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.