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Bengaluru Must Reclaim the Right to Congregate

Published: 17th October 2015 04:28 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th October 2015 04:30 AM   |  A+A-

CONGREGATE

QUEEN’S ROAD: In January this year, architect Charles Correa, in an interview with City Express, articulated his concerns about the way Bengaluru, like many other burgeoning cities, was becoming more and more inert. “Cities are not just buildings and streets. A city is also about events, people, communities and spaces for synergy where people can meet. To register protest. To celebrate. It is synergy that makes a city come to life. You have Freedom Park here but you should have great plazas and squares...something of the scale of a Flora Fountain and Tiananmen Square.”

During that visit, Correa (who passed away in June) presided over a collaborative workshop titled ‘Appropriating Urban Space’ which imagined the Visvesvaraya Centre (Life Insurance Corporation headquarters) near the Vidhana Soudha as an interactive public space. It would have been interesting to hear his perspective now on how Vidhana Soudha can be reinterpreted as a space for public interaction in a city where gardens have been cordoned off, lakes have been reduced to toxic dumps and malls are mushrooming in areas that were once lung spaces.

Great cities, as Correa and many architects and urban planners around the world have observed, should have fluid, safe and stimulating zones for public interaction. They can be parks, markets, streets or buildings. They could be as diverse as the Notre Dame Cathedral or the French Quarter in New Orleans, the street markets in Amsterdam or the seamless squares anywhere else. They just need to be accessible to citizens.

Professor K Jaisim, one of the leading lights of organic architecture and founder of Jaisim-Fountainhead, says, “Every metropolis worth its name has a central park where citizens meet, gather and pass time to make and relive memories. Bengaluru for sure deserves one. Yes it does have a lot of historical and legendary parks but the time has come for us to make the statement of this century. This will also redeem some of the architectural mistakes the city has made.” 

He adds, “Over a decade ago, when asked about the Vidhana Soudha, I firmly stated that building structures like this was a regressive step. We left monarchy and sought democracy, but buildings like these refer to a kingdom rather than a democracy.”

Jaisim does not see any architectural value in structures as sprawling as Soudha. And he feels the Metro has just added to our woes. “It is to the credit of the ingenuity of people that they have inhabited and cultured unimaginative spaces. It is possible to revitalise old spaces and create a legendary new space that will evoke smiles of pride. It is important to integrate the spaces between the built and the unbuilt environment, grow diverse and seasonal species of flora and fauna, allow the interaction between nature and citizens and yet retain that soft regulation that evokes in the citizens a sense of respect for the space,” he says.

Jaisim adds, “Simplicity of maintenance systems and the freedom for one and all to walk and roam and enjoy the environment with a sense of confidence should be the primary objective. No expensive structures are required. No permanent walls or paintings. Only spaces that allow us to relax and think ahead. It is important to think within the context of cultural ethos and remind ourselves of the things we are the most proud of.”

Senior architect H C Thimmaiah, a Rajyotsava awardee who advocates restorative architecture, often looks back at the time people could walk around and connect with the Vidhana Soudha. “I have been exploring Bengaluru ever since I landed in this city from Chennai in 1970. I witnessed the development in the city and around it. And also the activities around Vidhana Soudha — a seat of power that is an imposing landmark.”

Back in the days of less traffic and a smaller population, the city had more open spaces, he recalls. “We could walk around this beautiful building, sometimes touch it to connect with this structure crafted in stone. There were plenty of small and medium flowering trees,” he says. 

“Till a few years back, the structure was illuminated, as was the landscaped area, with focus lights. It was a treat for Bengalureans to walk around on certain days and enjoy the landscape,” he says. “A couple of days ago, when I went to the area, I saw the place was getting spruced up. I appreciate that the Metro is going underground but I also noticed a number of barricades. Can we not make this area pedestrian-friendly?”

Thimmaiah says the landscaping could also include smaller, flowering trees. “I hope that the authorities concerned will put in their best efforts by involving landscape architects to make this area more pleasing to the eyes, one that befits the magnificent structure.”

WHAT MAKES

 A GREAT PUBLIC SPACE?

  •  It must have a great central location that is accessible by foot or by private/public transport
  •  It must have picturesque landscaping, soothing water bodies (if contextual), aesthetic architecture and elements of public art in the form of sculptures or murals
  •  There should be access to food and beverages, as well as art and craft stalls
  •  It should have spaces for people to sit, spaces conducive for musical and cultural performances
  •  There should be arrangements for waste disposal and access to public toilets
  •  They should be pedestrian-friendly
  •  They should be maintained well and must be unobtrusively policed to make citizens feel safe

HOW CAN WE CREATE THEM?

  •  Museums can have outdoor areas with seasonal installations, exhibits and sculptures
  •  City squares can have designated spaces for weekly or daily cultural events
  •  Tree-lined boulevards can have open-air art shows
  •  City streets that have retained their unique cultural and architectural identity can organise walks through their lanes
  •  Plazas can lend themselves to street fairs, weekend markets and protests

Not just a monument

CONGREGATE1.jpgBengaluru’s public spaces may be shrinking, but we could look towards the national capital for inspiration. India Gate, a 42-metre-high archway at one end of Rajpath, is more than just a tourist hotspot or a war memorial. People come here with family and friends for a quick snack, picnics, to watch the sunset or just to lounge about on the lawns. After dark, the floodlights and fountains create a picturesque scene. Vendors offer street fare and ice cream.

The Secretariat and several other government buildings can be seen from here. The area is often utilised for public gatherings.



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