The Serampore Initiative

This Winter School (2016) was conducted in collaboration with the National Museum of Denmark
Instructors: Flemming Aalund, Jigna Desai, Khushi Shah
20 July 2017

The municipal town of Serampore, located on the western side of river Hooghly, is one of the erstwhile European settlements, about 25 km north of Calcutta.

Once a small village settlement on the Hooghly River, Serampore developed into a thriving trading post first under the Danish and later under British occupation during the 18th and 19th  Century, the peak period of European trading activities in the region. It is home to a number of impressive buildings of Indo-European heritage and exhibits a unique settlement pattern reflecting its relationship to the river. It is now a rapidly developing industrial and commercial center within the Kolkata urban conurbation and is representative of settlements facing typical challenges associated with urban development and heritage conservation in India.

The winter school focused on documentation and development of conservation strategies for 5 culturally significant buildings located in the historic core of Serampore. Site immersion started with a preliminary visit and discussions for understanding the complex urban development of Serampore and the historic, cultural and aesthetic values of its architectural and urban heritage. The students carried out detailed documentation of each building with measured drawings, photographic surveys, condition mapping and archival research supported by discussions with property owners and local stakeholders.

Urban Structure

In spite of the dense, modern built up areas, the structure and main street pattern of the town centre remains more or less as it was constructed by the Danes in the second half of the 18th century. The former Danish Government House, front of the main gate lies the funnel shaped square with St. Olav’s church, arousing associations of a typical Danish market town. The square leads into the main street and leads to Serampore college.

Urbanization in Serampore

Even though the town is influenced by new developments, several of the private buildings from the 18th and 19th century still exist. Today these are owned either by foundations or the families and they contribute to the historical atmosphere of the town. Some are still inhabited while others are in ruin and deserve a thorough survey and documentation before they disappear.



The following five structures were undertaken in this winter school, while this post gives a glimpse into the study of three of these:

H a n n a h   H o u s e

Location & Owner : Goswami street of Serampore; Education Department, Government of West Bengal

Age : About 150 years (based on a plaque from year 1818, documented in project report)

Previous and existing utilization : Used earlier as school. Abandoned at present due to poor condition.

Architectural Typology & Significance: European modified bungalow typology contributing to the historicity and pleasing visual order of T.C.Goswami street. Wooden beams are observed. The single storey building with ground floor portico and openings treated with venetian louvers. The entrance gateway is three-offset square brick column with inversely tapered capital above with lotus bud the top.

Condition assessment : Poor condition of structure. Cracks in walls. Considered unsafe for use.

C O N D I T I O N   S U R V E Y  :

Poor condition of structure. Cracks in walls. Considered as unsafe for use.

The roots of the plants and trees are causing problems like loss of plaster, broken parts of walls, ceiling etc. The walls of the structure are damp which is causing fungal growth in some part of the structure.

Structural sway is caused due to the load of the wall on the western side. The walls were not built to take that amount of load which caused the structure to sway to certain degrees.

The entire first floor is suffering from vegetation growth. There are cracks in the ceiling due to the excessive vegetation growth and now the roots are holding the building together.

Due to structural instability there are cracks formed. Black crust formation on the exterior side of the walls.

P H A S E   1   :

-The original Hannah House gate (On plate 8 of slideshow – Gate 2 as shown in Fig.1) to be restored and opened as the primary access.

- Demolition of the dilapidated vacant structures in the SW corner of the site and have a consolidated building supporting the required amenities of the institute.

- Work out the site drainage and sloping to avoid the current scenario of water logging in the north side of the site.

- Provide provisions for a temporary stage and sitting and small amphi seating on the site.

- Start demolition of first floor on Hannah House and structure a plan of action for restoration of the heritage structure.

P H A S E   2 :

-  Propose usage of the Hannah House rooms to be Principal’s cabin, library multipurpose room.

- Demolition of staircase in the secondary block

- Portico in the north elevation of Hannah house

P H A S E   3 :

- Physical isolation of Hannah House from the other buildings; make it an independent structure to avoid additional load on the structural system of the heritage building.

G r e e n   H o u s e

Location & Owner : Town Square of Serampore; Mr. Gauri Das Pal and his descendants.

Age : More than 150 years.

Previous and existing utilization : For a major period this house was used for residential purpose. After 1960 the ground floor was given on rent to a bank uptill 1975. After that the first floor of the house was utilized for residential purpose. There was also a land registration office on the ground floor for some period.

