Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Teaching and Learning Conservation: Emerging Technologies in Conservation and Characterisation

Teaching and learning from our various assignments is an important part of our vision towards a holistic, integrated and inclusive approach to heritage and its conservation. We participate (as resource people) and initiate a number of workshops in formal education, continuing education and faculty development programs.

One recent workshop (Jun 2017) that we conducted, as part of the NITTE School of Architecture's Summer School, was 'Characterisation of Historic Urban Areas'. This workshop stands out in my mind as we were finally able to demonstrate the use of technology in conservation to students. Not only did we plan it as a field based workshop but also one which would expose participants to use of emerging technologies like Geo-ST (Geo-Spatial Technologies) in the conservation process.

First of all, much like elsewhere we interpreted the general brief to conduct a workshop on Conservation rather liberally. This was because the participant group was going to be mixed (25 odd undergraduate students from different colleges and at different levels of formal education). Rather than focus on physical conservation, restoration, preservation and the like, we felt the main takeaway from the workshop ought to be understanding context, design as a response to context, and the role Geo-ST could play in developing such an understanding. 

We planned it as a joint workshop with colleagues who are experts in cultural applications of Geo-ST (M B Rajani and her team from NIAS, Bangalore, who readily came on board). The team provided participants with an overview on the role Geo-ST can play in enhancing our understanding of landscapes (in this case an urban scape). Then based on field observations in a historic neighbourhood of Mangalore we provided participants with an overview of historical urban areas and their various layers of architectural history.

Over the next three days participant groups attempted to record these different historical layers (we consider recording as the first step to documenting and understanding historic areas) using a freely available app. The app helped them record text and geo-spatial co-ordinates of structures, vegetation, water bodies, open spaces and streetscapes they considered 'historical' for various reasons (that they then defended). We 'hand-held' the groups through anticipated glitches in field recording using apps and downloading this information back onto a system. We then worked together to integrate all the information layers in a comprehensible manner using Google Earth (see image below).

Notes on image above: the wide dark line to the left is Gurupura River. The yellow icons indicate residential structures of interest, the red religious, dark blue commercial, white institutional and green human icons indicate intense zones of activity. We used other icons to indicate vegetation, water bodies and open spaces.

Using the Google Earth interface we were able to successfully integrate field notes, sketches and photographs with each of these geo-referenced icons (see image above).

The resulting overlay clearly indicated a central spine running through this historical neighbourhood (indicated as an orange line) with maximum density of varied activities and at least two loops (indicated in orange) that lead one away from and back to this spine.

We concluded the extremely satisfactory workshop by deliberating on ways to maintain the character of such areas through informed conservation. For example, participants could conduct heritage walks along the spine and loops leading off from it to raise awareness of the area's socio-cultural significance.

It was encouraging to note that Mr. Vinod Aranha, Director, NITTE School of Architecture decided to have this neighbourhood as one of the field sites for the vertical design studio conducted between Aug-Dec 2017 across 3rd and 5th semester students.

Further he invited us to mentor this studio which we readily agreed to and that is another story to be shared sometime.