Panjimite on a heritage mission
VENITA GOMES| NT BUZZ
Panaji, the capital city is dear to many people for varied reasons. People have a close bond and touch with this place. Born and raised in the city, architect Raya Shankhwalker has seen the city transform over the years. Raya will represent the Goa Heritage Action Group (GHAC) at the festival of arts and will speak as part of the special project ‘Panjim 175’. “The session will touch upon how we need to include heritage conservation in planning and development of Panaji city,” says Raya.
Having observed the changes closely, Raya feels that one of the biggest architectural changes that the city has gone through is the reduction of footpaths. “Panaji, the city where I grew up was a pristine city with natural beauty, tree-lined avenues and big gardens. The roads were wide for the city at that time and the footpaths were generous and very even. It also had these beautiful curved surface drains. This is a walking city, I could walk from one part of the city to another without the footpath changing levels,” says Raya who adds, “But the reduction of the width of its footpaths to make the road wider resulted in architectural damage in the city.”
Around 2000-2003, Raya undertook pro-bono projects committed to revitalising the city of Panaji, where he along with his architect friends Jimmy Devasia and Rajiv D’Silva provided design consultancy services to various city parts like the mermaid garden, the square opposite Cafe Bhonsle, smaller gardens, traffic islands, heritage bridges and a string of facade restoration services of public building. “This initiative gave Panaji its first brush with urban design in the modern era. It was quite a successful campaign by CCP which allowed the public to participate in public projects,” he says.
In the year 1996 Raya earned a graduate degree from the Goa College of Architecture. Later he was awarded a two-year research grant by Fundacao Oriente to study Indo-Portuguese architecture. This academic foundation supplemented the architect’s personal attachment to Goan history.
If you closely analyse Raya’s works it reflects neo-heritage architecture with well-spaced area and environment-friendly elements. Speaking about what influences his designs, he says: “For my designs I draw a lot from Goan architecture not necessarily Indo-Portuguese. I believe that a lot of Indo-Portuguese architectural elements are not suitable for the tropical climate. I am very careful to draw only aspects that are useful. I also use this understanding of the houses while we restore old houses. Soho and The Rice Mill are both adaptive reuse projects of heritage buildings.”
He feels architects play an important role in the conservation and restoration of heritage. “If an architect has an opportunity to work on a heritage building their work will decide if the building gets protected or defaced. An architect must also participate as much as possible in public dialogues which attempt to influence policy in the direction of conservation. Unfortunately currently there is very little emphasis on heritage conservation in our current development plans. This does not reflect well on us as a forward-looking society,” says Raya.
While working on projects, Raya majorly focuses on making buildings climatically responsive, well ventilated and lit. He tries to use traditional building elements in a modern manner which can promote local crafts and artisans.
Raya is also one of the founder-members of the Goa Heritage Action Group which was initiated in the year 2000 and continues to serves as honorary secretary. He says: “The formation of this group was initiated by Heta Pandit and she convinced me and other professionals from diverse backgrounds to come together with one intention – save Goa’s heritage.” The organisation is a non-governmental collective of enthusiasts and activists who seek to protect traditional Goan art, craft, literature, architecture and culture.
A question that often lurks is how will future architects understand the importance and need to safeguard the heritage and identity of Goa. Raya feels that architects need to first educate themselves about the heritage and building systems so that they can intervene with design in an appropriate manner. “We must also influence our clients to grow more trees and cut fewer trees as much as they can. We must also lead the way in adoption of sustainable building systems,” advises Raya.
If you have old artefacts in your homes
Many people have old artefacts and have no idea what to do with them, sometimes they give them away or throw it out. “I am aware that Goan’s houses are full of old artefacts which are getting lost very quickly. I would recommend people to make attempts at finding out its historic influences by contacting various historical institutions in Goa. GHAG is always willing to help people. I also think that people willing to part away with historic artefacts should donate them to museums in the private or public domain in the interest of its long term conservation,” says Raya.