04 February 2015

Bangalore’s disappearing heritage homes

I’m back in Bangalore after being away for a year and a half. I’m staying in the same neighbourhood and in the same house, but not in the first floor apartment where we used to live, but downstairs with my former landlords who very kindly and warmly invited me to stay with them.

I’ve only been away for 17 months but I’m amazed at all the new constructions in the neighbourhood. Once empty plots are now occupied by four-storey apartment blocks. Houses have been torn down and replaced by more apartment blocks. A whole row of three- and four-storey buildings now stand where there used to be a row of small shops on a corner of Thippasandra Main Road, a bustling bazaar-like commercial street. Over on the other side of 80 Feet Road in Defence Colony, more bungalows have disappeared and have been substituted with, yes, even more apartment blocks.

I mourn these lost treasures: not only the charming houses of another era but also the city’s beautiful majestic trees as they’re chopped down or their branches hacked off to make way for apartments which cover as much space as possible, leaving only a few centimetres between neighbouring houses and no garden space at all.

I understand the commercial logic of this trend: with the boom in property prices, every square foot is a valuable commodity. Why have a bungalow with a large garden when you can have a multi-storey apartment which multiplies living space with each floor built? Multiply the number of apartments with an average rent and you’ll hear the sound of money being minted. Few can resist cashing in.

But what about the city’s cultural heritage? Is that not valued? Unfortunately there are no heritage laws in Bangalore protecting its old, historical buildings. People see an old house as a burden which is difficult and expensive to maintain, and even a waste of valuable real estate space. Houses seem disposable: use for a while and then demolish. Build a new one. Repeat. “My house is very, very old… 25 years!” my landlady likes to tell me... If this house is 25 years old, then it’s the youngest house I’ve ever lived in.

Locals don’t understand why I’m upset when yet another house bites the dust. My first world mind must be clouded by my romanticism. Who am I to lament the loss of a few houses in a city which is not my own? After all, I’ve encountered the same attitude in my new home, a tiny village where old houses are not valued by many locals either. They’re not torn down (heritage laws forbid it) but they’re left to decay instead.

Recently I happened to stumble on these delightful old houses in Park Road, a residential street just steps away from Indian Express Circle, a busy traffic junction.  When I come across these beautiful old homes with wide verandas, typical Bangalore-style ‘monkey tops’, ornate wrought iron gates and big gardens full of trees, I can imagine what this city used to be like – the city everyone reminisces about and sorely misses but few try to preserve. I wonder for how much longer they’ll be around.

This past weekend I had the chance to explore an old heritage home in the neighbourhood of Basavanagudi… I’ll take you there in my next post!


Anna said...

Oh this makes me heart-sick. Who could not love the elegance and dignity of these beautiful buildings? Respect the past: it's where they came from... what shaped them.

Why won't people stop chasing monetary wealth above all else and stop wrecking the local landscapes with their ugly income-generating boxes of flats made for rabbits... the same the world over.

I just can't bear to see them go. How much would it cost to buy one? Seriously, I commented years ago that I'd love to live in Bangalore for a while!

Alexandra said...

Gorgeous homes. I love old nostalgic homes and architecture.
Here in Vancouver we have a similar trend. The property values have just skyrocketed and everyone is tearing down any homes that are even 30 years old. They are trying to maximize the land by dividing homes into apartments, building lane houses in the backyard, and tearing down entire city blocks to make apartment complexes. The city has changed so much in my fathers lifetime, he was born here and he hardly recognizes it!
I much prefer older homes with character.