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Library, cafe, performing arts venue: Experts suggest plans for reuse of Patna Collectorate

twitter-logoPTI | September 29, 2019 | Updated 16:52 IST

By Kunal Dutt Patna/New Delhi, Sep 29 (PTI) Conservation architects, urban planners and heritage experts on Sunday said the over 200-year-old Patna Collectorate should be "reimagined" as a vibrant "cultural space" by adaptively reusing its old buildings as a library, city-specific museum, cafe and a performing arts centre. They asserted that it was a "golden opportunity" for Bihar to usher in an ethos of historic preservation in Patna and rest of the state. The fresh appeal from the experts comes days after the Patna High Court, in response to two petitions recently filed by the Indian National Trust for Art and Culture (INTACH), stayed the proposed demolition of the government complex while restraining the state authorities from "causing any harm to the collectorate building until further orders". "People have been appealing to the government to not demolish the historic Patna Collectorate, and instead restore and reuse the buildings on its premises as a cultural hub that could have a cafe, exhibition venues and performing arts centre, but the fervent and sustained appeal fell on deaf ears," said J K Lall, a veteran architect, and convener of INTACH Patna Chapter. "We are happy about this immediate relief granted by the court, and a preservation plan is to be submitted to it for the entire campus of the collectorate which sits on the banks of Ganga. And, we are hopeful the court would consider it," he said. The Patna Collectorate buildings, endowed with high ceilings and hanging skylights, are spread over nearly 12 acres, are a unique specimen of architecture carrying a history of over 200 years within its walls. It includes the Dutch-era Record Room, British-era DM Office and District Board Patna buildings, and a few other buildings with a mixed Anglo-Dutch architecture. Kolkata-based conservation architect Manish Chakraborti, who had worked on the restoration of 233-year-old Danish Tavern building in West Bengal's Serampore, with a team that revitalised it from an almost skeletal state to an exquisite heritage cafe and a lodge on the banks of Hooghly last year, said, the collectorate presents a "similar and a great opportunity for people of Patna". "The collectorate has room with high ceilings and large space and the entire complex should be turned into an open cultural hub where people could gather and celebrate. So, one building could house a cafe, another a city-themed library or museum and another building could be an exhibition venue to showcase arts and crafts of Bihar or a performing arts centre," he told PTI. Chakraborti, who had earlier worked on a UNESCO award-winning restoration of over 200-year-old St Olav's Church in Serampore, said, "The government must look at heritage buildings as an asset and not a liability, and without any cultural bias”. Delhi-based architect Vikram Lall, who hails from Patna, said the collectorate campus can be transformed into multiple cultural spaces, including a "city-specific library”. "A building could be used to build a Patna-themed library, which would have all the books and manuscripts related to the city, from ancient Pataliputra to modern Patna, all in one place. It will draw people from home and abroad. The idea should be to reuse our past aesthetically for the present to build a better future," he said. A people's movement 'Save Historic Patna Collectorate' has been striving for the last three-and-a-half years to save the collectorate from demolition and had proposed to the government to restore it and adaptively use its Dutch-era Record Room as a cafe and convert the entire area into a breathing cultural space to promote arts and crafts of Bihar. Mumbai-based conservationist Kamalika Bose said the collectorate could be "reimagined through adaptive reuse" which will bring in diverse visitors, both local residents and tourists. "As a vibrant multi-programmed space integrating artistic, educational and cultural activities along with a cafe and a souvenir shop, it holds huge potential in being revived as an important and useful civic space for contemporary Patna," she told PTI. There are good examples of such urban space revivals across underused warehouses in Fort Kochi in Kerala, which have been converted into retail and art spaces. Along with the British-era Metcalfe Hall in Kolkata which has been "repurposed with a permanent exhibition on Kolkata and its cultural history". Independent researcher Rajiv Soni, a core members of the team leading the ‘Save Historic Patna Collectorate' campaign, felt it was a "golden opportunity for Patna to have a vibrant open cultural space" when rapid urbanisation is already shrinking the green cover and erasing heritage buildings everywhere in the name of development. "We have the Patna Museum mostly having artefacts and Bihar Museum now, but there is no museum that tells the story of the city of Patna and its evolution, from ancient to modern. One big building of collectorate could be beautifully transformed into a 'City Museum' having a collection of old photographs and paintings to tell the story of Patna," he said. In 2016, the Patna Chapter of the INTACH had sent a strongly-worded petition to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to immediately scrap the impending demolition plan, saying it would set a "very bad precedent and further jeopardise the fate of other heritage buildings in the city and eventually in the state". In the same year, then Dutch Ambassador Alphonsus Stoelinga and London-based Gandhi Foundation had also appealed to spare the demolition of the collectorate, where parts of Oscar-winning film 'Gandhi' was shot. PTI KND CK

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