History & Culture

When Cochin meets Kochi at Cannon Shed Road

A view of present day Cannon Shed Road

A view of present day Cannon Shed Road  

A group of architects come up with proposals, civic and social, that will reclaim the lost charm and historicity of Kochi’s iconic Cannon Shed Road

Pooja Meena cannot hide her excitement at having discovered the richness of Cannon Shed Road during the lockdown. An architect she works in the Bangalore office of Kochuthommen Associates and is from Rajasthan. Caught off guard by the lockdown and wondering how to spend the extended periods of stay in Kochi she undertook a slow exploration of the city. On her first trip when she boarded a boat to Fort Kochi at the Ernakulam Jetty, she was intrigued by the fascinating history of Cannon Shed road that originates from there. At the same time she was struck by its cheerless contemporaneity that stood out in glaring contrast to its glorious past.

The tales and characters of Cannon Shed Road in graphic by Mahima Rajan and Emmanuel Thaliyath

The tales and characters of Cannon Shed Road in graphic by Mahima Rajan and Emmanuel Thaliyath  

“Its rich past is buried in functional architecture. Every sign of its grand heydays is reduced in layers of ad hoc construction,” says Kochuthommen Mathew, MD of the company who encouraged Pooja to head a team along with urban designer, Visakh Kurian, and launched Cochin meets Kochi, a project that looks at old and new histories and architecture of the city’s streetscapes, design and architecture. “The road is a confluence of old Cochin and new Kochi. Our project is a conversation between the two,” says Kochuthommen.

History rich road

The road is replete with historical milestones. It gets its name from an ammunition depot that stored cannons during the times of the British rule. Converted into a tailoring Institute it now is a pale shadow of its former self, like the entire road. Swami Vivekananda alighted at the Ernakulam boat jetty in 1892 and walked down the road to meet Yogi Chattambi Swamikal. Maruthi Vilas, a boarding and lodging facility, the seat of political meetings of the Communist party, stood on this road and was torn down recently. A dilapidated party office remains. Famed writer Vaikom Mohammed Basheer lived on the first floor of a tailoring shop on the road and had a book store here. Some of the other important landmarks and curiosities are Hotel Colombo begun by a man who returned from Sri Lanka, the famed India Coffee House, Starly a colonial style bungalow that entertained the who’s who of the city in the sixties. With the Hospital Road to its western side and the Market Road to its East, the 300 metres long Cannon Shed Road was the all important high street.

From left, Visakh Kurian, Emmanuel Thaliyath, Pooja Meena, Mahima V Rajan and Asmin Sunil who were part of the project

From left, Visakh Kurian, Emmanuel Thaliyath, Pooja Meena, Mahima V Rajan and Asmin Sunil who were part of the project   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The road that originates at the boat jetty today is 5.4 metres wide and expands to 7 m as one goes inwards. In those early days when no bridges or the sleek metro rail connected the city to its other parts the jetty and the road were the city’s lifeline to the outside world. People from the Lakshwadweep islands came by boats to the jetty and this traffic gave birth to a market, a row of shops, that catered to them. Even today it remains a favourite haunt of the islanders.

“This is one fact about the road that’s quite unknown,” says Anand T K, an architect and a resident of the area since his childhood. He says that the current mixed character of the road is from haphazard development. “It is busy and confusing, says Pooja who with her team spent the last three weeks hanging around the location to document its every facet. The young architects interviewed inhabitants, spoke with regulars from the area and shopkeepers. They made detailed maps documenting architectural language, vegetation, public amenities, waste management facilities, footpath, drains and road networks.

Bereft of charm

Asmin Sunil, from the College of Architecture Thiruvanathapuram and from the team says, “There is no proper bus stop on the road but buses ply in great frequency, causing a jam, neither are there any open or green spaces. There are a few old trees that lend shade and a good character but criss crossing of over head electrical lines, uneven and ill maintained footpaths and encroachments have robbed the road of all charm.”

A mobile truck selling herbal medicines, a hair cutting saloon, MS Textiles (since 1930), a bevy of lottery sellers are part of its daily cacophony.

“There are two sets of people who use this road, one is the floating population but then there are about 40 to 50 regulars who have been there and around and meet on the roadside,” says Emmanuel Thaliyath, a fresher also from the College of Architecture and a team member.

Simon, who runs a tea stall observed that “the streets are much safer and peaceful than they were 10 years ago,” while John who lives on the road has a deep sense of bonding with it as, “my grandfather owned most of the stretch,” he says. KJ Paul Manvattom, proprietor Paulson Opticals laments the better days the road has seen. He complaints of stifling stench from a garbage truck that parks itself daily to collect waste. “This was the road where the Cochin Raja’s army marched,” he says pointing to the important role the road played historically. Afsal who runs I-Optix concurred with Paul on the area’s poor waste management.

“The study makes three things clear. The Colombo junction is a place where people gather hence space should be provided for this. The Zebra Crossing needs to be maintained strictly and traffic has to be regulated,” says Pooja.

“We plan to take up pockets like this and take our study with proposals of solutions to the authorities,” says Kochuthommen. Asha Parvathy, project co-ordinator, discloses some of their future projects to be undertaken in a similar mode: Harbour bridge at Thoppumpady and a study of the city’s colonial architecture.

“It was a heart-warming experience to find people from thereabouts speak so warmly about the road; they have a sense of ownership and pride,”says Pooja at an architectural project that came about serendipitously during the lockdown.

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 12:32:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/a-group-of-architects-come-up-with-proposals-civic-and-social-that-will-reclaim-the-lost-charm-and-historicity-of-kochis-iconic-canon-shed-road/article31954425.ece

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