Pune is being re-built like many Indian cities – but at what cost?
Buildings make a city and sadly, old buildings are being pulled down and replaced by faceless ugliness. Tinted glass, flat box-like facades and anonymity is what popular architecture seems to be about nowadays.
The new buildings are a stark contrast to the old ones. I took some pictures of some old houses in Pune (built more than 50-80 years ago, some even older than that) and frankly, even in their derelict state they looked better to me than the modern buildings. Take a look at this one and notice the stained glass:
Here is another one in simple lines, but it looks lovely when compared to some of the new buildings:
These are a cross-section of the different balconies of the old houses. They look pretty, don’t they?
The older buildings may be quaint but the new ones are faceless, without character. The new commercial buildings have a snazzy look but are as faceless as the residential apartments – which are often just blocks of concrete. Balconies are often closed up to make rooms bigger. This is at times illegal.
The old houses which I have photographed certainly do not belong to the rich. Pune’s rich lived in much bigger houses called wadas which were large and sprawling houses, often occupying an area of 10,000 sq feet… and they had a large courtyard in the middle. Unfortunately these wadas are almost all gone now…sold to builders as most people do not want to live in the heart of the oldest parts of the city where roads are narrow and big cars cannot maneuver. Most of these wadas, many of which were almost a hundred years old did not have space for cars. And now these beautiful structures (along with the remaining old buildings) are being razed to the ground. I wouldn’t mind that if the new buildings at least showed some semblance of design…but they don’t. There is no attention to detail..no one wants to spend on design.
Hiring a good architect is expensive and builders are far too commercial to do it. At best you might get a design like in the photo on the left. Good designers don’t come cheap and no one seems to care. Even the rich want to profit…if they sell their old house and hand it over to the builder, they want enough money to buy a nice house in an elite area…and as for the poor, naturally they want as much money the builder can provide. The builder on his part compromises on what he thinks is a luxury…design.
Pune city is changing so rapidly I can hardly recognise it now. I grew up in an area called Sadashiv Peth in the old Pune…and loved walking along the narrow winding streets and amongst the beautiful old buildings, each with their unique character. I am going to miss the old city once its gone:
And go it will.
We can now look forward to wider roads and paved sidewalks (all old buildings have to give up some area for road widening) but if these old structures are making way for ugly buildings, I think we are paying too heavy a price. True, it will get easier for traffic movement…but its also important to preserve the character of the old city. The government could provide money for this…and so what if the buildings are not heritage buildings? Surely the overall character of a city is important…not just a building or two? And as for traffic, it could be restricted. There could be more one-ways…actually there are many one-ways but no one bothers about them…except for the main Laxmi road. The traffic police are never seen on the streets of the old city. Tilak Road, another arterial road in Pune is far too crowded to negotiate these days…its time they build a flyover. Either over Laxmi Road or Tilak Road. Getting to the cantonment area via these two roads is a nightmare.
So the breaking down of old houses and the subsequent road widening will promote ease of movement, but at what cost? Take a look at the picture below…it will show how little people care about beauty:
This building is on one of the busiest streets in Pune, a commercial street called Laxmi Road. The shop housed in that old building sells clothes and bedsheets. You can see how the shop-keeper has ruined the facade of the building with signage and his wares. And see that garbage dump right outside? That completes the picture.
(All photos are copyrighted to me)