Type “RESTAURANTS IN GOA” on your keyboard and you’ll receive plenty of results. After reading that there are even four German restaurants found, I assume that only a few other very, very exotic cuisines haven’t been served here till now. I any case you can be assured there is abundance of choice in Goa to make your taste bud feel happy. In other words, Goa as a tourism hot spot attracts year after year more domestic and foreign tourists and they all want to have a choice of different foods served on their plate. Which means life in Goa can be so wonderful; An outing with your best friends; The restaurant shows a true cozy ambiance; The furniture and tableware are stylish and clean; The food is finger-licking good; Served by more than friendly staff; It is one of these moments where you cannot decide exactly if you are gourmet type or you just give into the glutton side of you … … well, well, well only if there was not the call of nature! In an ideal world, you would get up and follow the illuminated but discreet signboard to the washroom; You open the door to a lobby where there are wash basins, fresh towels, soap and what you appreciate first is the fresh scent that welcomes you. The room has a decent lighting design and soft music playing from hidden speakers. The tiles and all other surfaces look clean and well maintained. You look around, see your smiling face reflected from a large mirror. You walk through another door and it opens to the WC’s (and urinals, considered you belong to the male half of this planet’s population). The thoughtful design provides enough space and privacy to relieve yourself and there are water faucet, toilet paper, hooks for jackets/bags and STILL no foul smell because of proper ventilation. Before leaving the washroom you notice a wall mounted board, listing the timings for cleaning and maintenance procedure. In a way, you feel that this place has really lived up to customers expectations. We know that there are these kinds of excellent facilities in our beloved sunshine state. And we also know that Goa’s reputation as a sought after travel destination depends heavily on such places, since tourism seems to be the only source of contribution to exchequer. The let down is, there are not enough of them and since we all had experienced at least one ghastly washroom in our life, there is a lot to do for updating the mindset of some restaurateurs / operators. Local Goans may wait till they reach home and spare themselves some unpleasant memories but non-locals = tourists = revenue won’t have a choice or an escape route but it will remain for sure in their memory. I am certainly not advocating the above high standards of an ideal washroom everywhere, but a visit to your next door eatery can show that the reality is far from ideal. To a large extent, cleanliness and hygiene can be adopted from the grandest of restaurants to the smallest tea stall. Every restaurant should take a pride in the hygiene of their washrooms, as it can simply indicate how other parts of this place might look like. Be the latter true or not true but why take the risk of carrying a “smelly” reputation forward? As surveys show that a step-motherly treatment to washrooms could turn almost 30 % of guests into never-come-back-customers, restaurateurs/hotel operators should be careful not to lose business because of negative publicity by word of mouth. According to a poll*, the top 10 restroom issues that would prevent restaurant guests from returning are, in order of importance: • Overflowing toilets: 58 % said this would prevent them from going to a restaurant • Unpleasant odors: 57 % • Floors that were slippery or dirty with buildup, gum or other residue: 49 % • Partitions, doors, doorknobs, walls or fixtures were dirty: 38 % • Dirty and wet sinks and countertops: 38 % • Insufficient toilet paper: 33 % • Overflowing trash cans: 31 % • Insufficient liquid soap: 28 % • Toilet paper dispenser didn’t work: 22 % • Management/employees unavailable to report problems to: 19 % Think of the snowball effect if even one unsatisfied guest tells only two others! You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out the numbers and what might follow, first the bad publicity and then may be closing of your business. Joachim Haider P.S.: I purposely didn’t use the term “restroom”, since I cannot imagine anyone will really ever “rest” there, even under the most hygienic conditions … *Courtesy of online survey conducted by Harris Interactive
Sustainability beyond the Usual
Type sustainable architecture into your keyboard and you will get lots of links about green and eco-friendly building materials and technical equipment. Prestigious readers of my previous articles in March and April issues of Wo’Goa Magazine already know my opinion about this matter. In short: Yes of course! We need a sustainable architecture in an ecological balanced environment, since even hardcore economists have to admit there is no spare planet in the trunk when this one will be exploited and polluted fatally.
But today I will take you on a different path and let’s call it “aesthetic quality” as an extension of sustainability. The indigenous style of the Goan House worked well for centuries, it was sustainable before the word was used as it is in today’s connotation. Utilization of local materials and adaption to topography and climate were common sense. Let’s have a closer look what makes the architecture of Goan Houses so unique and explore the pleasing features behind them.
