The contract for designing the ambitious revamp of New Delhi’s Central Vista, or Rajpath, the seat of power in the national capital Delhi, was awarded to Ahmedabad-based firm HCP Design, Planning And Management Private Limited, led by Ar. Bimal Patel.
Architect Bimal Patel is the man behind most urban planning projects of note in the country, including redevelopment of the Central Vista in New Delhi now. In 2011, his firm HCP Design, Planning & Management designed the new office space, Swarnim Sankul, for Gujarat CM (Narendra Modi) and his Cabinet. More recently, the Padma Shri awardee has been associated with the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project, expected to be ready by 2021, and the Mumbai Port Trust development, aimed at revamping the eastern seafront of the city. He started his architectural career in the mid-’80s and made his first mark with the revamp of the Kankaria Lake Waterfront (2006) and the Sabarmati Riverfront (2002).
In a recent interview and detailed presentation, the principal architect of HCP, Ar. Bimal Patel said,
“As we go around making this major change, we will try to do it in a way that it is not a rupture with the past. What we are trying to do is to respect history, perhaps even strengthen the original intent by using architecture to strengthen the original diagram… There’s nothing we are doing that doesn’t say, listen, this is exactly what (Sir Edwin) Lutyens would have done. It might be a radical change but certainly not something that breaks with the past — it’s taking the past and working with it.
On whether facilities need to be modernised or not, my personal views are not that important… One big motivation for Parliament’s modernisation is the expansion needs. Milan Vaishnav did a nice article on the crisis of representation, on how the number of people MPs are representing is rising with the rising population. Second, there are imbalances country-wide due to population changes. All these issues will have to be tackled, which will need expansion. If you need expansion, you are going to have to make a new facility. That’s what our conclusion was.
Anybody who’s trying to make administration work more efficiently will see the need for having appropriate infrastructure. Personally, if you ask me, I’m not surprised by the government’s or the Prime Minister’s decision to do it. The way he used to work in Gandhinagar, where you have the Central Secretariat with everybody sitting… the kind of synergies that you get from everybody being in one place, from having a standardised infrastructure… anybody who has run large organisations knows that you need the infrastructure. I see it very much as a part of modernising administration. This is not to build new buildings; the buildings are the means of modernising administration and making it more efficient. The government’s objective is to synergise functioning. That is driving the whole idea.
As for Central Vista, the avenue would have been refurbished… in any case… and there’s no radical change here. To move people from the ministry, from North and South Blocks… gladdens my heart as an individual. When I go there, I can gape at the buildings, at the mysterious things that go on inside… Essentially, even when Lutyens and (Herbert) Baker built them, these were meant to be architectural instruments of intimidation. They were going to be on a high hill and the government was going to be up there… It’s about time, I would say, that we truly appropriated these buildings. These are just personal views.
Sometimes, hesitation paralyses us. I operate in the public realm in different places, and I see that paralysis everywhere because people are so worried about unthoughtful development that they want to see no change at all. I think we have to be cheerful about how we make the change. Change is inevitable because things change, technology changes, population changes, and life changes.
You cannot come to Central Vista, design something and not be respectful of the symmetry that exists. I believe that if someone looks at it, they will not complain about at least that dimension. I’m being very careful in wanting to continuously reinforce the essential diagram of Lutyens, rather than work against it… When you are doing additions, you have to be respectful. You don’t have to mimic it completely — there are new requirements, new technology… You find me one building where I have not been respectful.
Public projects of this sort are successful if they meet the needs of various people. It’s not one person, and they’re fun because there are multiple people and dimensions to their needs. Is it for the tourists who come? Sure, I want tourists to come. Is it for civic users who want to go to the garden on Sunday with their families? Yes, it’s for them too. Is it for the national spectacle that we have, the (Republic Day) parade? Yes, it is for that too. Is it for the office-goers who work there? It is for them too. Is it for the Speaker, the President? Yes, it is for everybody. To say it is for this person or that is out of the question when you’re doing public projects. Also, in public projects these days, the real challenge is to find that common ground as there are such opposing views about things. I am hoping our common sense will make this project work.”
The project to redevelop Lutyens’ Delhi includes redevelopment of the Central Vista, into a public space, with the north and south blocks being converted into museums open to everyone. A bio-diversity park behind the south block next to the Rashtrapati Bhawan will clear 48 acres of land to house all endangered native Indian spices and other flora. The existing Parliament building will be adapted into a Museum of Democracy. A new triangular parliament building will take its functional place, intended to seat 900 MP’s in the Lok Sabha, and a joint sitting for both the houses of Parliament. The new building will include private chambers for each of the MP’s with space for research and staff. The Vice President’s residence will be constructed near the Parliament while the Residence and office for the Prime Minister will be built opposite the building, in the South Block. The central secretariat complex will comprise of 10 buildings to provide offices for more than 30,000 employees currently spread across Delhi. The design of the complex will be in unison with Luteyn’s planning and height restrictions, with the buildings being designed to not exceed the height of India Gate. The buildings will be spread on either side of Rajpath, with an underground metro line connecting the whole Central Vista. The entire 75 acres being used as public space will see underground pedestrian walkways, organized parking and areas for national events and festivities. Following Lutyens Ridge to River model, Ar. Bimal Patel of HCP Design, Planning And Management Pvt. Ltd., plans on connecting the Central Delhi plan with Yamuna River, where a memorial will be set up to celebrate the 75th anniversary of our Independence.
The Central Vista and Parliament building will be completed by 2022, and the Central Secretariat complex with completely integrated public spaces will be completed by 2024.
SHIVANI CHAUDHARY is just another architect trying to make it big by breaking free from mainstream architecture. She is passionate about architecture, writing, photography and travel. She believes in change, where change is necessary and in influencing people with her work.