UNESCO Acknowledges Amar Singh College Restoration Project A Noteworthy Model

Heritage Amar Singh College Building Bags UNESCO Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation | First in J-K

The restoration project of Amar Singh College Building won the prestigious ‘Award of Merit' in the  UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards 2020 for Cultural Heritage Conservation, becoming the first conservation work received such recognition in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir. Around 48 project entries from the nine countries across the Asia-Pacific region participated in the competition.  Nine international conservation experts deliberated the project entries.  The project serves as a noteworthy model for protecting a unique 20th-century architectural asset as per the jury. Read SURFACES REPORTER’s (SR) full coverage on it:

The History of Building

Amar Singh College Building was established during the Dogra Maharaja era in 1911 in Srinagar. Since then, it has been one of the most important institutional buildings in Kashmir. The building was known as Amar Singh Technical Institute earlier- Kashmir’s first institute to teach arts and skills such as carpentry and masonry. Later, more additional streams were added to its curriculum and it became a major driver in providing high-quality teaching to the Kashmiri society. Many notable figures are alumni of this institution.

Before restoration, the building had gone through extensive damage due to several ‘inappropriate interventions’ over the years, but it was mainly heavily damaged during the 2014 floods in Kashmir. It remained submerged in water for more than two weeks during the disaster, increasing dampness and mold/fungal growth in the classrooms.

Bashir Ahmad Rather, Principal Amar Singh College, Srinagar said, “If a heritage or cultural building has been conserved properly, that is when it can get recognized with UNESCO. The building was renovated last year using the original material the building was constructed from.”

sri-nagar-amar-singh-Heritage Building Designs

Main Objective

The objective of the conservation project was to restore the former glory of the building. Most importantly, to repair the damages caused by the earthquake of 2006, the floods of 2014, and the consequences of the lack of attention.

High-Quality Architecture

The artistic building features high-quality architecture with an exposed brick facade, stylistically, influenced by the prevailing colonial trend in the area. Handmade ‘rubber bricks’ are used in the ornamental building and that is the reason they are very soft and inclined to erosion.

Apart from the superior architecture, the structure also has some wall murals-influenced by the Ladakhi art- in two of its hallways. However, the murals had become obliterated with time. One can notice these murals in the adjacent rooms to the foyer upon entry. Not much information is available about the origin and context of these intricately-crafted wall murals but it is evident that they are from the same epoch as the building and natural pigments had been used for creating them. The project involves the restoration of these murals as well.

Challenges in Restoration 

The biggest challenge was to train the artisans to bring back these ornamental bricks into their prior position and to prepare new bricks to fill-in the missing ones in the walls.  

“The most difficult part was recreating the damaged brick moulding. It was difficult to get bricks of the same size, colour, and texture, and also the local craftsmen had to be trained to cut and mould the bricks to exactly, or most closely, match the original ones. We solved the issue of brick availability by using salvage bricks from walls that were filled in to block openings in the 1950s, which fortunately were almost the same as original ones,” Saima Iqbal, principal conservation architect, INTACH, who worked on the project, told Surfaces Reporter.

sri-nagar-amar-singh-Heritage Building Designs

The other challenge was the site’s low-lying circumstance which made it susceptible to water-logging and dampness

Apart from this, the building was facing mould growth, soil erosion, defacement, material degradation, and cracks in its towers. 

“The restoration work was satisfactorily executed by the conservation team of INTACH Kashmir Chapter lead by Saima Iqbal, conservation architect assisted by Anjum Rafiq, Imran Bhat, experts from IGNCA for the murals,” according to the Convener and Head, INTACH, J&K Chapter.

The craftsmen and other workers were sourced by Wasim and Basharat Kathwari.

The project was successfully implemented by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Kashmir Chapter with funding support from a few community stakeholders and the cooperation of the College authorities and the local government.

The building restoration has contributed to showing that traditional constructions are far more robust and resilient to any natural calamity than perhaps modern builds can ever be. The project proves that sensitive and prudent restoration work can increase the life of any heritage building.

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