In the heritage movement of India has grown in leaps and bounds during the last decade but still remains uneven. The NGO perspective is far ahead of other Sectors, bringing awareness and interest but many core areas related to long term sustainability remain untouched. In this paper, I share my experience in developing the understanding of the “the big picture, ” or the larger context within which individual heritage related actions are grounded, through my 15 years of teaching at SPA, and the “Brandenburg” realization, which is learning from the example of Johann Sebastian Bach.


The “Brandenburg”* experience is the analogy to Bach, an example which portrays the extraordinary achievement that comes from within. This was not totally dependent on patrons and kings like in many other cases, where encouragements were fired and sustained. But Johan Sebastian Bach, at a local church parish, composed original outstanding music for the Sunday choir; the rigour and practice thus self introduced. Such on rare and special can by themselves, in their individual capacity make a significant contribution to life achievement. It shows the importance of how small focused individual efforts make a major impact.

The comparison shows the significance of an appropriate institutional base as the core to synergize and expand important related visions and missions. Bach had the church choir and congregation at his disposal, and here I have had SPA a educational institution funded by the Central Government, and students of its Department of Architectural Conservation hailing from all over India representing its cultural diversity, who participated in a similar way where many new teaching exercises were directed over the years to bring the yet to be “rediscovered” living Indian built heritage architectural education. For developing the area of knowledge and expertise in heritage in our country, we need a secure, well established Department of studies within a University, educators and teachers to work with motivation to inspire the student audience. Therefore the basic ingredients are an appropriate institution, an audience and a regular programme; in other words, a recognized institutional framework and a community of dedicated teachers and students. The achievements do not necessarily require powerful patrons or money. Deriving inspiration from Bach, a composer who became so famous globally, to be derived and sustained in his creative output at a small local church without major patrons, courts or kings.

From my perspective developed over the teaching experience from 1990-2005, I present the crucial role of heritage education towards the development of the larger picture, and the challenges in developing effective systems and processes for protection and management of our large, complex and diverse built heritage resource base.

I am continuously evaluating my teaching and I have been trying to articulate the research and academic perspective and the roles of an academic institution such as mine and an NGO such as INTACH vis-à-vis the notion of “heritage education”. Is there a difference and if so what is it? If so how can we symbiotically work together to expand and synergize in operation.


International and National co-ordination in management plans for World Heritage Sites

With the insistence of management plans for World Heritage Sites there is the current necessity for change in paradigm, for us to enable ourselves to act within the intergovernmental context in a one to one manner. After 60 years of India’s independence, the paradigm shift develops into democratic management from a colonial way of administrating. Indian heritage sites have different aspects, to be treated differently; and international management plans cannot be used blindly as templates. Further, the main principles of the World Heritage Convention and Operational Guidelines, and a conformation to the Indian framework are required, keeping in mind the common underlying philosophy. This implies that preparation of a management plan is a national responsibility and an international obligation that requires every State party to apply itself creatively to develop its own system of heritage management that is in consonance with National systems, local context and site conditions to the International world view. The “holistic framework” was developed for integrated management envisages a system of management that integrates with the existing legal, institutional and economic frameworks on the ground. It aims to slowly change the official systems from colonial to the democratic paradigm for the heritage sites because of its pertinence, addressing the current needs to make the local heritage accessible and the local population an integral part of the management process.

The Hampi World Heritage Site will be the first in the Indian subcontinent to have an Integrated Management Plan (IMP), in accordance with the directives of the Operational guidelines.1 Long term involvement is the key to making the preparation of the IMP distinct. Long term involvement is the strength of academics interested in contributing to the management of heritage in this changing scenario and the key to be able to blend the processes and ideas into a Plan and implementation. Thus the IMP represents the comprehensive understanding of the site and its various values manifested in the cultural resources on site. This was the process of first learning, training and teaching, from discourse mode to real management mode, from academics and theory to real practice.

Knowledge versus awareness

Knowledge empowers and builds responsibility through education as opposed to awareness. NGO’s, the enthusiasts and amateurs have played a major role in increasing awareness which provides only limited understanding of heritage. The role of the educators and professionals in the Indian context is to develop new processes, build capacity for taking quality decisions and take up responsibilities.

India’s built heritage is a vast repository of diverse knowledge systems yet to be fully re-discovered and brought into the mainstream of our collective life. However, when it comes to the clarity of the “Big Picture”, there is confusion, or gap. A new way to understand Indian heritage in a comprehensive way is required to substitute the western applications. This is termed as knowledge systems approach.

Indian heritage is thus a trans-disciplinary area and its understanding has to allow systems to function, to go across disciplines and to communicate expertise to people after being informed and empowered by knowledge. Knowledge and education lead to safeguarding the positive values inbred in society. Products produced with grants cannot add to the above, because the awareness approach remains quantitative, mechanical and based on market procedures. It can be a good topping, but cannot be the core substance to develop comprehensive heritage movement in the country.

