Goan architecture: A delicate balance between progress and preservation

The essence of ‘Goemkarponn’, being diluted amidst the wave of modern construction, is an indication of the commodification of Goa’s land and heritage
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW: With the surge in tourism and a growing demand for second homes, Goa's architectural identity is under threat.
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW: With the surge in tourism and a growing demand for second homes, Goa's architectural identity is under threat.Photo: Gomantak Times

Goa faces the formidable challenge of maintaining its unique architectural heritage in the face of relentless development. As the State experiences a surge in tourism and a growing demand for second homes, its architectural identity is under threat.

This delicate balance between preserving heritage and accommodating modern growth is a pressing issue that demands thoughtful and decisive action.

HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW: With the surge in tourism and a growing demand for second homes, Goa's architectural identity is under threat.
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ALLURE OF GOA AND RISE OF MODERNISM

Goa’s charm lies in its distinctive blend of Portuguese and Indian architectural styles, characterised by quaint villages, traditional homes and serene coastal towns.

This unique aesthetic is a crucial part of what attracts both tourists and new residents.

However, the increasing demand for modern housing, particularly from affluent individuals seeking a slice of Goa’s idyllic environment, is leading to significant changes.

The new wave of constructions often favours global architectural styles —glass facades, minimalist designs and generic modernist structures — that starkly contrast with traditional Goan aesthetics.

The new wave of constructions often favours global architectural styles —glass facades, minimalist designs and generic modernist structures — that starkly contrast with traditional Goan aesthetics.

This shift not only alters the visual landscape, but also threatens the cultural and historical fabric that defines Goa.

The replacement of traditional structures with modern buildings is a clear manifestation of the commodification of Goa’s land and heritage.

HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW: With the surge in tourism and a growing demand for second homes, Goa's architectural identity is under threat.
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EROSION OF POLYCENTRIC URBANISM

One of the most concerning aspects of this rapid development is the erosion of polycentric urbanism—a fundamental characteristic of Goan towns and villages.

Historically, Goa’s urban model has been polycentric, with distinct villages maintaining their unique identities while being closely connected. This structure fosters social cohesion and preserves cultural uniqueness.

Historically, Goa’s urban model has been polycentric, with distinct villages maintaining their unique identities while being closely connected. This structure fosters social cohesion and preserves cultural uniqueness.

However, unchecked development is merging these distinct villages, leading to the loss of their individual identities. This not only affects the architectural integrity, but also undermines the social and cultural cohesiveness that is integral to Goan life.

The essence of Goemkarponn — the intrinsic Goan way of life — is being diluted amidst the wave of modern construction.

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UNPLANNED DEVELOPMENT: A THREAT TO HERITAGE

Unplanned development poses a significant threat to Goa’s architectural heritage.

The surge of construction projects, often without proper planning or consideration of local aesthetics, is transforming the state’s landscape at an alarming rate.

The proliferation of buildings that do not resonate with Goan architectural norms is a visible indicator of this unplanned growth.

The surge of construction projects, often without proper planning or consideration of local aesthetics, is transforming the state’s landscape at an alarming rate.

To protect Goa’s heritage, it is crucial to involve local architectural experts in the planning process. Comprehensive plans that respect and incorporate traditional Goan styles can serve as blueprints for sustainable development.

These plans should be implemented effectively to ensure that growth does not come at the expense of heritage.

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ROLE OF ARCHITECTS & POLICYMAKERS

Architects and urban planners play a pivotal role in addressing this complex issue.

At an event held in 2017, organised by the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) – Goa Chapter, experts highlighted the importance of maintaining Goa’s architectural identity.

There was a unanimous call for development that aligns with local cultural and architectural norms.

Instead of merely regulating, the department should engage in essential planning matters, ensuring that development projects harmonise with the local environment and cultural heritage.

Architects like Manguesh R Prabhugaonker and Tulio de Souza emphasised the need for the Town and Country Planning department to take a proactive role.

Instead of merely regulating, the department should engage in essential planning matters, ensuring that development projects harmonise with the local environment and cultural heritage.

This proactive approach is vital for sustainable growth that respects Goa’s unique identity.

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THE WAY FORWARD: DECENTRALISATION & COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

Decentralisation of power to local municipal governance is a key solution proposed by experts. This bottom-up approach empowers local communities to have a say in land distribution and development decisions.

With around 62 percent of Goa already urbanised, such a strategy is crucial for managing growth sustainably.

Decentralisation would enable local communities to protect their heritage while participating in the development process. It fosters a sense of ownership and ensures that development aligns with the community’s cultural and social values.

Engaging civil society in decision-making processes is essential for preserving the unique character of Goa’s towns and villages.

Decentralisation would enable local communities to protect their heritage while participating in the development process. It fosters a sense of ownership and ensures that development aligns with the community’s cultural and social values.

NEED FOR COMPREHENSIVE POLICY & PLANNING

A comprehensive white paper on architecture and town planning in Goa, as advocated by town planners is essential for addressing these issues. This document should provide an in-depth analysis of the current challenges and propose viable solutions.

Grassroots-level involvement in policymaking is crucial for ensuring that development respects and preserves Goan heritage.

Collaborative efforts between architects, policymakers and the community are necessary to strike a balance between development and preservation.

STRIKING A BALANCE: THE WAY FORWARD

The preservation of Goan architecture amidst rapid development is a multifaceted challenge.

It requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders — architects, policymakers and the community. Goa’s unique polycentric urbanism, traditional architectural styles, and the essence of Goemkarponn are invaluable assets that must be protected.

HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW: With the surge in tourism and a growing demand for second homes, Goa's architectural identity is under threat.
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At the same time, development is necessary to accommodate growth and improve living standards. A balanced approach, involving strategic planning, decentralisation of governance and community involvement, is essential.

By aligning development with the preservation of cultural and architectural heritage, Goa can achieve sustainable growth while retaining its unique identity.

Protecting Goan architecture is not just a matter of aesthetics, but a critical endeavour to sustain the social and cultural fabric that defines the state.

Future generations must inherit and cherish the true essence of Goa, ensuring that the state remains a unique and vibrant destination amidst the tides of modernity.

(The writer is a priest belonging to the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine) and is currently studying for a Licentiate degree in Moral Theology. He comments on social and moral issues.)

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