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Building a Future for Heritage

Posted by
on April 04, 2015 at 01:06 PM

Preserving and honouring our heritage, be it historical, social, cultural, ecological or any other, seems as tricky a job as it is important. ‘I am sacred, don’t touch or violate me’ our heritage seems to say. But demands of future, hurried generations often tend to eat into this sacred space, regardless and impatient. Or conversely, the efforts to preserve often end up in exercises of aping the past that do not resonate with the present context. Today, our city of Mumbai is abuzz with talks of more and more structures, like the Hindu and Parsee colonies (in parts) being knocked off the heritage list to make space for newer ones. More often, the best way to respect our heritage seems to be sought by projecting it into the future. The Eiffel Tower, a futuristic structure for its time and a symbol of modern industrialisation, became the best tribute to the historical heritage of Paris, in fact the best vantage point to view this great city from. So also I.M.Pei’s glass pyramid a befitting modern gateway to the treasures of the past housed the Louvre. As the world observes the 126th anniversary of the public opening of the Eiffel tower, we look at some futuristic structures that do a marvellous job of preservation of historical, ecological and cultural heritage.

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Metropol Parasol, Seville, Spain by J Mayer H: images 1- 4

At once bold and inescapable yet light weight and non encroaching, this structure occupies the town centre while making space for its infrastructure and heritage. This design by Berlin based J Mayer H won the project through a competition organised by the town administrators when an effort to build a parking lot and other mid town infrastructure threw up ancient Roman and Christian ruins at the site during digging. The enormous latticed timber canopy includes in its precincts an archaeological museum below the ground level, shops and cafes and a platform for events on the ground level including parking and a shaded pedestrian space, and elevators leading up to the top of this canopy which has a long winding walkway and a plaza offering the best views of the entire city. This is an innovative structure that contrasts visually with the heritage it upholds and preserves. The Metropol Parasol is a stellar example of an imposing yet non-invasive structure which successfully integrates a respect for the past with a foray into the future. 

Reindeer Observation Pavillion, Norway by architects Snohetta: images 5 - 9

The structure under discussion is the Norwegian Wild Reindeer Observation Centre Pavilion located at Hjerkinn on the outskirts of Dovrefjell National Park, along the Dovre mountain range dividing northern and southern Norway. This place is the last bastion of the wild reindeer and other biologically diverse life forms of this region. Many cultural myths and legends of Norway also originate from here. Hence this place embodies a connection to the culture and ecological diversity of Norway and this structure is used as an education centre for the same. With this background, this observatory has been designed by Snohetta with a rippled timber core which curves organically to resemble the undulations of the surrounding Dovre mountains. This has been achieved with a digitised computer programmed milling of the timber beams which were then put in place by Norwegian ship builders using wooden pegs. Visitors sit on the rippled surface and get warmed by a suspended furnace while observing the local flora and fauna through a curved glazed wall. Thus, this pavilion is a perfect example of modern technology fused with indigenous materials and techniques to build a futuristic structure which helps preserve the ecological heritage of its surrounds. 

Ark Nova, Matsushima, Japan by Anish Kapoor and Arata Isozaki: images 10 - 15

Named ‘Ark Nova’ which means ‘new ark’ by its creators, in reference to a saviour boat that Noah built to deliver people from catastrophe, this inflatable concert hall for a 500 strong audience is meant to be a symbol of hope for the survivors in Japan’s earthquake and Tsunami hit Matsushita town. Made from coated plastic which can inflate within 2 hours, it is also easily deflated, folded and carried on a truck to various concert destinations. Inflated and installed like ‘a giant marshmallow’ in a park in Matsushita town, it hosted the concerts and cultural events that were central to the town’s culture in an effort to revive life and hope after the devastation the region had faced. This giant purple balloon when entered and experienced during a performance invokes feelings of thrill and amazement at the quality of the interior space and the play of light on the curvatures and panels inside. As a fitting collaboration between iconic architect Isozaki and world-famous sculptor Anish Kapoor this structure reminds us that buildings are as much about the art in them as about the physical space, or about feelings they evoke as about the concrete or masonry that shapes them.

All three examples cited in the above paragraphs exhibit unambiguously the contention that futuristic and innovative structures show the way forward even for the purpose of heritage preservation, be it historical, ecological or cultural. This, indeed, is the future of design!

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