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How conservation architects fought stereotypes and won

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

As a student of architecture, her focus on restoration and of historic buildings was with scepticism, but Aishwarya still managed to carve a niche for herself in the field of urban conservation.

Her conservation projects, including at a fort in Madhya Pradesh and at Doon School, Dehradun, earned her recognition from UNESCO in 2016. And on Thursday, she was conferred the top French cultural award - Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres.

The from appears poised for an even bigger role. She considers urban planners and restoration professionals as a bridge between the past and the future.

But was her journey to the top easy?

"While I was studying at the School of Planning and (SPA) here, I chose to focus on conservation and of historic structures, while all my classmates were busy designing new, swanky buildings," recalled.

"Needless to say, it was with a lot of scepticism, as conservation architects were stereotyped more as 'activists' rather than professionals."

At 37, she is one of the youngest conservation architects in a field that is itself very young in

The said was conferred the award for her "outstanding commitment" to preservation of the French heritage in

hopes her achievement and the honour will inspire more architects to take up urban conservation, as so many old buildings in the country were in direct need of preservation.

Vikas Dilawari, a Mumbai-based conservation architect, said restoration and urban conservation were "alien terms" when he was in college pursuing education in

"Many government agencies and private owners still think demolition and is the way forward. They don't even think of the aesthetics at stake, let alone the rich dividends restoration can pay off to them," he said.

Dilawari, now 52, said he fought off a similar image problem during his college days, about 30 years ago.

"I had drawn up a restoration plan for the iconic Crawford Market for my project while most of my colleagues 'demolished' it to propose a new You can imagine, whose idea was received better," he said.

That, however, didn't discourage him.

After finishing his Masters in conservation from the University of York, Dilawari has restored some of the iconic buildings in in the past 20 years and picked up a number of awards along the way.

In November, his work on restoration of the more than 180-year-old in Byculla won him the Award of Merit from UNESCO, while the conservation of the nearly 150- year-old and another fountain in earned him Honourable Mention in the reckoning.

But he's happy that the society is beginning to see the merit in conservation, unlike in the West, where restoration is more part of a legal framework and a larger cultural ethos.

"My own family thinks I do crazy things, tinker with ruins of old buildings. Because, as a society we have not been taught to respect built heritage or admire its value, sometimes not even when it has been lost to decay or demolition," Dilawari rued.

Busting the myth about restoration, said: "Heritage conservation isn't just about old buildings, it is about the people who lived then and and who live now."

"It is not only about rescuing historic structures, it is about restoring and creating an entire ecosystem that is self-sustainable," she asserted.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, January 13 2018. 15:15 IST