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Pune is being re-built like many Indian cities – but at what cost?

June 30, 2007

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 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)

Related Viewing: Oshiwara furniture market Mumbai – lots of sellers but fewer buyers (photo-feature)
Joona Bazaar- Pune’s flea market (photo-feature)
Some ugly buildings and and around Mumbai/Pune

14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2007 12:04 am

    As an architect in training, I feel much obligated to comment. I feel your dismay at the loss of traditional identities in favour of the more box-like concrete designs. yes, a good architect is expensive and our work is not valued because like any other art, everyone thinks that they too can design a building. You probably have a good idea, what goes where but there is a lot of science that you are not aware of.
    Sadly, as great as many architects are, they do not develop their own projects and most times, the quality and integrity of the design is compromised in order to satisfy the demands of an uneducated, profit driven developer who wants the structure up and running in the shortest possible time and at the least of costs. I mean, an architect has to pay her own bills too.
    I have always loved the old indian houses; most especially the kind that is used for apartments. they usually have an inner courtyard and all units open unto it. Clothing is dried hanging off the balconies (and is one of the reasons why the balconies rust so easily). It then gives the community a face as most people step out of their apartments to see whom they live with every day.
    I have always asked myself why there are no streets that look like this in the US, even in the most derelict neighbourhoods. And I have realised that it is because, there are enforced laws prohibiting a deviation from behaviour and practices that are deemed acceptable in all societies. this works neither in your country nor in mine.
    I am going to come to India one day, in the near future I am hoping and I hope to be able to design and build there. Affordable and sustainable housing, is going to be my specialty.

  2. Padmini permalink
    July 1, 2007 10:59 pm

    The new high rises and concrete jungles are slowly stripping cities and towns of their individuality – the little box-like houses are being razed down in favor of the new tall domed mansions which, in many cases, defy building regulations. More and more trees are being cut to make room for wider roads and bigger buildings. The question that arises is, at what cost? Global warming, of course.
    I cannot see the end of this trend in the near future unless enforced by the government. The capitalists who have sunk their money into construction can only see one thing which is profit. Their social conscience (say what) is not going to stop them from building taller buildings and wider roads till they are prevented from doing so by new laws and rules to protect our planet.Is this going to take place or is it a Catch-22 situation?

  3. July 2, 2007 4:13 pm

    When one visits China and looks at all the newly constructed buildings, does one think about the older ones that were demolished? No, we tell ourselves, look how developed China has become! There is a price to pay for all development. It is appalling that newer buildings are not aesthetic. It is disgraceful and dangerous that the green cover of the city is being depleted.

    But I’m glad if this new development leads to wider roads. The traffic situation in Pune is so bad that I never venture into the old town in my vehicle if I need to go for some reason. It is a different story if you’re a visitor and if you’re someone who actually stays there.

    During heavy monsoon seasons, these old, decrepit buildings pose a safety threat. I would prefer non-aesthetic but safer buildings any day. So overall for me, it is a mixed story…

  4. July 2, 2007 5:21 pm

    I know what you mean by the mixed feelings. But even in China, there are a lot of people who are protesting against the destruction of the old city in Shanghai. I agree that safety should be the most important thing, but its the rampant commercialism which I detest. People don’t want to spend on making buildings aesthetic.
    I visit the old city all the time as my parents still live there. Everytime I go there a wave of nostalgia takes hold of me and I yearn for the days when we were surrounded by beautiful houses and lovely trees.
    I saw a TV programme about how 17th century houses are being re-built and preserved in Ladakh with the help of the govt. It was a very interesting to hear this…ofcourse this is because the residents themselves want it. Inspite of builders approaching them, they are refusing to part with their old houses.

  5. Phantom permalink
    July 3, 2007 4:44 pm

    Its but an inevitable trade off that older buoldings, forested areas and grassy oarklands will be rased to the ground to pave the way for concrete jungles of buildings. Put simply….India has a HUGE density problem,, there are way way too many people for the land area available. And there is a constantly growing middle class who’s disposable income is rising constantly. All the cities in India face acute housing shortage and the construction sector is going to see huge rates of growth in activity…..more and more buildings coming up, cos there are enough ppl to buy into those new projects.

