The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The sarkari penchant for institutionalising ugliness

Post-Independence, either the public works department or the central public works department had enjoyed a monopoly in constructing most government buildings in Calcutta and they have left their stamp of sarkari ugliness on whatever they created.

The problem is that both the government behemoths have no accountability and they get away with engineering monumental monstrosities in public space, that besides being ugly, are often not suited to our hot and humid climate.

Such ugliness is also the outcome of closed-door decisions. Where the international norm is to hold design competitions, here in Bengal, that is practically unheard of. The public has never had its say in public projects.

The root cause of this proliferation of beastly buildings is the lack of imaginative and enlightened architects. Our institutions have produced more civil engineers than architects and the former dominate most government agencies and undertakings. However, it is undeniable that architecture cannot come into its own without patronage, and in this state there is hardly any with either the vision or generosity to foot the bill.

Thus, unlike Mumbai or Ahmedabad, Calcutta today resembles an upwardly mobile shantytown. Cramped, airless boxes of concrete dot the cityscape.

Salt Lake was meant to be a showpiece. But today, it has a concentration of ugly structures, although they must have cost a packet.

The builders have forgotten their social responsibility of creating public architecture that exudes the gravity of the agencies of the government they represent. Sarkari ugliness has become institutionalised in Salt Lake, too.

BHASHA BHAVAN: Ungainly boxes of dark glass with grids is what many office buildings along the EM Bypass have settled for, and this is the kind of chic that the building, soon to house the largest collection of books in the country, has opted for. The new National Library shatters the grace of the old building that was Warren Hastings’ residence. And the annexe is no better

SCIENCE CITY: In spite of the considerable expense, the half-egg structures of reinforced concrete are quite regressive in terms of design and technique. The overall effect is shabby. The Evolution Theme Tour, with its nodding and tail-wagging dinos moaning and groaning in the dark, could be dubbed Death of Science. The large concrete spiral looks like a biblical illustration

4 CAMAC STREET: The cream-and-black colour scheme is perfect. All else is wrong. Convex in the middle, like a beer belly, and with two small outstretched wings, it is like a toad squatting on Camac Street. In spite of post-modern pretensions, the railing and lamps are colonial. The location of the new “Writers’ Buildings”on an already-congested street couldn’t have been worse. The motif is suspiciously like Ganesha

BIDYUT BHAVAN: They tried to give it a hi-tech look but it ended up looking like a huge grounded spaceship. It was apparently inspired by the aatchala, the roof that covered Bengal huts, but this West Bengal State Electricity Board mega-structure is a garbled copy of an American original. Like the Salt Lake stadium, it is an eyesore that this satellite township just cannot wish away.

Pictures by Aranya Sen

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