The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Restore prop for Muslim architecture
- Geneva trust keen to support repair drive

The majestic form and prominence of Nakhoda Masjid, in the din and bustle of central Calcutta, the remarkable mosque of Prince Ghulam Mohammad in Tollygunge, or the intricate stucco work and surface decoration on Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s tomb in Metiabruz. These unique monuments of Islamic architecture in Calcutta could soon become the focus of a comprehensive restoration drive.

The Geneva-based Aga Khan Trust for Culture is considering a city NGO’s proposal to support a project for preservation and restoration of historical buildings of Muslim architecture and important public buildings used by Muslims in Calcutta and the rest of Bengal.

Center for Human Settlements International (Habitat Center) had appealed to the Trust to fund documentation and restoration of Muslim architectural structures in town needing immediate repair, under the Trust’s Historical Cities Support Programme. The programme seeks to revitalise historic buildings and public spaces.

“We are extremely encouraged by the prompt response from Suha Ozkan, secretary-general of the Aga Khan Award in Architecture Committee, to whom I had sent the restoration-support proposal last month,” says architect K.P. Bhattacharjee, executive director, Habitat Center. Ozkan wrote back, saying he has found the project “most interesting” and forwarded the proposal to the Trust’s general manager Luis Monreal and to Stefano Bianca, director of the Historic Cities Support Programme.

Bhattacharjee, former chairman of the eastern and West Bengal chapter of the Indian Institute of Architects, has been appointed a nominator to the Aga Khan Award in Architecture Committee for the 2002-04 cycle. His design project on a sustainable residential complex in New Alipore has also been selected for preservation in the Aga Khan Architectural Archives.

“It would be a wonderful gift to the city if the Trust comes forward with resources to restore these magnificent Muslim monuments, languishing from decades of neglect. The essential character of Islamic architecture in Calcutta is a rare blend of Hindu, Mughal, colonial and Greek styles, and it would be a pity if these splendid structures wither away,” says the ex-professor of architecture, Jadavpur University.

Habitat Center, engaged in sustainable development of human settlements and protection of natural habitat and built environment, has approached Archaeological Survey of India and the PWD for suggestions. “We recognise the need for a concerted effort to preserve buildings connected with the life and culture of the Muslim community within this state. Hence, ideas from all concerned are welcome,” says the executive director.

The NGO is also listing Muslim buildings in the districts, like the Hazarduari complex in Murshidabad, besides a few Wakf Board schools and some old residential properties, which need immediate restoration. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which “places a special emphasis on the built environment”, has sought details of the project plan and could send experts down for an on-the-spot assessment.

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