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Patna Collectorate rare specimen of Dutch architecture, priceless gem to preserve: Experts

The fate of this iconic landmark in Patna currently hangs in the balance and on World Architecture Day, urban conservationists and architects said the historic city has "already lost so much of built heritage to the wrecking ball" that the society "cannot afford to lose this signpost of history". The Dutch-era buildings of the Collectorate include the Record Room, the oldest structure in the campus, and Old District Engineer's Office building, while the DM Office and District Board Patna buildings were constructed during the British period.

PTI | Patna/Newdelhi | Updated: 05-10-2020 18:10 IST | Created: 05-10-2020 18:07 IST
Patna Collectorate rare specimen of Dutch architecture, priceless gem to preserve: Experts
Representative image Image Credit: ANI

Endowed with high ceilings, magnificent pillars and hanging skylights, the buildings of the sprawling Patna Collectorate complex are "rare specimens" of Dutch and British architecture which need to be preserved as a "priceless gem" for posterity, experts said on Monday. The fate of this iconic landmark in Patna currently hangs in the balance and on World Architecture Day, urban conservationists and architects said the historic city has "already lost so much of built heritage to the wrecking ball" that the society "cannot afford to lose this signpost of history".

The Dutch-era buildings of the Collectorate include the Record Room, the oldest structure in the campus, and Old District Engineer's Office building, while the DM Office and District Board Patna buildings were constructed during the British period. The 12-acre complex, parts of which are over 250 years old, is endowed with high ceilings, huge doors and hanging skylights, and was also featured in some of the key scenes in Oscar award-winning film 'Gandhi'.

Mumbai-based urban conservationist Kamalika Bose, who has worked on conservation projects in India and abroad, said, "Patna is a city of over 2,500 years with layers of history and architecture from different eras. The city has lost so many old, beautiful landmarks already. And, now the Collectorate which is a rare specimen of Dutch and British architecture, is facing threat. This should be preserved for the current generation and the posterity and the government should not even think of demolishing it now." Today, governments in many cities talk about building "world-class structures", but the Collectorate is already a "world-class architecture" from the bygone era and the least we could do is to preserve it, Bose asserted. "This is a time machine in which the youth and other people could get into. And, by virtue of demolition of other historic architectural icons in Patna over the years, now stands as a priceless gem," she said.

In the last 10 years, some of the iconic buildings in Patna which have been demolished, include the over 110-year-old Gole Market, 1885-built Anjuman Islamia Hall, City SP Bungalow, District and Session Judge Bungalow, Civil Surgeon Bungalow. The Bihar government in 2016 had proposed demolishing the Patna Collectorate to make way for a new complex, sparking huge public outcry and appeal to save it from various quarters in India and abroad.

Heritage body INTACH in August 2019 took the matter to the Patna High Court. The heritage commission set up by the Bihar government in a report had claimed that the Collectorate "did not have much architectural, cultural or aesthetic value" as it was used to "store opium and saltpetre". Heritage experts and historians have countered that view. The matter then went to the Supreme Court.

Hearing a petition by INTACH, the apex court on September 18 had ordered a stay on the demolition of Patna Collectorate, two days after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had laid the foundation stone for its new complex and a slew of other projects ahead of the state polls. New Delhi-based architect Moulshri Joshi said," A place is not simply a geographic location, it is the meeting point of history and geography, and time and space, a marker of cultural identity. Great architecture makes these unseen ideas visible." The Collectorate buildings make people understand why these companies from Britain and Holland and other countries chose to open factories in Patna.

"It was because Patna was a thriving port city, even when Calcutta did not exist," she said. "Such buildings have a lot to teach us about our shared past. Like libraries, they should be protected and nurtured by the state," said the architect, who graduated from School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) in Delhi.

Joshi asked why would anyone want to erase these landmarks when they stand as a living heritage of the great city that Patna was. "Our schools should instil excitement and stewardship for the city's built heritage. While we are in awe of grand forts and palaces, we take for granted the more recent, less monumental past that our backyard to speak is littered with. Our idea of heritage, unfortunately, is not very generous or inventive," she rued.

The Record Room with magnificent Doric columns in its facade and high ceilings, and Old District Engineer's Office building endowed with hanging skylights were built by the Dutch East India Company or the VOC. Since 1857, the Collectorate on the banks of Ganga has been functioning as the seat of the district administration.

Bangalore-based architect and conservationist Yashaswini Sharma, who has been associated with the battle to save the iconic Asiatic Building in her city, said, "Architectural heritage is an aspect often neglected by governments." "A building's heritage value is not lessened just because it was an opium or saltpetre warehouse at some point in history. It is the unique architecture, material heritage, the skills used in making the building that matters. The Collectorate has many beautiful features, from its handsome pillars, inside and outside, huge louvre doors and window, skill used in making it keeping local climate in mind," she said. Conservationist Bose said restoration projects have a ripple effect and "if reused and repurposed, it can be turned into a state government's start-up incubation centre for the youth, as these spaces and old architecture inspire out-of-the box ideas".


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