In 1990s the property was divided between seven brothers, son of Mr. Gauri Das Pal (refer Plate 1 in slideshow; figure on top right). As the property was subdivided, various additions on the east and south side of the house were made as per the need and requirements.

At present, two owners reside on the first floor of the house, while the ground floor remains vacant.

Contextual Value : This house is placed at a very prime location of Serampore. The only residence in the context of administration buildings, Court, Government House, church, Nishan Ghat and Danish Tavern. It has its significance due to its position abutting the church square and proximity with court compound. Its context defines the social significance of the owner of the house. House directly opens up in the street becoming an important part of the town square.

Architectural Typology : Classical European villa typology. 

A R C H I T E C T U R A L   V A L U E   :

It has architectural elements like fluted columns, fan vault arch, decorative cornice, pedements, decorative railings.

Unfolding different layers of history and through documentation, plan is found to have some symmetry to it and many portions might have been added with time as per need and situations.

Heights of the rooms are about 20′ making rooms spacious. Clearstory windows observed with decorative arch. Decorative wooden staircase with a skylight. The house is an example of the construction technology and architecture of British period.

C O N D I T I O N   A S S E S S M E N T  :

Fairly good structural condition, but poor maintenance. Presently, the ground floor is completely neglected and unused. Since the bank moved out in the year 1970 the ground floor remians vacant and we can see some attempt of renovating the space but it was left half way and not complete.

P R O P O S A L  
F O R   G R O U N D   F L O O R  :

A community hall is proposed in the hall on the ground floor, it has potential for a separate entry and service entry. This is convenient and the size of the hall is good enough to host small sized gathering up to 100 people (Area of hall- 170 sq.m). A separate area is dedicated for services. 
The other spaces on the ground can be converted to office spaces that will cater to the various activities related to the court. These spaces can be accessed from the south. The house can be accessed from the existing entry and hence all three activities does not interfere and the privacy of the family is secured.

G o l a k   D h a m   

Location & Owner : The house is located on Netaji Subhash Avenue or the Queen street. It is owned by the early Roy family (Sri Golok Chandra Roy was the diwan of Danish government during the late 19th century).

Age : Built in the 19th C.

Previous and existing utilization : This street once had the entire stretch of golok dham along its edge. Now only the existing structure (plate 2 bottom right) marks its location on this road. It has seen change in land use from residential to mixed use, with shops on the ground floor that face the street and multi storey apartments on the upper floors.

Architectural Typology & Social Significance: It is a typical traditional house consisting of verandahs and courtyards as the functional essence.

The ‘bairer’ courtyard has a greater degree of monumentality reflecting in its architectural language, with the introduction of ‘thakurdalan’ concept. The ‘andar’ courtyard maintained more of its rustic bearings – most of the activities and routines of the erstwhile life were being rigidly followed and upheld. The courtyard was used for – cultural events marked by the presence of eminent personalities like Bismillah Khan sahab, Bade Ghulam Ali sahab; during early 19th C., the Congress party would hold meetings in the baithak khana; also bandminton tournaments were organized in the courtyard.




A D A P T I V E   R E U S E :

The objective of the proposal is to revive the old activities that used to take place in golok dham along with revenue generation. Generating revenue is necessary to save this architecture as the house needs constant upkeep.


- The first entrance courtyard shall be used as a public zone housing various small scale classical music concerts, display area for artists, sports tournaments and religious functions. The rooms along the courtyard to be rented out to the people using the courtyard.

- The second smaller courtyard is kept for private use only.

- The entire first floor of the house is reserved for the Roy family as their residence.

M E E T I N G   &   F E E D B A C K   O F   S T A K E H O L D E R S  :

An exhibition was held in the Courthouse of Serampore showcasing the documented drawings to the stake holders and the public. A discussion was generated about the significance of the site. All the drawings done were explained. A lot of history and experiences were shared through the memories of those associated with the site. 

Guest Experts: Bente Wolff, Manish Chakraborty, Gopa Sen; Teaching Assistants:  Aathirai. S. K., Shristina Shreshtha

Student Participants: Anusha.H, S Satish Chandran, Rohit Priyadarshi Sanatani, Shiwani Madhogaria, Renuka Singh, Sarvesh Alshi, Bhagyashri Kulkarni, Sweta Mohan Kandari, Megha Sanjaliwala, Nishith Urval, Manisha Orina Rodrigues, Kinjal Vitthalbhai Sakaria, Shikha Desai, Shikha Merchant, Shruthi Ramesh, Somya Mahlawat

NOTE: This is a purely academic project that attempts to capture the essence of the place Serampore, and not to arrive at any rigid conclusions.

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