Life in Ruins: Fate of Old Structures

Time is an architect. It sculpts stone into any form it finds rational. It changes economies on a whim to transform buildings for new uses. And it lets war destroy the magnificent only to be replaced with the mundane.

Time also leaves us beautiful remnants from past cities: former temples and broken castles, roofless churches and silent grandstands.

The abandoned, the weeping, the mysterious; flights of fancy are let loose at the mere sight of them. We fascinate of the once upon a time palaces, where the kings and queens laughed, where our forefathers ate and slept, where those great builders created history. Thus begins the chase of the mysterious ruins that once were the mighty and divinely fashioned city of the emperors and their gods.

“For, indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, not in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy, nay, even of approval or condemnation, which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity… It is in that golden stain of time that we are to look for the real light, and color, and preciousness of architecture; and it is not until a building has assumed this character, till it has been entrusted with the fame, and hallowed by the deeds of men, till its walls have been witnesses of suffering, and its pillars rise out of the shadows of death, that its existence, more lasting as it is than that of the natural objects of the world around it, can be gifted with even so much as these possess of language and of life” [2]

To historians, buildings are particularly important since most are constructed of durable materials and tend to last for a long time, providing invaluable information about the past. Through architecture it’s possible to gauge many things about a culture, such as lifestyle, artistic sensibilities and social structure. For instance, early Western religious structures exhibit a general evolution toward more intricate and meaningful interiors, reflecting not only improvements in technical skills but also a growing interest in “inner spaces,” the spirit over the body. This tendency can be seen in several of the most famous holy monuments of Western Civilization: the Great Pyramid of Egypt, the Greek Parthenon, and the Pantheon in Rome and the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul). This inclination toward interiority culminates in the cathedrals of Medieval Europe. Thus, buildings are not just brick and marble but windows into the soul. [3]

We build too! We make buildings for our families to live in, our fellowmen to work in, our children to play in; but how many times in this never ending process of building do we think about what we create. When we design buildings, we visualize them in the first, second and third dimensions, that is, we consider all that is tangible about the structure. But in reality, there is more to it than what meets the eye. The structure build by the people of a civilization are the most important factor in assessing its growth and development. Hence, beyond the three dimensions, there also exists an intangible dimension, the fourth dimension, that of time.

           Strolling down the streets of this city called Delhi, one is bound to encounter a mix of buildings belonging to various periods of time tailored together in its urban fabric. On one hand we would see a collection of ruins of the bygone civilizations, whereas on the other one would witness history being created.

While ruins take a visitor way back in time when the structure was a habitat for our forefathers, there are these structures that are being created and inhabited today by us that will eventually have a tryst with destiny in the times to come; their fate is yet to be decided, it is to be decided by time.

In a scenario like this, one is often left wondering whether fate would be the way ruins stand today, proud as ever, or whether they will fail to stand the test of time and that of the needs of our descendants. Whether they will be appreciated, conserved and looked up to or will they be brought down mercilessly to make way for their descendants.

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