With existing building laws not being conducive to designing homes harmonised with Deccan rocks, some flexibility in laws and incentives to preserve the heritage would be useful

It was very informative speaking with architect Samar Ramachandra, about designing buildings in Hyderabad with an inclusive sensibility towards rocks. “Mine is not going to be a rosy take on the matter!” he warns at the start.

Of one project, that had a huge rockscape on the plot, he says “We designed a home that harmonised with the rocky landscape. So many challenges came up that we had to scale down the entire vision”

Building laws are not conducive to such work. You are required to give a certain amount of setback, limited by building to road height restrictions etc. Mostly these laws serve a good purpose. However, sometimes the landscape is so contoured, that some flexibility in the law is useful. Seeking permits in this regard is an uphill task, even when the end result is aesthetic, safe by building laws and gentle on the environment.

Retaining rocks is almost a luxury. You lose space and really cannot blame people for choosing otherwise. For example, in the same project “the neighbours cut the rocks in their plots horizontally and vertically in an L shape, basically excavating the entire land of rock, to free up building space for them.”

However, the resulting problem is lateral instability. The rockscape’s natural functioning does not get divided into plots! “The rocks left on our plot become resultantly unstable and safety issues arise.” Rocks require careful architecture, they are a living form. Also, they will retain water, develop cracks, cause seepage, bring in the bio system, etc.

“So we like to retain rocks as a wall all around the building if possible. Retain boulder/s at the entrance and in aesthetic, rock inclusive courtyards. Then have the construction rise in this environment, using materials like stone that are married to the landscape. We like to reference the Deccan Rock variously in the look of the building.”

One response here can be for the municipality to incentivize preservation of this heritage that our city is naturally blessed with. Supporting architects and builders working with the landscape can lead to a more calibrated planning and building environment. Sensitized officials in city governance are required, who will facilitate building rock friendly homes and commercial structures and plan neighbourhoods that retain public rock spaces like parks.

This could retain rocks in balance with growth, such that we sustain our rich Deccan ecology and display some wisdom in not losing one of the most stunning elements of the city’s character. The rocks of our city are suffused in its nomenclature, memories and sensibility; house varied life forms; have provided protection and ecological sustenance; have had legends built around them; have given Hyderabad a unique silhouette that has impressed visitors down the ages. This can become one of the central motifs drawing future visitors and tourists, with ensuing income for the city. Why sacrifice all this, in hazardous overbuilding, when responsive governance can bring balanced development?

Samar lives and works in Srinagar Colony. He describes playing on the beautifully rock-replete Srinagar Colony main-road as a child. Now, he says, there is just one park on the road with the few remaining rocks of the colony. On my way back from the interview I stop at the park. It is lovely, though neglected, full of still beautiful flat rock slabs and boulders. From it, I can imagine how stunning the Srinagar Colony rock formations must have been. Now it is a teeming market and haphazard residential area accommodating unquestioned development needs. Ironically, the remaining rocks in this small park are surrounded by huge shops briskly selling marble and granite culled from rocks.

(Uma Magal is a documentary film maker, writer and teacher. This is the 20th in a series of articles based on research for a documentary on the rocks of Hyderabad.)