With Goa, independence from centuries of Portuguese rule, and the subsequent political integration with India, have led to a curious dilemma: While Goa seeks to be part of the larger Indian polity, culturally our society has become more conscious of its Goan identity, and wants to preserve and express it. Like music and literature, architecture has sought to express this "Indian yet Goan" character.
Interestingly, this concept of Goanness is still being evolved; we will 'know' what constitutes Goan architecture only when we see it expressed in temporal forms. A survey of architecture in the forty years since independence shows various strands of this search for expression; this essay, however, will examine not just the present architectural trends but also trends that began to reveal themselves in the last years of Portuguese rule.
In the past, Goa's identity was defined by its beautiful natural environment together with the prevalent Indo-Portuguese and vernacular styles of architecture. Since architecture mirrors local material culture, and there had been little change in that culture for centuries, Goan architecture remained relatively static until the 1960s.
However, a few stray examples of a far different architectural style did crop up. The earliest, the Mandovi Hotel at Panaji, was built to cater to the influx of visitors expected to attend the Exposition of St. Francis Xavier in 1952. There being no architects in Goa then, the hotel brought them in from Bombay, then designed the Mandovi, our first multistoried building, in the Art Deco style then prevalent in that city. The Art Deco style may thus have been a necessary stepping stone to a more robust modernity.
A truly modem building, the original airport terminal at Dabolim, came up in the mid-1950s when Benard Geddes was Goa's Governor. The word "modem" is used here to mean something more particular than "contemporary"; it means the new type of architecture that is contributing to the art of architecture. The designs were prepared in Portugal, as the project was under the Overseas Ministry. Making extensive use of large glass areas, wooden partitions, and hollow block external walls, it was one of the finest small airport buildings in the world. Unfortunately it is now off-limits to the public as it has been taken over by the Naval Air Wing.
Simple plans, functional design ...
The last few years of Portuguese rule, under Gen. Vassalo e Silva, saw quite a lot of construction undertaken by the government. The Governor, an engineer by profession, indeed several bright architects from Portugal and Goa into the Brigada; their simple and functional designs made use of the latest structural methods and materials. Examples of this were the one room village school, the Junta godowns at Cortalim ferry, the military barracks at Ponda, and the military chapel at Rawanfond, Margao.
The prototype school, rectangular with a small verandah, used hollow-block walls, operable glass louvers, and a reinforced cement concrete roof; a mural of glazed blue decorative tiles flanked the entrance. The simple chapel plan featured a steeply sloping reinforced cement concrete roof slab over hollow-block walls with pre-cast grilles for light and ventilation.
In the same period a plan for Old Goa included landscaping the area between the Se Cathedral and the Born Jesus church and installing a statue of the poet Luis de Camoes. Stating that the facade of Born Jesus was meant to be in exposed laterite, the engineers and architects had the existing plaster stripped off. Now we know that the plastering helped protect the walls from weather and also conformed to the rule that churches had to be painted all white.
Building spurt followed Liberation lull
With Liberation, an initial lull was followed by a spurt in building very undistinguished Bombay-style storied apartment blocks, a way of living hitherto alien to Goa. The architects were either from Bombay or had been trained there. At that time even the very poor in Goa had a house to live in; it might have consisted of just mud walls and a coconut thatched roof, but it was still a house. Middle-class families had good homes in salubrious environments in the villages. But with good schools, cinemas, and other recreational facilities coming up in towns, and the public transportation system very poor, people opted to move into the towns.
Thus, apartment blocks proliferated. This brought in a breed of developers who, to maximize their profits, built cramped flats with rooms like cubby holes, which unfortunately were quickly snapped up; and so it continues till today. Still, two notable exceptions can be listed. The first group-housing scheme of its kind in Goa, at the Patto Bridge in Panaji, consisted of individual two-storied houses in a well-planned layout. Another exception, the Cosme Matias Menezes building at Margao, had well-planned spacious flats on each floor and the company's retail outlet at ground level.
With storied blocks coming up, sloping mangalore-tiled roofs gave way to flat reinforced cement concrete slab-terraced roofs. This trend carried over to individual bungalows as well. Though apartment blocks in general were very undistinguished, there was much innovation in other building types.
In the 1960s, the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary at Siridao was the first to break away from the prevailing Indo-Portuguese style. It followed a simple cruciform plan; the equally simple external elevations expressed the volumes within. The church with its attached bell tower sits surrounded by fields and a waterway.
Photogenically right, but not right for Goa
During this same period, three buildings strongly influenced by Le Corbusier came up: the Minor Seminary at Pilar, the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industries at Panaji, and the Carmelite Monastery Church at Margao. The first two, with their elevational treatment and structures for recreational activities on the roof, were photogenically very appropriate for architectural magazines, but actually not suited for Goa. The exposed concrete walls accumulated heat and became badly disfigured after the rains due to fungus formation.
