Whatever is built must reinforce the character Lutyens imagined: Bimal Patel

The architect selected to redevelop Delhi’s Central Vista explains how the plan will preserve heritage buildings and not disrupt the existing layout

January 11, 2020 04:47 pm | Updated January 12, 2020 08:07 am IST

Illustration: R. Rajesh

Illustration: R. Rajesh

Last October, HCP Design, Planning And Management, an Ahmedabad-based private company, won the bid to design a new Parliament and redevelop the Central Vista. Extensive debates followed the announcements, but the absence of any reliable details in the public domain created confusion. Dr. Bimal Patel, Director, HCP, speaks here about the project and the ideas behind it.

What is the need to redevelop Central Vista?

There are multiple objectives. First, Parliament facilities need modernisation. Second, government services need to be consolidated and synergised by building a Central Secretariat. This was considered in the government’s previous term.

The offices of the Vice President and Prime Minister, and their residential facilities, need substantial improvement. Currently, the PM’s office is far away and a lot of disruption occurs due to his frequent movements. It needs to be housed near the Secretariat. The Central Vista itself is in disrepair. Landscape features, pavements, civic amenities, all require refurbishing.

There are two contradicting views about the redevelopment. One, that the space signifies colonial dominance and needs to be modified to reflect a resurgent India. Second, that the space represents excellent civic design; the buildings are historical landmarks and need to be preserved. What is your view?

There is no doubt that New Delhi, and Central Vista in particular, were built during the Raj, and meant to signify colonial power. However, after Independence Indians appropriated them and made them their own. In the minds of many Indians, Central Vista and the buildings around it are very much part of the nation-state. One must keep in mind that though the designers were British, Indian builders built most of it and the space testifies to their accomplishments too.

Is it true that the new design plans to demolish many heritage buildings?

That is not true. In the final proposal, none of the listed heritage buildings is demolished, unless some think a few office buildings are heritage structures.

The Vista’s importance lies in how the buildings hold the beautiful views, the long avenues, the axial path leading to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. There is concern that the new buildings will overpower these features?

The Vista indeed gets its significance from these landscape features. Our intention is to maintain all these aspects. Lutyens himself in the original proposal planned for structures along the Vista. In that sense, what we propose is not anything new. The point is, whatever is built must strengthen the essential features and reinforce the character that Lutyens imagined. We are doing that.

What about the existing guidelines meant to preserve Lutyens’ Delhi?

In spirit, we are following what the guidelines are advising.

At a time when offices and work can be easily networked, what’s the need to bring all government offices into one place?

The view that the Internet would disperse people and activities has been there since the 1970s. Many people thought there would be no need to agglomerate and cities would be dispersed. This has been proved wrong over and over again. Face-to-face contact appears to be crucial in getting things done. Hence the need for a Central Secretariat.

Won’t this increase traffic problems, create security issues, with compound walls that mar the appearance?

Two Metro lines that pass through this place provide an excellent opportunity to bring the Central Secretariat here. There will be a seamless connection between the Metro stations and proposed buildings through a people-mover as you see in airports abroad. This will encourage people to use public transport. We are also carrying out transport studies, and if they point out any issues, we will undertake measures to mitigate them. Nothing is to be walled that is not presently walled. In fact, a few walled places will be opened up.

What about the environmental impact?

Dust can be taken care of by constant humidification, noise can be limited by barriers. And construction workers will mostly be housed in sites at a distance but connected by Metro. It will avoid adding a new population of workers to the area. This does not mean there will be no impact, but we will put in place all measures to mitigate the effects.

You have proposed a triangular-shaped Parliament. Did you intend to contrast the circular shape of the existing one with a unique shape? Is a triangle functionally efficient?

When we worked out the function arrangements, there were three key spaces: the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and the common foyer. The trinity of functions immediately suggested a triangular arrangement. The new building and the existing one should sit comfortably next to each other and work as one ensemble, with the former housing new facilities.

Your design proposes a spire over Parliament. Does it have any symbolism?

No. The spire doesn't have a specific symbolic meaning. But in a vibrant democracy such as India’s, Parliament can be thought of as a ‘sacred’ building. Therefore, the spires may be seen as a reference to the spires of temples and churches.

What will be the architectural style?

The Central Vista works as an icon since it is seen as one ensemble. We will do nothing to disrupt this. Naturally, we will use stones similar to the existing buildings. In office buildings with courtyards, the exteriors will have stone while hi-tech façades with steel and glass will open into the inner courtyards.

Central Vista is an accessible public open space attracting lots of people. Will the new design reduce the public area or the access to public areas?

The public space will expand. When we convert North and South Blocks into museums, we will add 20 acres to public space. In the west end of Rashtrapati Bhavan, behind the Mughal garden, there is a proposal to add a public park. Access to public space won’t reduce. In fact, it will expand.

Architects are complaining that the selection process could have been open, without such restrictive entry requirements.

Such sentiments are understandable. However, any mature professional will understand that undertaking a project of this scale and complexity requires that whoever is selected have some experience and proven capacity to do it. Perhaps such concerns may have led to the high entry requirements.

There hasn’t been any public consultation on this project of public importance so far.

The consultation process could have been better. A process of consultation within the government is underway now. I recently made a presentation to senior editors of newspapers and others. Going forward, we will make many presentations so that people can respond in an informed way.

The author is a professor at CEPT University, Ahmedabad. Opinions expressed here are personal.

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