A marvel of adaptive reuse and restoration

“The pebbled yard, the building on an elevated platform, the imposing columns that form the entrance to the building — Cinnamon takes one into a vintage world with ease, to the relaxed, laid-back comforts away from all the hustle, right in the middle of one of Bengaluru’s oldest trading areas.”

Bangalore bygone

Walk down the narrow, noisy streets of Tasker Town, and you’ll be mesmerized by the constant buzz of commercial spaces, vehicles, food stalls, and above all, the stories lurking in every building and street corner. Bangalore cantonment is linked to a sizable share of the most fascinating stories related to some of its earliest settlers.

Ulsoor was the centerpiece of the cantonment town that the British built. All the important offices, courts, hospitals, and bazaars were built around the lake. The British even created separate neighborhoods for the working class — comprising mostly of Tamil laborers who, through their own enterprise and trade, enriched the community. Bungalows with spacious verandas and circular or floral skylights sprung up on the lanes bordering the lake, adorned by bougainvilleas and gulmohars. Shady, tree-lined avenues and cool breezes made the town a joy to live in, especially during the long Indian summers.

The Tamil community also prospered along with the growth of this habitation. Rai Bahadur Naraiyanaswamy Mudliar, a small-town boy from Arcot, migrated to Bangalore and made his fortune. He was a businessman and contractor credited with building the High Court. He contributed heavily to charity and established what was then the first school for the Indian community – RBANM’s High School, which has since grown and is now a full-fledged institution with its own grounds – and the RBANM’s Orphanage with old-era architecture.

Arcot Narayanaswamy Mudaliar with orphans

The building sits in a surprisingly tranquil place on Gangadhar Chetty Road, although surrounded by Commercial Street and Ulsoor. This Colonial building built in 1892 is right by the RBANMS Charity Trust. In 1876, the Great Famine began, afflicting South India for almost two years. Many children were orphaned, and stirred by their miserable condition, Mudaliar set up an orphanage at a cost of 20,000 Indian Rupees. 

The foundation stone laid down for the building in November 1892 by His Excellency the Marquess of Lansdowne, the Viceroy and Governor General of India, can still be spotted in a corner of the restored house with its accompanying sign; a fragment of regional history.

Over the years

The property was used as an orphanage and subsequently, the trust used it as an office. Once the office moved next door, the building became vacant and started giving in. The site had a rough time over these years and due to under utilisation and a lack of maintenance, a sequence of events affected the Madras terrace roof, slabs, and walls.

From 2005 to 2013, the dilapidated building was unused until a reputed brand, looking specifically for a heritage building to open their outlet, approached the trust. The trust agreed, on the condition that the building be restored. A study was done by INTACH and the building was renovated keeping the façade intact. They added a plinth in front of the building, to prevent cars from driving directly in front of the store.

From functioning as an orphanage (1892-1909) to a hostel (1909-1980) to an office (1980-2005) to being unused (2005-2013) to a beautifully restored boutique (2014-present), this structure is a striking example of adaptive reuse and restoration, encompassing architectural language, material restoration and spatial engagement.

The space

The pebbled yard, the building on an elevated platform, the imposing columns that form the entrance to the building — Cinnamon takes one into a vintage world with ease, to the relaxed, laid-back comforts away from all the hustle, right in the middle of one of Bengaluru’s oldest trading areas. Cinnamon, a 16-year-old brand, moved into the current bungalow 5 years ago. 

“The building, over 120 years old, had been unused for a very long time and was in a very bad condition when we leased it,” says Radhika Poddar, who set up Cinnamon with her husband Abhishek Poddar.

The Poddars had a deep desire to preserve the authenticity of this heritage building, so they decided to keep its structure intact, retaining wherever possible original elements of its construction. The building’s reconstruction and renovation with ace architect Soumitro Ghosh was undertaken with great care. The original structure has been largely preserved, including the old flooring, pillars, and wooden rafter ceiling beams. Ample natural light, window arches, and stained glass displays along with an interior design that uses historic wooden latticework, canopies, rustic mirrors, and antique frame props build an atmosphere of old-world charm. All ornamental features in the limestone plaster have been maintained, and the space has been made disabled-friendly by introducing ramps. 

The 8,000 square foot space has maintained the original Kadapa stone flooring, and opens to a traditional courtyard. This light-dappled central courtyard surrounded by huge columns with a high-end café housed in it makes the store a great space to spend evenings in. The additional rooms around the courtyard are sublet and rented out to nine other boutiques and studios.

The Cinnamon store complies with the architecture of the building and has maintained the rustic element throughout with the interiors and the objects inside. They were not allowed to build on top of the existing structure.

In terms of the restoration  various steps were taken in response to the multitude of factors affecting the structure. Some of the important ones were underpinning the foundation, stitching wall cracks with steel, and replacing rafters that were considerably damaged with old teak wood from other places. Exposed electrical wiring has been done, similar to the style of the olden days. These elements have helped the building to retain its essence.

Then and now

Bengaluru’s many heritage bungalows have made way for vast spacious shopping spots that spell luxury and provide an airy breathing space, old world charm, and an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere — an oasis of calm if you please, tucked away in a bustling area. It’s a win-win situation in which the property is monetised, the owners or renters of the bungalow get to preserve the heritage space, the city gets to keep a landmark, untouched by land sharks, and the space remains alive for people to experience and enjoy. Bengaluru has a host of old homes and bungalows that have taken on new forms.

It’s a pity to see old structures being knocked down and big monstrous buildings coming up in their place. This is what Bangalore was like only a little while ago. It’s nice to be able to retain some of its earlier charm. We need to protect older buildings either using these traditional preservation tools or by providing more incentives for the continued use of these spaces. There are many sustainable ways to look after older buildings as assets essential to the success of cities in the 21st century.

***

References

Soumitro Ghosh
Charities of Rai Bahaddur Dharmaratnakara Arcot Narrainswamy Mudaliar – compiled by T.V Annaswamy (great-grand-nephew of Narrainsawmy Mudaliar, Ex-President of the RBANM’s educational charities and retired Joint Director of Town Planning, Government of Karnataka)
INTACH – Bangalore

Articles by S Kushala

Interviews:
Radhika Poddar, Owner – Cinnamon
Shri. Hanchinamani Veerabhadrappa (Administrative Officer – RBANM’s Educational Charities)

Written by Anushka K C, Suhas R and Tejaswini C, students at Acharya’s NRV School of Architecture, Bengaluru.


Read more:

Leafing through the pages of history

Meditating with art in the heart of Basavanagudi

The journey of a gem lost and found in the haste of time


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1 Comment

  1. Very well written. The message for the need to safeguard our history and simultaneously keep up with the pacing world has been beautifully articulated here.

    Like

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