    The only way to prevent the senseless concretisation of the cities and to keep a level fo greenery, and to ensure healthy levels of building compiance….is for the appropriate governance to exist. In the western OECD countries, as well the successful asian countries like japan, sth korea etc…..the construction sector is very highly regulated with strict compliance conditions. This is the ONLY way that indianc can ensure the availability of public utilities, parks, as well as socially acceptable parameters to the construction. If left to themselves, property developers will purely aim to maximise develomental output and profits.

  6. Padmini permalink
    July 4, 2007 8:29 pm

    I remember my grandfather’s house in Mysore which was called “Devaprasada”. Like it’s name, the whole structure and design of the huge, sprawling house, incorporated this central concept. In the central portion, or maybe toward the rear, was an open courtyard with a Parijatha tree and a Tulsi tree where family members could finish praying after they were done praying inside in the Puja room. Wow! Wonderful memories! I hope this can be a reality again and maybe it will in the future.

  7. Amruta permalink
    March 6, 2008 12:35 am

    i am very happy to see that smone is really thinking about conserving old charm of our city….i m a student of architecture…and my topic for dissertation is exactly the same…..can you please help me out with your views on it in detail….and photos..?

  8. Saumya Jain permalink
    July 24, 2009 12:42 am

    hey. i m a 5th yr student of architecture in jaipur, rajasthan. i hv taken my dissertation topic as the study of old wadas of pune region. in my school, no one had done a study on pune region. i want to make this effort so that here ppl can get aware of other city’s heritage also. can you please help me??

    Well, if this post didn’t help you I am afraid I cannot do anything more. I do not even live in Pune. – Nita

    • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
      July 24, 2009 9:57 am

      @ Saumya Jain,

      You may wish to look at a book titled Glimpses of Pune’s Heritage–A Heritage, by the late Samita Gupta, with photographs by Sandesh Bhandare. It was published in 2004 by INTACH, c/o Kirloskar Oil Engines Ltd., Laxmanrao Kirloskar Road, Khadki, Pune 411 003. The ISBN No. is 81-901796-3-2 and the published price is Rs. 135.

      In case INTACH Pune has changed address in the last four years, you may inquire with — an NGO which had a role in the production of the book.

      • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
        July 24, 2009 5:16 pm

        A correction to the above. The title extension is … — A Mosaic. Please pardon the error, Nita, and may I request you to correct it?

  9. August 1, 2009 11:23 am

    The way I look at it, it is better to raze old buildings rather than trees.

    The growth of our cities is unsustainable. Rather than expanding mindlessly, we need to get rid of the old stuff first and build the new stuff in its place. It would be nice if the builders incorporated the “character” of the old buildings into the new ones, but that’s asking for too much from a bunch of greedy businessmen.

  10. kalyani permalink
    November 13, 2009 6:09 pm

    m a student of interior designing, and doing thesis on `wadas converting into restaurants` a conservation kind project.while searching on net i came across this site. and i became sensitive . 1st i would like to thank u -ur site has helped me a lot .

  11. kalyani permalink
    November 14, 2009 10:36 am

    2ndly i would like to thank for ur photoes and data.this has helped me to convince my faculty for choosing this topic.thank u very much.
    i have a problem for case studies, m getting many palaces which are converted in restaurants, very few wadas are converted in restaurants having the same old and royal look.
    so if u knw any restaurant related to my topic please kindly try to inform me.
    thank u .

  12. Dhanashree permalink
    February 12, 2013 12:25 am

    hey I found your article really interesting and informative. I’m a fourth year architecture student. I am currently doing research on Wadas of Pune and their response to the community and people. Do you have any data on the existing wadas in the peths? I would be much obliged if you could mail me information on my email id mentioned above. I will make sure to put credit for whatever data used in my research paper.
    If anybody has any data which you think might me of help to me, please do mail. I will make sure to give credit in my research paper for any data used.

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