After church, focus on Serampore square

The Danish heritage that is under restoration 

By Soumitra Das
  • Published 7.03.17

March 6: The spire of the church rears its head proudly but it is not visible from the other end of the square, at the head of which the building is located.

A few feet away from it stands a group of grimy statues bearing a passing resemblance to nationalist leaders, and around it have shot up some trees tall enough to block the magnificent view of the church.

The Unesco Asia-Pacific Award of Distinction for Cultural Heritage Conservation for 2016 has been conferred in recognition of the restoration of St. Olav's Church at the heart of Serampore town.

Shanties and shops have come up around the square, and vehicles are parked wherever a driver finds it convenient. However, if things go according to the plan of Serampore Initiative, National Museum of Denmark, the square will acquire a more ordered and harmonious look, to which end it recently held on short notice a design competition to refurbish the square.

The competition was open to all members of the Council of Architects based in Calcutta. Of the four entries, three were selected.

Ashish Acharjee in association with Sujoy Das and Sujata Sarkar, Anindya Basu and Gopa Sen (in that order) were the winners and they made presentations in what was once Denmark's Government House in the Serampore court compound recently. This single-storey building is being restored by the West Bengal Heritage Commission and the Centre is funding the project.


Bente Wolff, project head, Serampore Initiative, and consultant architect Flemming Aalund, both of the National Museum of Denmark, inside the Denmark Government House located in the Serampore court compound, before restoration. (Below) The duo in the Government House after restoration. Pictures by Pradip Sanyal




Bente Wolff inside the ruins of the old tavern. (Below) The Danish Tavern under restoration


 The exterior of St. Olav’s church restored to its former glory. (Below) Ashish Acharjee’s prize-winning look for the Serampore square

The competition underwent a jury evaluation process. The jurors were consultant architect Flemming Aalund, National Museum of Denmark; Rajat Nanda, sub-divisional officer, Serampore; Jigna Desai, associate professor and area chair for conservation, Cept University, Ahmedabad; the local councillor; and G.M. Kapur, state convener, West Bengal and Calcutta regional chapters and member, governing council, Intach, which is managing the projects on behalf of the National Museum of Denmark.

Acharjee, who won the first prize, proposes to take the Historic Urban Landscape approach for regeneration and turn the square into an attractive space. He seeks to divide the space and surroundings into three zones - court complex, church front and river front.

Nanda sounded upbeat about implementation of the square project because it is about overall development. He said the bus stand had been shifted and the new terminus adjoining the ESI Hospital would start functioning in about six months. The shopkeepers will not be deprived of their livelihood and some kiosks have been planned.

Bente Wolff, project head, Serampore Initiative, clarified that the winning project was not final. It will be fine-tuned and stakeholders and the SDO will be involved. The National Museum of Denmark is considering funding the planning process. Its implementation is under the state government's consideration. The National Museum of Denmark may also fund the implementation.

Wolff said the court compound was meant to be a public recreational space with zones for new development and for non-construction.

The planning process will start soon and the state government is likely to fund the project. It has been proposed that the Government House, which is in its third and final phase of restoration, will be used as the office of the sub-divisional information and cultural officer, a seminar hall, a gallery for changing exhibitions and a town museum. The red canteen next to it is being restored by the Danish museum for the staff and visitors. The Denmark Tavern on the strand that is being rebuilt and is meant for accommodation and a cafe will probably open by the end of the year.