Aim of Education in Architectural Conservation

The need for heritage education in India is very high and relevant because of the aforementioned paradigm shift. The need is for rediscovery, redefinition and proper descriptions of complex heritage entities and its various parts, which can be achieved only through the education system. To inform people for responsible heritage intervention, supportive strategies required in studies from elementary schools to higher education and research.

Heritage education must move from information to knowledge, and take “rediscovery of historic architecture” to “playground of learning.” The path should be from the discourse mode to management mode, traversing the two realms to ensure responsible management. Long-term involvement is critical for responsible management which can be best achieved with decentralization. This leads to development of processes and systems.

Higher education in the heritage field has to be interdisciplinary. The main principles of heritage education are; development of knowledge systems, enable rediscovery of architecture, communication and integrated conservation.

Some features of Architectural Conservation education to yield responsible heritage professionals are:

  • - must be broad based and involve long term thinking process
  • - should provide intensive learning
  • - must communicate effectively
  • - enable intellectual capacity building
  • - increase the ability to be responsible and enhance self reliance
  • - the educators do not have control and students are free yet committed.

Beyond doubt, education is critical for responsible management and intellectual capacity building. Management Plans for living heritage must go beyond the monument centered approach, so as to envision sites as complex cultural products constituting cultural landscapes. This is the current challenge for educators. From discourse mode to the action mode navigated and directed by teachers/mentors through a maze of paths to reach the end /goals.


As an academician I am going to share my unique experiment at the Department of Architectural Conservation2at the School of Planning and Architecture, for developing an appropriate conservation education for India and my personal reflections about the 15 years of effort that went into the Architectural Conservation education. The strength of this experiment is that it is based within Indian mainstream educational institution and includes teaching, learning and intellectual capacity building in the new and emerging discipline of heritage management.

Being signatories to UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention of 1972, we have taken it as a benchmark and utilized it to develop an adaptable Architectural Conservation education to educate architects and take up the challenge of conserving complex sites in India. The responsibility that we have for our sites is very high and shows through the various projects that have been successfully undertaken during the past few years.

3.1 Approach:

The current curriculum is hinged on three principles – holistic, integrated and interdisciplinary. This is the dire need for us in South Asia – to understand the “context”, to develop heritage protection and management systems. As mentioned before, the current times present a challenge, to effect a paradigm shift, requiring changing the approach in heritage management, its procedures and priorities.

Here I shall mention my preceding experience of working with the Conservation Society Delhi - a heritage group founded by a small group of us in the early 1980’s. It presented an opportunity to distinguish, and discern and understand the differences, between NGO capacity and role to the academic potential that was possible at the University within the environment of education and teaching. Thus providing the focus and direction for the 15 years in the Department of Architectural Conservation at the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi.

To demonstrate the difference, the example put forward are “walks” a popular awareness activity. The “Mehrauli Heritage Walks” for Delhi Chapter in the early 1990’s by professionals was based on extensive research, using professional skills and new information. Another interesting exercise undertaken from the educational platform was the “Heritage Walks of the Walled City of Hyderabad” a by-product called “Charminar Promenades” developed as an exercise of “integrating the mind’. These walks were designed for the rediscovery of the walled city of Hyderabad, to disseminate the cultural resource information generated by the study, to the people of the walled city as well as the visitor.3 It enabled the students to write a cohesive paper by integrating the archival research with field work. It enabled a redefinition and rediscovery of the walled city and achieved in communicating the potential of rediscovery of the historic fabric of the walled city of Hyderabad. “Charminar Promenades” demonstrate a paradigm shift towards the holistic understanding of heritage.

Today, examining from past, present and future, I can say that, the philosophical basis and the overall strategy was to make a meaningful graduate programme for the Indian context and for the post Colonial, democratic situation that we are in now. This programme is visualized as a new “old” area for architects and prepares them to address the complex challenges of the Indian built heritage reality from single building to regions and cities. A robust education system must include long term expectations, continuous learning, effective communicate and intellectual capacity building.

The holistic and integrated syllabus

The holistic and integrated syllabus was developed as the model for teaching others and self learning too. The “NT Model” is the holistic framework developed by me which consists of four levels that are not hierarchical.4

The focus of the studio projects and discourse is through the existing “NT model” developed by me over the past two decades, a teaching framework that has been further shaped to work as a tool that guides both me as a teacher and the student which has become the basis for shared education. It is a shared teaching and learning experience in which teacher and student participate.