Graphically designed fenestration enhanced the Carmelite church's very sculptural quality. This building was planned according to the new liturgy being introduced in the Catholic Church; the fan-shaped seating focused on the altar, which had brilliant light flooding it from windows set high in the bell tower.
The Don Bosco Church at Panaji, built in the 1970s, also had fan-shaped seating; roof beams converging over the altar reinforced the focusing effect. Later, when the church at Bambolim was built in the 1990s, the lightness of the wonderfully airy space within it was emphasized by the Mangalore-tiled roofing over a light steel structure. Because of its proximity to the national highway, a high blank wall serves as the roadside facade against which the altar sits. From this, its highest point, the roof slopes down gently on all sides.
Stylized temple columns, rooted in history
No comparable breakaway from the traditional has taken place in Hindu temple architecture. Existing temples have often been subjected to inappropriate and tawdry additions and alterations; and even new temples are being built without seeking to find a way whereby temple architecture would speak to our new and very different age.
For a notable exception we must turn to the Shree Salisthan Gokarn Partagali Jeevotham Math in South Goa. Here, the contemporary stylized forms of the columns in verandahs and courtyards have been derived from the post-Chalukyan period, while the roof's pyramidal shapes speak of local temple architecture.
With tourism flourishing, hotels have proliferated, especially along the coast. Ironically, this sector did not innovate and explore elements rooted in the cultural milieu; instead, seeking to attract rich Western tourists, the luxury hotels indulged in ostentatious decor bordering on the ridiculous when they depicted a distant period in history or even another exotic country.
Gulf expatriates brought new wealth into Goa, resulting in increased demand for planned housing developments. Unfortunately, tasteless and overly decorative bungalows took centre stage, vying to outdo each other.
By the 1970s, the modem International Style had come to be identified with the functional but characterless 'box', devoid of all cultural references; fortunately, it never found a niche in Goa.
Hotel all clustered Village, art academy as open ...street
The search for an appropriate architectural response will thus have to be looked for elsewhere, and the answer could be in the popular Hotel Cidade de Goa in Dona Paula, a serious attempt to reinterpret Goa's vernacular architectural language, by overlaying it with Portuguese urbanism. The plan-form is a simple parallel wall structure placed perpendicular to the contours; subtle variations in the projections of the facades create an impression of a clustered Mediterranean village.
Another example, built around the same time, is the Kala Academy, a large cultural institution on the banks of the Mandovi at Panaji. The Kala project undertook significant innovations in spatial organization. A modernist plan-form of post and beam construction on an orthogonal grid offered the architect the necessary variation in dimensions demanded by a programme that makes use of several performance halls, exhibition galleries, informal public gathering places, etc.
The relatively low rise mass is spread horizontally and organized around an innovative ground plan with an open 'street' going through the entire building. This allows one to enter the building without being self-conscious about entering; it makes an otherwise serious public institution seem less "institutional" and more relaxed and appropriate.
Both these projects are significant as they created an identity of contemporary Goa and did not merely express a commonly held idea of what Goa is all about. In a contemporary context, they reinterpreted elements — the clustered village and the public street that have only an indirect association with Goa, derived mainly from the Portuguese past. However, they speak of a large and remembered part of Goa and to that extent are credible and successful attempts at defining and expressing our identity.
These lessons were lost with the advent of the Post-Modernist style. Exuberant columns, pediments, entablatures and the like were pasted on to facades giving rise to an architecture that would be more appropriate in Disneyland. Fortunately this trend seems to be petering out and the task of identity formation goes on.
It can be seen particularly in three projects: the hotels Nilaya at Arpora, the Pousada Tauma at Calangute, and the Coconut Creek at Bogmalo. Together they represent a conscious attempt at organizing this type of building in a new way by splitting it into smaller pavilions spread around the site, interspersed with lush Goan landscape and water. One sees the whole only as so many fragmentary images that are still in harmony with nature; landscape becomes a very important partner in place-making. The boundaries between what is nature and what is man-made are blurred, as is the case in rural Goa.
The "Houses of Goa" Museum, located on a small triangular traffic island within private property, is a highly personal statement by its architect, and houses a private collection of elements of Goan residential architecture. The building flares out from its small base creating a projecting ship-like prow where two bulging sidewalls meet, so locals have nicknamed it the "Titanic". The flaring-out provides additional exhibition space on each successive upper floor. These areas are further augmented by floors projecting out of the building, supported by metal pipe brackets.
The museum's bold character transcends the limitations of its small size. It seeks no justification on the basis of functionalism, or the application of a new technology. Rather, it presents itself as a possible icon of Goa, with a "take it or leave it" attitude; it presents a bold and confident Goa.