Magnificent Barabari also falls victim to mindless demolition | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 24, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 24, 2008

Magnificent Barabari also falls victim to mindless demolition


Above, middle block of historic Barabari at Farashganj that still lies intact, below, a part of the inner residential block being demolished.Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain

Another magnificent building of the colonial era, located at Farashganj in old Dhaka, is halfway to disappear forever as its owners have started demolishing the edifice.
Barabari, one of the most elegant and palatial houses in Farashganj area, is the latest victim to mindless demolition of historic buildings in the city.
The ongoing demolition once again manifests a sheer indifference of the authorities concerned to protecting the last remnants of the city's heritage sites.
“It is very unfortunate to lose such a wonderful house when we are going to celebrate 400 years of this city,” lamented an expert working with such precious buildings.
Wasiuddin Shakil, one of the present owners of the house, said Barabari was built and owned by Basanta Kumar Das, a prominent personality of the area.
However, according to Dhaka Samogro-3 by Prof Muntassir Mamoon, the house was built by one Akhshay Kumar Das, son of wood trader Prasanna Kumar Das.
This correspondent during a visit last week to the house at Basanta Kumar Das Lane found workers demolishing the building's traditionally patterned walls.
The frontal façade of the building is magnificently ornate with luxuriant floral motifs. It is now flanked by two timber shops selling wood beams and plain wooden furniture chiseled in the vestibule of the building.
Decorated columns of the building stand upright on both sides of the entrance with the capitals decked with intricate designs.
Curved balconies, jutting out from the first floor of the building, are bearing the remnants of wooden pilasters and decorated iron poles. Large wooden windows are hanging from the hinges with some wooden shutters missing.
On entering the house the main courtyard greets the visitors. The large open courtyard is flanked by six octagonal columns supporting two elevated walkways on both sides.
Ornamental friezes adorn the top parts of the surrounding walls.
“Elevated walkway is an unique feature of this building. I have never seen such walkways in any other house in old Dhaka,” said Conservation Architect Taimur Islam, whose Urban Study Group has done the documentation of the building.
“The capitals of the columns are ornate with Corinthian motifs and foliage design.
Square in square out designs adorn the surrounding walls of the inner courtyard of the residential block, which is the influence of classical Greek architecture,” said Taimur.
Decorated brackets representing Spanish and French architectural designs, he added.
The building has four blocks and three courtyards. The outer block served the official purpose of the owner while the inner parts were residential blocks. It has a basement probably served as a store. A service courtyard was connected with the kitchen.
The building is unusually long with 250 feet in length and 33 feet in width, said Taimur.
The inner blocks were almost demolished when this correspondent went there last week.
“It is very profitable to demolish old buildings because they contain a great volume of wood and iron,” said Khoka, a contractor of JK Trading engaged in the demolition work.
At present the building houses a few factories and several tenants.
Shamsul Haque Babu, Wasiuddin Shakil and Akil Ebne Seraj are current owners of the building.
“My father bought this building in 1960s. It was our Baganbari. But after the independence we could not afford to maintain or renovate the building,” said Akil.
“In mid nineties when some old buildings gave way in Tantibazar and Shankharibazar areas, the government took a step to demolish old risky structures. I received several notices from the DCC to pull down the building,” he said.
Akil continued: “In 2004, the magistrate of DCC Zone 2 asked me to demolish the house within 30 days but I managed to save the beautiful building at that time.”
“I know that the house is invaluable because many architecture students, foreign tourists and reporters come to see and study this house. If Allah had given me the financial capability I would have saved it. But neither government nor the private sector came forward to save this house in the last ten years,” said Akil.
“Still I'm hopeful of saving the building if anyone comes forward. But of course the other owners should agree on this,” he said.
Dr Shafiqul Alam, director, Department of Archaeology, said it is very difficult to protect heritage buildings in the absence of strong government policies to motivate the owners.
Mentioning the case of Barabari, he said, “We are not in a position to proceed with these cases because we need the building owners' consent.”
Asked why the house was not listed by the Department of Archaeology as a heritage site for its preservation, he said, “If we cannot provide the building owners with some incentives, then simply declaring a house as a listed site does not help at all.”
“Approach from all sectors is needed. Different government agencies, especially the city corporation, will have to come forward,” he added.
Taimur said that following the law of Floor Area Ratio in Building Construction Rule 2006, where 50 percent area of the plot is left for open spaces, the front façade of the building can be saved.
Transfer of Development Right, practised in Kolkata, can also be applied here where plot owners may even construct their buildings on selected sites including on top of other buildings, he said.

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