addresses both.
  4. The interpretation Center was a major proposal that was made in the Report. It was a place where the intellectual Knowledge generated through the years of research could be interpreted and disseminated to the local people so that they could appreciate and know their heritage.
  5. Development is a State subject in India . Each state has its own Town and Country Planning Acts depending on the needs of the Region. These acts regulate growth by various planning processes. They do not recognize many resources like water systems, historic cities, cultural landscapes and vernacular heritage. There is a provision for special areas but that is very limited and does not address the complexity of the heritage reality, which requires multiple procedures.


  • Building knowledge systems through a holistic Approach towards Architecture Education and Research, Presented at NTNU, Feb 1998, Seminar on Architecture and Interdisciplinarity?
  • Nalini M Thakur, Archeological Park at Mehrauli Delhi, Our Fragile Heritage, edited by Henrik Jard and Gillian Quine, Nationalmuseet.