India Journal: Critical Conservation Reports, Day 8

Noor Boushehri, Maria Letizia Garzoli, Elad Horn, Yunjie Li, Marcus Goodwin and Jane Philbrick, all first-year Masters of Design Studies Critical Conservation students, joined the Loeb Fellows and GSD colleagues in Agra, India, for Rahul Mehrotra's Extreme Urbanism: Planning for Conservation option studio. The LOEBlog is featuring their impressions from the trip.

Akbar’s Tomb, Sikandra

Sikandra is home of the the tomb of Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, grandson of the great Mughal Emperor Babur. The tomb complex, begun as was customary by Akbar before his death, was finished by his son Jahangir and represents the apotheosis of the Mughal garden.

The visitor approaches it by broad, plaza-like promenades, through the center of which the mausoleum appears in all its glory and architectural complexity. Once again perimeter conditions offer the most interesting investigations of the theme.

First, bushes aligned at the base of the central pavilion plinth and pathways convey a floating effect of built structures, thus anticipating the assumptions made for the Taj.

Second, restoration in progress along the perimeter wall raises questions about the options and implications for conservation. In some conditions, the practice looks more like routine cleaning and maintenance; in others however, such as the advanced state of ruin and decay of Sikanadra’s northern gate and pathway, potential conservation interventions require reflection on the authenticity and intended goals of restoration. Who decides when to freeze time? Is the story that’s embedded in the majestic structures exclusively one of imperial splendor? Are there alternative narratives that can express the contemporary meaning of heritage and reflect the surrounding communities beyond the aesthetic spectacle?

By comparison, we ask, would we want to restore the Caracalla baths of Rome to their almost original state? What would be the meaning today of bringing back a polished Northern Gate of Sikandra?

Lead photo: Maria Letizia Garzoli
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