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 

Bringing your parents into the digital fold can be a rewarding experience

Contrary to popular sentiment, being the tech support for your parents might be a great use of your time and theirs.

If you look up ‘Parents vs technology’, you’ll be showered with a barrage of hilariously adorable and relatable memes. Half the hilarity of these memes sprouts from their familiarity as most of us have found ourselves in similar troubleshooting situations. Helping a parent understand and operate technology can be trying. However, as you sit, exasperated, deleting the gazillion empty folders that your mum has accidentally made, you might be losing out on an opportunity to enrich her life.

After the advent of technology in our everyday personal and work lives, parents have tried to embrace the brand-new ways to work and communicate with a bit of help from us, the digital natives. And while they successfully send Whatsapp messages and make video calls, a tremendous amount of unfulfilled potential has fallen through the presumptuous gap that lies between their ambition and our understanding of their technological needs.

When Priyanka Gothi’s mother retired after 35 years of being a teacher, Priyanka decided to create a first of its kind marketplace that would leverage the experience and potential of retirees by providing them with flexible job opportunities. Her Hong Kong based novel venture, Retired, Not Out is reimagining retirement by creating a channel through which the senior generation can continue to contribute to the society.

Our belief is that tech is highly learnable. And learning doesn’t stop when you graduate from school. That is why we have designed specific programmes for seniors to embrace technology to aid their personal and professional goals.

— Priyanka Gothi, Founder & CEO, Retired Not Out

Ideas like Retired Not Out promote inclusiveness and help instil confidence in a generation that has not grown up with technology. A positive change in our parent’s lives can be created if we flip the perspective on the time spent helping them operate a laptop and view it as an exercise in empowerment. For instance, by becoming proficient in Microsoft Excel, a senior with 25 years of experience in finance, could continue to work part time as a Finance Manager. Similarly, parents can run consultation blogs or augment their hobbies and continue to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life.

Advocating the same message, Lenovo’s new web-film captures the void that retirement creates in a person’s life, one that can be filled by, as Lenovo puts it, gifting them a future.


Depending on the role technology plays, it can either leave the senior generation behind or it can enable them to lead an ambitious and productive life. This festive season, give this a thought as you spend time with family.

To make one of Lenovo’s laptops a part of the family, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Lenovo by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.