We start with the balcao; the covered area facing the road or front of the Goan House. It usually has benches to sit and a place to talk (and of course watch the passersby!). It is like a part of your more concealed living room turned into an open space. What a warm gesture of welcome and interaction with your neighbourhood! Another lovely feature of the Goan House is where the balcaos merge with verandahs. The verandahs and their introvert ‘cousin’ the Courtyard is the perfect solution for a tropical climate. It works in two ways, first as an extension of the open area for the rooms beyond and also as a heat barrier with its shade-giving canopies. Same perfect adaption happens with the courtyard, a more contemplative area giving a place for the holy tulsi plant. For both balcaos and internal courtyards the wooden roof constructions rest on a row of sculptured columns, with intricate craftsmanship and the typical Goan joy for life. As it happens with all properly designed columns you can see how the column structure receives the load, bears it on the capitals, transfers it down along the shaft, and connects it to the ground through the pedestal. In a way a column is like the human body, having a head, shoulders, torso, legs and feet. If you can thus identify a column, you can feel the harmony flowing so coherently through the traditional Goan architecture. Imagine a picture of houses with huge roofs, surrounded by swaying palm trees, a salty breeze from the sea and sustainability broadens into quality of life.
Winston Churchill once coined this: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” Of course we cannot repeat the same traditional forms again and again! Instead, restore and save what is left of these endangered species called the Goan House. Take the legacy forward into modern day architecture like roof overhangs, open but sheltered areas, columns which deserve the name column. Creating that kind of harmony which leads to the well-being of man, gives sustainability for present and to future generations. An excellent introduction into the traditional Goan art and culture (and always worth a visit) is the museum “Houes of Goa” designed by Gerard da Cunha in Porvorim – Torda.
Read the article (courtesy of Wo’Goa magazine) in their April edition on pages 24- 27
Taking the NH 17 to South Goa.
One of my favourite designs of the Goan house is the one with the two semi-octagonal wings, like huge bay windows they surround the entrance porch. The colourful facades, the gorgeous window designs, the huge roofs under swaying palm trees, what a feast for an architect’s senses! So it was decided to go for a weekend trip to South Goa.
But then I wonder what happened to a once lovely Goan country side? Did Saruman and his evil hordes escape from the Shire and continued the devastation in the name of progress (at what price) and prosperity (for a few)? Where are these adorable Goan houses gone? Nestling under palm trees, with their broad verandahs, the inviting balcaos (no time to talk nowadays and by the way my favourite TV show starts in a minute). So less of them stand out like endangered species in a swelling sea of banality.
Is it the yearning to be modern, show off to the neighbour while copying the same characterless design?
Where is the art and ability gone to build something like the old Goan House?
Somebody asked me once, what do you think as a foreigner living here for years now, are we Indians simply not able or not educated enough to do better? Being in my age and able to look back to more than 40 years working in the architectural field, I can say it has nothing to do with India or with education or a lack of artisan abilities. Do you think the craftsman and laborers working on construction sites in the bygone times were in an intellectual way ahead of their time? What made them able to do so was the traditional skills learned and carried on from one generation to the next to build for the common men, buildings to live in and for the larger temples and palaces there was a master or a group of masters to coordinate the same.
Look around and the upcoming of the ordinary and ugly is visible all over this planet, you find it literally everywhere, it spread like a disease. The catch here is that clinging in a reactionary way on tradition, will reproduce an inbreed culture only. To make things clear I am not talking here about razing the Old for a better New World. My demand is, keep the heritage buildings, villages and towns intact and well-maintained and add to them in a sensitive manner neighbour buildings. Why not thinking of village or town as a family where you don’t kill the grandparents because you are convinced their best-before-date has expired?
Instead see what the climate and the surrounding has to offer and adopt it. Basically speaking use the best out of the traditional skills and how they managed the challenge of climate and environment. I know it is a corny phrase but there is really no need to invent the wheel again.
- Have large roof overhangs to shelter from the monsoon rains.
- Have open but shaded places instead of A/C shoeboxes.
- Lower the heights of buildings to max. 3 floors (more than half of the newly built apartment blocks aren’t occupied permanently anyways).
