An Instagram project is preserving Kolkata’s gorgeous buildings, before they vanish for good

Kolkata’s heritage buildings are either being turned into boutiques and cafés, or razed to build skyscrapers.

Calcutta may have changed to Kolkata but its history is still preserved in its architecture. As the seat of the British Empire for 221 years, Calcutta was host to the very first examples of European colonial architecture in the Indian subcontinent. In his book Land of Seven Rivers, Sanjeev Sanyal observed: “One of the positive consequences of its economic decline in the second half of the twentieth century, is that Kolkata is home to the finest collection of 19th century buildings that have survived anywhere in the world.”

Calcutta Houses, a photography project on Instagram started by three friends – Manish Golder, Sidhartha Hajra and Sayan Dutta – aims to archive the city’s rich tableau of heritage homes which are increasingly being torn down to make way for modern commercial and residential buildings. The project follows in the footsteps of Calcutta Architectural Legacies, an initiative started by the author Amit Chaudhuri and some of the city’s architects and conservationists, which campaigns to conserve Kolkata’s de-listed heritage properties.

Instagram-worthy homes

“It is infused with this idea of memories, the history of the city’s people, as seen in the timeless houses,” said Dutta, a graphic designer whose illustrations of Kolkata’s windows are part of the project. “Using the medium of photography and illustrations, we look to capture the spirit of ‘many in body, one in mind’, of building a community in which every citizen of the city can share their personal Calcutta house story. Each house has its unique style of windows, pillars, flooring, stairways, furniture and balconies. Many of these Calcutta houses are different from one another, but they all come together in a very homogeneous form to help breed the city’s culture – as clusters or paras, as we know them in Bengali. That is what is fascinating and unique about Calcutta’s architecture.”

Golder, who runs a production house in the city, explained that the trio chose Instagram because of the “availability of the technology of the phone camera which is non invasive, discreet, powerful, instant, records location and other archival attributes easily. Also, Instagram as a platform allows you to focus on visuals and retains the immediacy.”

In the city’s lanes, one can trace the memory not just of Kolkata but also of the British Empire. The official buildings commissioned by the British, acquired a heritage status that helps them survive in the 21st century through occupancy and maintenance. The city is also full of old residential buildings which have a curious charm of their own, and are losing the Darwinian battle as they are often deemed too unfit to survive.

A walk through North Kolkata (especially lanes such as Sinthee, Gouribari Garpar and Amherst) still throws up several examples of languishing old houses that seem out of place in their modern surroundings. Between the new steel-and-glass monoliths, one may come across a rusty fence protecting a derelict building with an ornate façade or rococo doors. Sometimes one may even find a plaque or a nameplate hinting at the former occupants.

Kolkata on the rise

Real estate developers love the expensive neighbourhood of South Kolkata. On this side of town, the battle for heritage properties is near constant – sometimes buildings are turned into boutique stores and cafés, often they are razed in an attempt to capitalise on premium square footage.

“Areas such as Sardar Shankar Road, Sadananda Road, Raja Pratapaditya Road, Hajra, Bhawanipore and Paddapukur have some very interesting architecture,” said Golder. “However, as a community we fail to see value in architectural heritage. Conservation requires a more evolved and less aspirational psyche.”

The buildings covered by the project were built to stand out – most modern architecture comprises of concrete boxes or glass cubes devoid of animation or pulchritude, because they are built to blend in.

According to Hajra, who is a photographer, what sets Kolkata apart is the time warp it lives in. “Porches on the ground floor, the red oxide stone flooring, intricately designed cornices, the semi-circular balconies, the slatted Venetian or French style windows lend a certain character to this city which is indefinable – you have to live here to believe it,” he said.

Calcutta was flat but Kolkata is gearing up to go vertical. The city’s property rates (which are still cheaper compared to other metros), coupled with growing consumer spending, have started to attract investors from others parts of the country. The skyline has luxury high-rises promising infinity pools, sky-gardens and concierge service. Gated communities keep the paras at bay, producing a veritable us-and-them that segregates people into groups that interact only when something terrible happens (such as when a mob recently broke into a posh residential complex to vandalise 70 cars, due to a rumour about a hit-and-run).

Space is still a problem in Kolkata because the city is full of unoccupied buildings which are caught in disputes. On one hand, conservation initiatives are trying to restore heritage buildings, on the other the Kolkata Municipal Corporation is trying to demolish dangerous structures which have grown dilapidated due to poor maintenance. In July, a century-old building in Taltala collapsed and caused two fatalities.

Explaining why the buildings are often unoccupied and how this leads to their dilapidation, Hajra said: “There are problems such as the migration of owners to other cities and family disputes over inheritance. Then there is the increasing encroachment by real estate developers, whose concerns are not the maintenance and conservation of these buildings. More engagement is required with the issue through a government-led intervention and civil society’s participation and discussion.”

While it remains to be seen what will become of the city’s heritage properties in the face of modern expansion, a project like Calcutta Houses which archives the city’s architecture is crucial in helping Kolkatans connect with their past.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Hans Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.


To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.