How a team of young architects is giving back to their hometown with 'Houses of Belgao'Prateeksha Nayak
Villas, penthouses, duplexes, fancy apartment complexes, spiralling real estate prices and the never ending chase for the best deal! It’s a circus that each of us who moved from the comfort of our home towns to a bustling city are only too familiar with. With all the glitz of the city, there is still a sense of nostalgia when we think of the wide open spaces we grew up with, and we often hope to some day return to such bucolic environs.
Enter Cicada, a team of three 23- year-old classmates, friends and ultimately partners – Mohit Yalgi, Suyash Khanolkar and Tanvi Dhond. Born and raised in Belagavi, the three young architects decided early on that they would never stray far from the place that two previous generations of their family had always called home. The town has always been a collective of their stories from the past and the ones that they themselves created. The built environment - especially the homes have been narrators of these stories and hence an integral part of the heritage for us." they say.
However, in the recent years, the trio noticed how these heritage structures were slowly making way for new buildings and developments that seemed to have no stories to tell at all. The trio couldn't think of a better opportunity than tying their career objectives to addressing the issues of their beloved town after graduation, and thus was born 'Houses of Belgao'. As architects and more importantly as residents of the town, team Cicada felt directly responsible for maintaining at least a record of these homes and their stories.
The genesis of something beautiful
"This idea of a personal documentation first came to us while we were hiking in Himachal Pradesh in the summer of 2014, right before we graduated." But unlike most who give up on an idea after the spur of the moment, the trio began working on the project by documenting the first two homes - Nathpai House and Herekar House, two very well-known structures in the city.
As the project slowly evolved and the team went about documenting more and more houses, they realised there was potential to start a dialogue about these issues. That is when they came up with the idea of hosting an event showcasing their work. "It's an ongoing project that will not culminate just as an exhibition, but we will find newer avenues as it evolves." they say.
So how does the team balance this pet project with its professional commitments?
"Initially, we would work on it only on the side, with a major focus on clients projects. Time was a major constraint then. We would document one house per month by first visiting the home, clicking pictures, sketching, and making measured drawings. After that we would come back and have elaborate discussions on how to represent the information we collected. We were sure to not make it a purely architectural documentation, as we were trying to highlight the intangible aspects of the homes too." It was this shift, they say from an architectural lens to an artistic approach that took time to perfect.
Belgao - The Muse
The team's biggest inspiration has been the city of Belgao, it's landscape, people, lifestyle and it's collective heritage. Belgao is one of the oldest towns of Karnataka and is approximately 500 kms away from three of the largest cities of India, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai, and a few hundred kilometres from the coastal state of Goa. It would be safe to call it a melting pot of cultures. "We truly believe that this town has stories that are waiting to be narrated and shared. Houses of Belgao was only one such catalyst in this direction." Renowned architect Gerard Da'Cunha’s 'Houses of Goa' was a big inspiration for team Cicada and through the course of the project, there have been others who have influenced their work.
"We feel blessed to have been brought up in a town where its heritage was integrated in its lifestyle and not isolated in museums and galleries."
Old houses are like unread books that are waiting to be read and explored. While popular tourist haunts have commercial reasons for preserving their architecture, quaint towns like Belgao which are fast turning into buzzing commercial districts are falling prey to rampant urbanisation.
By helping the people listen to the story of the house across the street that they grew up next to, of the residents that called it home, and the life they shaped together, Team Cicada has initiated conversation around these architectural gems, some of which are still being used for residential purposes and ultimately built an identity for the neighbourhood through these collective stories.
Currently a self-funded project, the team owes its success to the immense support and encouragement they have received from the people of Belgao. The project will further look at involving interested or passionate individuals, and also start looking at working towards preserving natural heritage such as trees, and the landscape along with other heritage structures such as open wells, temples, and palaces in and around Belgao.
On a parting note, the team says, "These homes represent the wisdom and ways of those before us. It rooted us to our town and shaped our own stories with it. The demolition of every home is a loss of a beautiful story for the future generations."