The Twelfth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2010
Berkeley Prize 2010

Ishanie Niyogi

My roots are in a civilization that dates to 2500 B.C. With such deep roots it is not surprising that I can think of many buildings which bear evidence of our rich social and cultural history. While many of these buildings are now World Heritage Sites; there are still countless others which lie neglected. One such building, now on the brink of dilapidation, is the old jail in the city of Dehradun.

Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, Dehradun was a summer retreat for British officers. It was in Dehradun that Jawaharlal Nehru, who played a crucial role in the struggle for independence, was incarcerated for taking part in non-violent protests during the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1931. In 1942 Mahatma Gandhi designated Nehru as his political heir and in 1947 Nehru became the first prime minister of independent India.

Nehru was a prolific writer and despite the hardships faced during his incarceration, he completed “Glimpses of World History,” “Discovery of India” and part of his autobiography while in jail. He penned these lines about the Dehradun jail in his autobiography saying: "For fourteen and a half months I lived in my little cell or room in the Dehra Dun gaol, and I began to feel as if I was a part of it." He called it a “thought-infested room” where he had spent his time discussing topics ranging from history to politics with the other freedom fighters also serving time.

Today, this cell stands with barely half a roof and cracked walls. Until recently this historic building was being used as housing for retired jailors, with plans for it to be demolished. The Hindustan Times, a daily national newspaper, discovered the forgotten cell after more than seventy years. According to a Hindustan Times representative, “Searching out the cell was not easy as the Jail campus comprises of the old jail, new jail and several other old buildings.” My essay will investigate with citations the discovery of Nehru’s long lost jail cell.

Dehradun is a city catering to tourists and the opportunities for conservation seem endless. The cell, which has recently been declared a memorial, could become part of a cultural centre housed in the 11 acre jail complex, with an institution and a museum. Although he was an ardent follower of Gandhian principles, Nehru believed that the future of India lay with science and technology. Keeping this in mind the entire campus could be designed in a simplistic manner incorporating the principles of Green Architecture.

Heritage buildings in addition to their historical interest are valuable because they contribute significantly to the economy by providing attractions in a context where tourism and leisure are major industries of the 3rd millennium.

My essay will cover how the jail complex housing a Nehru memorial, cultural centre and school can be made a reality, thereby, restoring this historic monument, which would serve as a reminder of the hardships endured by this great man in our struggle for independence.

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Ms. Ishanie Niyogi, Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, India
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