Building Chaos

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Post 2014 floods, apart from managing livelihood crisis, the biggest challenge faced by Kashmir was: how to undertake massive reconstruction and rebuilding the damaged infrastructure? The question was important given the pace of official work in corruption infested Kashmir. In normal Kashmir, to get a simple work done, one has to manoeuvre his way from one office to another, appeasing officials from table to table. But post floods, apart from a series of quick-fix measures, government gave breather to the devastated population by relaxing building rules for flood affected.

Taking advantage of such an unexpected breather from the government a number of massive structures, mostly out of sync – both aesthetically and artistically – with the overall surroundings, came up in Kashmir.

For a long time now, a section of artists, journalists, thinkers etc. have cried their souls out at the brazen display of mindless concretization of Kashmir’s rural and urban landscape. They have maintained that Kashmir is fast losing its cultural identity, because of its changing skyline. They argue that buildings are very much part of a nations cultural heritage. The distinctive style of construction helps a place have its own identity. Take for instance Russian, Japanese, Chinese, or Islamic architecture. All of them have evolved over the centuries to create an identity of their own. There unique designs, and building techniques, helps a person identify with the place both visually and aesthetically. And the lack of uniqueness makes a place look more like a bad canvas.

In Kashmir’s case, the canvas, which once was unique, and an identity in itself, is fast fading. Rather, it is losing its uniqueness. Take for instance the introduction of glass in construction in Kashmir. Given Kashmir’s unique climate, geography and history, glass is a highly misplaced material. First of all it looks unattractive, cheap, and visually unappealing. Second, it doesn’t go with the climate, especially the six month long winters. Third glass is meant to reflect heat, thus suitable for places where temperature is hot for most of the year, and not in a place like Kashmir.

The traditional way of constructing a building, be it residential or commercial, using wood and design suitable to Kashmir’s unique geography, is fast fading from our immediate sight. The massive construction that took place in commercial Lal Chowk area, or in posh Rajbagh, where unique structures, made in traditional way used to dominate the skyline, are coming up with concrete buildings. This massive concretisation has ripped Kashmir of its uniqueness. At one point of time in our not so distant history Srinagar, mostly areas in old city, used to be must visit spots on any tourist’s itinerary because of its unique house designs. The use of small bricks, and wood, and carved windows, was quite an attraction for visitors. But as the dawn of so-called development descended over Kashmir skies, wood got replaced by cement and glass. After World War 2 devastated most of the Europe, the rebuilding was done in such a way that it remained in sync with its heritage and cultural treasure. After the bombing of Dresden in Germany by American and British air force in 1945, the city was built brick by brick, keeping the originality and the cultural values of the place in mind. Around seven decades later, a visitor is amazed to see how the planners have rebuilt the city from the scratch, using old images and memory. In contrast, in Kashmir, what we are witnessing is careless erasing of edifices that once defined us.

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