The Programme

This seeks to maintain equal emphasis on theoretical understanding of the conceptual and philosophical base, rigorous scientific inquiry into various heritage conservation issues and operationalization of ideas into appropriate management and actions covering aspects such as conservation intervention at all levels.The programme emerging from the syllabus is organized as below:

  • 1. Nalini Thakur, Management of the Hampi Project, India, Training Strategies for World Heritage Management, Germany, 2007
  • 2. The Department of Architectural Conservation has been in existence since mid 1980’s. It runs a graduate programme for architects with a current intake of 10 per year. This programme is seen as a new “old” area for architects and prepares architects to address the challenges of the reality of Indian built heritage from single building to regions and cities.
  • 3. Nalini Thakur “Charminar Promenades” - the essence and reality of the Heritage Movement in India.
  • 4. Refer Thakur, Nalini; The Conceptual Model for Indian Heritage Site Protection and Management; Training Strategies for World Heritage Management, (eds.) Marie-Theres Albert, Roland Bernecker, Diego Gutierrez Perez, Nalini Thakur, Zhang Hairen, Bonn, 2007
© Nalini Thakur

Courses mentioned above take years of sustained effort to develop and needs commitment. The disciplines that have been fragmented our minds are being brought together and education is being imparted in the similar way as in the past. This is seen as an alternative that responds to the South Asian context.

In their fourth and final semester theses, the students are encouraged to focus on their separate regions so that we receive a more wholesome, comprehensive and professional thesis projects, closer to the heart. An attempt has been made to address the vulnerability faced by our heritage sites through human resource development, intellectual capacity building, building professional skills and expertise.

The students have been encouraged to adopt the knowledge systems approach for understanding the heritage of India by appreciating 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.1

. 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 is a long-term strategy for knowledge accumulation and the students in SPA have been trained to adopt this approach.

The Alumni as indicators

The alumni have been exposed to this broad based education, with equal emphasis to theory, management and technical streams. They have emerged as a collective but distinctive force, which is professional, informed and intellectually capable.

Today, the alumni with their experience represent a collective strength as the young professionals have also expanded the professional horizon. They have formalized their common origin by forming a network towards further expansion of intellectual capacity knowledge through sharing experiences and working together.

About 150 students have completed the course and many of them are developing new areas of activity and enquiry. For example, facets such as integrated risk preparedness have been developed. Out of the overall, about 40% have gained additional skills through training. A number of them have contributed greatly to the heritage sites in India. Sadly some have migrated abroad.

Many of our alumni are also involved in Indian World Heritage Site management including preparing management plans. The reason being that the work which started, as thesis topics is continued beyond and has become a professional work. The SPA conservation course alumni are able to adapt to the existing conditions and challenges to work and expand. It is a fact that my students have made me their teacher and is well known.


This effort to put together the experience of 15 years has developed many more themes to be examined and explored. When I started working with CSD, I was the only one trained person but now it is a shared experience with over 100 alumni.

The complexity exhibited by the Indian heritage sites poses a great challenge to heritage education and conservation professional. For me this challenge comes disguised as an opportunity, the opportunity for building frameworks which arises from the necessity of teaching the subject of architectural conservation in India. The choice to use this opportunity of teaching conservation to build intellectual and human resource capacity for Indian heritage management from my little room down the dirty corridor helped me to reciprocate equally with the “holistic framework of heritage education”.

Spontaneous, enthusiastic and well meaning actions cannot alone create the “Big Picture” and organize all the multiple interests and conflicts into a coherent and sustainable heritage management structure and systems. There is need to develop a coherent big picture and INTACH and the academics would need to develop distinct separate areas of activities in partnership. Even though some actions and outcomes may seem similar like talks, walks and workshops and deal with human resource development, higher levels of proficiency and new expertise for effective heritage protection and management can only be achieved in the education sector that will contribute to the “Big Picture”. For the benefit of the big picture, every area of knowledge requires, complete and continuous effort, with consciousness of progress to be made and the vision of the right direction.

The Bach analogy emphasizes the importance of the correct traditional / modern institutions and direct primary stakeholders to sustain and develop artistic and intellectual capacity building. It completes a total dynamic system for imparting, bringing to public realm and sharing, practicing and enabling feed back, self reflection improvement, change and continuity which are the minimum requirements for sustainability, however small and local it may be. The processes are universal and come from within and not necessarily by patrons, money and power. It is the motivation through a long term and sustained effort that yield the highest quality similar to the Bach way of working. Local efforts such as described in this paper will also suffice for global achievement. The main message is that no major patrons are required but it is only passion and motivation. It signifies a thought process covering 15 years of teaching and experiment.

  • 1. see, Thakur, Nalini; Integrated Approach for an Integrated Mind, International Workshop on reviewing the curriculum for the Integrated Territorial and Urban Conservation (ITUC) Programme