Post 544 by Gautam Shah
Buildings are restored to retain and perpetuate select identities. The selection is a subjective process of a person, society or the political power (including invader or conqueror). The concept of restoration is comparatively easy as the retained identities seem to provide a link between the past and the present, whereas things that are ignored or removed, make the exercise easier, simpler and justifiable. The select identities are like values, utilitarian aspects, sensorial qualities, materials, technology, architectural character, spatial qualities, style, patterns, scale or proportions, antiquity, social-political-religious confirmation.
Buildings as affected by age, environment and human use become increasingly inefficient, irrelevant and unsafe. The environmental processes continue to change the fabric of the buildings. The human use, miss use and non-use, all reflects in the decline of the building. To terminate or arrest the affectations, several processes of change are required. Externally, the purposes with which a building was erected need a live sponsorship and continued participation of the society. The buildings’ location needs corroboration from its surrounding, which can be had through macro planning or re-validation of the functions. Internally a building is a visit-able entity or just relic, for both cases it should be stable and safe.
A restoration, cannot revert a building to its original condition. As there is no original condition of a building. What we perceive to day is an entwined mass of effects of age, environment and human use. Changes occur in time, and spatially across the fabric of the building. Buildings are nominally as well as intentionally altered, but these changes are never recorded. The evidence of previous conditions in absence of records is largely conjectural. A true restoration must faithfully use the original materials and technologies which however are unlikely to be available. The building loses its site related relevance and time related functionality over a period of time. One, cannot regress a building to a past state in isolation of its referential conditions.
Medieval builders treated the works of antiquity as something to be extended. They knew that abandoning a well sited and a large sized building is a wastage of time. A large new building would take several generations, political stability and long period free of catastrophes and disasters. Restoration meant resurrecting a building in the shortest possible time, with an image or style of the time. Yet during resurrective restoration, there were several ‘corrections’, to suit the socio-political-financial conditions. Such a complex entity cannot have a particular or ‘original character’.
From ancient times to first part of present century, restorations have always followed the sponsor’s wishes and restorer’s wisdom. Restorations have meant all types of changes, such as renovations, alterations, reformations, additions, and extensions, but rarely the ‘reinstatement of a previous condition’. ‘Restorations’ have been carried out by masters such as the professional artists, sculptors and builders and street level roving crafts-persons. The nature of ‘change’ interventions depended on the skills of the master. Such changes were primarily intended to upgrade the building to a better condition. It also meant ‘improvising or adapting a style or confirming to a contemporary taste’. Restorative changes have been carried out by experts to brand their capacity rather then any respect for the past. Restorers like Michelangelo, saw a building as a raw material and opportunity to organize it. Classical structures during Romanesque and Renaissance periods were as regarded pieces of admirable antiquity. Yet these were restored by retaining, enhancing and adding the perceived values, but ‘without any concern for the process or investigations’.
A restoration destroys something of the original character. It is irretrievably lost. The character of the building gets lost with too many restorations. Restorations without harming the substrate or basic fabric preserve them in their original condition. But, that does not mean a restoration allows one to mount a skin or a make-believe screen, to camouflage the original. Conservation is very restrictive process, but restoration could be conservative and preserving in nature.