The proposal to demolish the heritage Janatha Bazaar building on K G Road has upset the great-granddaughter of the celebrated town planner who designed it.
The Karnataka government has asked the Janatha Bazaar, a co-operative departmental store run with support from the government, to move out of the 83-year-old building. The buzz is that it will make way for a multi-storeyed building.
Alyia Phelps-Gardiner-Krumbiegel, great-granddaughter of Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel, the botanist and town planner who developed Lalbagh, is dismayed by the official neglect of the city’s architectural heritage.
Krumbiegel Hall, a colonial-era building inside Lalbagh named after him, was razed in November, 2017 with no concern for its architectural beauty.
Alyia read the Metrolife story about the Janatha Bazaar building in Bengaluru being marked out for demolition. Commissioned by the Mysuru maharaja and inaugurated in 1935, the building is under the control of the Public Works Department.
In a chat with Metrolife, Alyia discussed Bengaluru, heritage, and her great-grandfather.
Krumbiegel has contributed immensely to Bengaluru. Are you disappointed buildings to which he contributed are being demolished?
His contributions to Bengaluru and Mysuru were indeed immense. I was heartbroken when the Krumbiegel Hall, built in his honour, was allowed to fall. There were many offers on the table to privately restore it but it was pulled down. He was the first to start a Horticultural School and the hall was (captured) in the first photograph that my grandmother Hilda, his oldest daughter, showed me when I was a little girl. I would then press her for stories about this magical land called Bangalore.
Do you think enough is being done to acknowledge his contributions?
I have written and posted on Facebook many times that I look forward to the day when my great-grandfather is acknowledged as one of Bengaluru’s architects. So many of the buildings he designed were not credited to him as he was seen by the British as a German and an enemy. So yes, I am disappointed. I am afraid even buildings that mention his name will be lost forever. The buildings that he designed and were listed on his tombstone were only a few of those to which he contributed.
What did Krumbiegel highlight in the letters that he wrote specifically about Bangalore?
His letters back to Kew Gardens say, “India is such a beautiful country. Everything grows in abundance in this red rich furtive soil. No need for any hothouses.” My great-grandfather introduced carpet planting (pattern of planting seasonal plants so that Bangalore was always in bloom). He was one of the five heavyweight superintendents of Lalbagh. The exchange of seeds in Lalbagh from all over the world was legendary. He was the farmer’s biggest champion, arranging for the seeds to go directly to the farms.
There are many citizen-led organisations that are fighting to save the city’s heritage sites. Your thoughts on that.
I am happy to see heritage groups fighting to save the extraordinary, vast and diverse pool of cultural heritage and ancient monuments in Bengaluru. I feel they are growing and will hopefully gain in strength. Sadly, heritage laws in India are not adequate to preserve or repurpose heritage buildings. I would like to see a change in the laws. I do think their voices are slowly being heard. The UK has stringent heritage laws but that’s not to say it doesn’t lose vital heritage buildings. Undoubtedly, Bengaluru does need better heritage laws. ‘Heritage Beku’ was started by concerned citizens after Krumbiegel Hall was allowed to fall. And I am proud to say that I am a member of that group.
What do you think is the way forward to protect heritage structures?
In the last decade, sustainability is a widely discussed in architecture and urban planning. Adaptive reuse of existing building stock is an aspect of sustainable environments. This should be the only way forward worldwide.
What is the unique point of Krumbiegel’s architecture?
It always had Indian influences and is a testimony to his love of his adopted country, where he found home at the age of 26.
What does your work as one passionate about heritage entail?
Most people worry about the privatisation of these buildings, but it needs to be pointed out that governments are not selling, just handing over their adoption. A scheme for making our heritage and tourism more sustainable through development, operation and maintenance of world-class tourist infrastructure and amenities at ASI/State heritage sites and other important tourist sites in India is surely a winner.
Alyia Phelps-Gardiner-Krumbiegel is a heritage conservationist and has many projects currently on in India to save Heritage structures,
trees social and animal causes including her great grandfather’s
legacy. She tells Metrolife, “Janatha Bazaar has intrinsic
value. Bengaluru needs old buildings to maintain a sense of permanency and heritage. The preservation of Janatha Bazaar is a oneway street. There is no chance to renovate or to save a historic site once it’s gone. And we can never be certain what will be valued in the future. This reality brings to light the importance of locating and saving buildings of historic significance because once a piece of history is destroyed, it is lost forever.” She frequents Bengaluru and India.
Commissioned by the Mysuru maharaja Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wadiyar, Janatha Bazaar was designed by Krumbiegel and inaugurated in 1935. Initially, it housed an company patronised by the maharaja to provide insurance cover for his staff. It was handed over to Janatha Bazaar. It is located in the heart of the city, and within walking distance of the Kempegowda bus station.