A common feature in most historical monuments is the vast expanse of vacant land near the site. Originally, this land was meant for twin purposes: to be an area for the populace of the city to assemble in during functions or gatherings, and to provide open spaces to the city. But today, these areas are just huge expanses of land with either dense vegetation or human settlements. As per Anisha Shekhar Mukherji, visiting faculty, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, the concept of having such land isn’t meant for a country like India. “It’s for colder regions and not tropical ones like India. The trees that have been planted in such spaces have no actual use,” she says. When it comes to restoration, however, there’s a lot of baggage that comes along with such sites. Since they are part of our heritage, people associate certain emotions with them. As a result, such sites continue to remain the way they were about three decades ago. “The sentiment associated with such sites or monuments of national importance is what acts as a deterrent in the development of such empty spaces. People are happy to keep them the way they are,” says Lai Chee Kien, assistant professor, National University of Singapore.
Things, however, are changing with time. As more and more restoration/redevelopment initiatives make inroads, some of these spaces are being converted to suit modern-day needs. Take, for instance, the under-construction Humayun’s Tomb Interpretation Centre inside the Humayun’s Tomb complex in Delhi. Being built like a baoli, the centre will house a museum when it’s completed by 2019 (the work started in 2015). Around 100 objects related to the early Mughal era and the pluralistic Sufi traditions will be displayed there. “The experience of an underground museum will be unique. It will also help to interpret the historical development of the Nizamuddin area,” says Ratish Nanda, CEO, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, adding, “We wanted to ensure that visual linkages between important monuments located around the museum are retained.”
For Bishangarh Fort’s restoration, too, Ritu Khandelwal and Sandeep Khandelwal of Sthapatya Architects utilised the vacant land at the bottom of the granite hill on which it is located. Once an entrance to the fortress, today, it houses a huge swimming pool and recreational area for visitors. “It was necessary to make use of the vacant land else it wouldn’t have aligned with the redeveloped structure,” says Ritu Khandelwal.