Iqbal Ahmad

Preserving Urban architecture

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The historic cities of Kashmir have got glorious classical architectural traditions which are hardly seen at other places of the state.  These traditions have been very much advanced than what is seen in our villages.

The plan and construction of houses throughout the cities and towns has been better than the village houses. Mirza Haider Daughlat while describing the olden urban architecture buildings of Kashmir writes , “in the town there are many lofty buildings constructed of fresh cut pine. Most of these are, at least, five storey’s high; each storey contains apartments, halls, galleries and towers. The beauty of their exterior defies description, and all who behold them for the first time, bite the figure of astonishment with the teeth of admiration.”

Usually the olden urban houses faced the same plan that of village houses. They have their faces towards the south and rare towards the other side’s but never towards the west. The houses were rectangular in plan and rarely square in plan. The plinths were formed of chiseled stones, other features were the same. These houses were built of baked bricks that too of smaller size called Badshah bricks. These houses were better decorated than village houses and exhibited wooden lattice work designed windows and roshan dans. These houses were covered over by birch bark roofs and rarely were thatched. These houses were of multi-story and never a single storey. Some of the houses were five stories.

P N K Bamzai writes about the old houses of Srinager, “the houses are mostly of two to four storey’s height  and sometimes even more. The roofs which are slopping to throw off snow constructed of planks lay over with sheets of birch-bark to make them water tight. A layer of loose earth is spread over the birch-bark to keep it in place. White and violet lilies and red tulips grew on these roofs, presenting a lovely sight in spring. Most of the brilliant houses are seen on the river sides of the city. Bernier, the European traveler has also seen such houses. He writes “in the city of Srinagar, better class houses are situated on the river banks with beautiful gardens attached to them.”

Many such houses are still seen in the old cities of the land. A variety of these houses are visible at Bijbehara, Shopian, Sopur, Baramullah and down town of Srinagar city.

The olden and classical architectural trends have been neglected even by villagers and they have also imitated the architectural styles of cities. This have given rise to new marvelous edifies in distant villages. The olden houses have become now the artifacts of the past which could attract the tourists and the visitors if properly taken care off. But that is not the case. people dismantle them and impose modern houses on their plinths.

Lawrence while referring to old-Srinagar writes, “in the city nearly all the houses of well to do people are roofed with birch barks and earth, so that looking down on Srinagar from the Hariparbat hill sees miles of verdant roofing.’

Apart from these wonderful monumental houses, Srinagar city houses few such structures which can purely be said as copy of European residential houses.

These are mostly square in plan with open verandahs. The most remarkable feature lies in their raised roundish minarets with pointed steeples. These houses are believed to have been built in early 20th Century. Such houses are supposedly influenced by the church architecture.

However things have been changing very fast. A movement of reconstruction has emerged where under the new is replacing the old. Most of the olden glorious houses in the town and cities are in ruins while at many places these houses are being dismantled.

During late 20th Century new architectural trends got introduced in the valley. These can be said as foreign architectural styles which hardly carry any local influences. These are concrete structures with metallic roofs. These super-structures are square in plan and formed of bricks of 4x9 inch size.

These houses have been laid in cement plasters and depict somehow the European styles. The innovations in the structures still continue and much more advanced and air conditioned styles are fast progressing in this glorious valley.

The olden and classical architectural trends have been neglected even by villagers and they have also imitated the architectural styles of cities. This have given rise to new marvelous edifies in distant villages. The olden houses have become now the artifacts of the past which could attract the tourists and the visitors if properly taken care off. But that is not the case. people dismantle them and impose modern houses on their plinths.

One cannot stop the dismantling of these monuments as the property belongs to the people. However, if  government intends to preserve  such houses for future generations, that can be done by purchasing these structures for the purpose. The government can also identify those olden sites and areas where still such ancient houses and monuments  exist and bring those under any preservation net   The new initiative which is being taken up by the government is expected would not only take care of the Shari Khas only but such historic and monumental site of other towns and cities would also be identified and preserved for the future generations.

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