- Keep God given nature in mind as an advantage and not as an unnecessary hindrance, blocking the cool breeze from the sea and vice versa blocking the rain water drainage from flowing back into the sea is simply not a good design, if not to say a dangerous one.
- Reduce the sealing of soil and give trees and plants a place to exist. Everyone can experience the drop of temperature when passing the open fields between Tonca and Adarsh circle. The need for density and highrise buildings is mostly a hypothetical creation of shortsighted money orientated business. Don’t fall for it.
I am neither putting a case for an impossible “Back to Nature” nor an anachronistic repetition of traditional forms and shapes. The first one is since Rousseau coined it first, an illusion and doesn’t bring the development of men and earth an inch forward. The second one will show romantic replicas, even when they are perfectly designed and executed but still gives you the feeling of living in a theme-park and therefore gives also no gain for progress.
Something new has to come (not only in architecture) even if it is confusing or funny to look at and not at all perfect from the start. This brings me back to my trip to South Goa. See for yourself the way Pantha and Ute from Bakti Kuthir Resort in Palolem designed the beautiful airy cottages and then you have a look at the cookie-cutter-huts strewn along the beaches. Or if you want to look beyond the horizon than google for César Manrique’s work which he has done in Lanzarote, one of Canary Islands.
Heavily depending on tourism, Goa can learn enough from other examples to alter the course. A rampant sell-out of Goa ends otherwise with a “Lost Paradise”.
Goan Architecture, a positive view.
During my first days in Panjim, a friend took me with him and we were just driving in and around Panjim city. While looking at more or less recently (means past 20 years) constructed buildings, I was shocked to see all those blackened facades. I asked my friend when this horrible firestorm had happened? He answered with a somehow astounded and at the same time amused look, there was nothing such as a fire and it is just black mold.
Suddenly I remembered one of our professors during studying architecture in Germany. He told us. “Keep the water away from the building!” Here in a subtropical climate with a four months lasting rainy session, if not following this advice seems even more dramatic and definitely necessary.
A closer look at Goan architecture of the past, reveals a few indications to make it such a unique style and well adapted to the climate (sunshine and rain) as well. First of all it is the height of the buildings, one or at most two stores only. The mighty sloping roofs with their huge roof overhangs. Still the coconut trees next to them are taller, shading the roof with their branches. Then the two major types, the more inward courtyard house and its more extrovert cousin with street-facing verandahs. Coming from a country where 90 % of sloped roofs are constructed with wood, it was good to see those imposing hipped roofs after all the cast-in-concrete roofs. As it is with most of old buildings the detailed craftsmanship makes the charm of it, be it the woodwork or the flooring.
And to highlight one detail, I was so impressed by the “shell windows”, as I called them. The shutters of those windows bear vertical wooden members and then shells are staggered in rows above each other. Already a pleasure to look at them from the street side but try to get a chance to enter the building. It is amazing to see a torching May sunlight softened to a pale yellow glow. It reminded me to a chapel in Italy. The upper windows, had instead of glass panes, thinly cut panels of marble stone. What an amazing soft and tranquil light waved through the chapel and here in Goa I found the similar idea.
Just follow a randomly picked tourist and look where he or she takes pictures (beside the usual Mandovi river and sunset snaps). It is obviously within the picturesque quarters of old Panjim with its heritage buildings. For sure no one comes to Goa and clicks a picture in front of a building which they can see similar ones (and in abundance) at their own home town.
Which brings me to another sad point. Simply it is about time to wake up and show respect for the heritage buildings. At many places you can see beautiful old buildings but abandoned or run down for some or the other reason(s). We have a proverb in Germany and translated it goes like,
“If you are in possession of something, it is not merely about owning it, you are responsible for it as well.”
Luckily there are some architects and responsible individuals who take care of it. To highlight a few, surely less than all who deserve to be penned down here. I would call Gerard da Cunha together with Lady Helen Hamlin and Dean de Cruz true lovers of careful integrated Goan architecture. Gerard da Cunha has done a great job while restoring the Reis Magos Fort and so did Dean de Cruz with the amazing Nilaya Resort.
Goa is not famous for beaches and sunshine only, but also for its rich cultural diversity and their exceptional built heritage. Let us work towards keeping them intact for future generations to come.