David Hall has entered a new phase. Priyadershini S. visits the place in its new avatar as a cultural centre cum cafetaria
Sure-footed Time has taken its toll on much of Fort Kochi, altering it, except for a few landmarks that remain. David Hall retains its old world character. Here it seems Time walked out roaming carelessly around only to knock on its door recently. The restored and renovated David Hall has opened as a cultural centre and an art gallery, with a chic, alfresco cafeteria and an art residence as part of its new face.
The makeover by its present keepers, CghEarth hotel, who has taken it on lease from CNO India (Foundation for the cultural history of Netherlands Overseas) has been gentle and in line with its historicity.
Prof. R. Ramaswamy of TKM Engineering College, who has been associated with its restoration since 1990 (before it changed hands), is happy that the process is complete. “Any old building cannot survive without functioning. Finally in its new avatar this 300-year-old Dutch building will survive. It will be transferred to the next generation.”
And the new generation will get this legacy with its characteristic features intact. “We have strictly adhered to the Dutch typology while restoring the structure,” he said. Mridula Jose, interior architect explains the guidelines the team placed before themselves in this huge task.
“We wanted the building to be an exhibit on its own, besides the fact that it will be a canvas to showcase art and culture.” Former mayor and Councillor K.J. Sohan who was the custodian of the building till it got its present owners has some interesting facts about the place. Built in typical Dutch architecture, Sohan says that the wooden roof is made of flat face rafters as opposed to Kerala architecture where they stand vertical. These horizontal rafters result in a sag in the wood, which is supported by trusses across them. The restoration has exposed this wonderful old –Dutch style of construction and the roof is a showpiece by itself.
“The shape of the roof is like an upturned hull, which is a Dutch feature. We have removed the false ceilings and applied a protective coating of oil to protect the wood,” says Mridula
The new inserts like lighting, display and furniture are contemporary. The modern lighting highlights the drama of the rafters and the beams, the elegance and strength of wood. The wall, three feet wide in some places, and the four column windows are other Danish features. A historical curiosity arises form the single row of exposed yellow bricks on the front veranda.
Sohan explains the historical evidence: “They are natural stone that was brought from Europe as ballast in the ships! Many structures of the same period, in Fort Vypeen and Fort Kochi have these stones.” An expansive garden courtyard with its old trees has seating around them and the café, which will serve healthy gourmet food.
As the Hall was associated with the well-known Dutch commander Hendrik Adriaan Van Reede Tot Drakestein who is known for his ‘Hortus Malabaricus’, a book on the flora of Malabar Coast, there are plans afoot to grow those very plants there.
Jose Dominic, CEO cgh who ideated the concept approaches it as a centre to enjoy our historical legacy.
“We have done a contemporary adaptation of this historic space. It will be a gallery of art, craft of diverse communities of India and performing art centre of lesser and little known arts.”
For its formal inauguration on April 23, when the Dutch Ambassador and Minister of Culture will throw open this ‘Ancient Dutch’ treasure the wheels of history will once again turn in a new direction taking the vicissitudes of David Hall to a new tomorrow. And then Time would start afresh!