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Heritage posers in Rajbari project

A portion of the Sovabazar Rajbari cluster has been demolished to make way for a boutique project with premium retail and condominiums, raising the hackles of the heritage lobby.

The edifice of the Rajbari, which was built by Raja Naba Krishna Deb and completed in the early 19th century, has since been carved out among numerous descendants. A portion of the dilapidated cluster is getting a makeover for adaptive reuse.

“We are developing a non-heritage part of the property which belonged to Raja Naba Krishna Deb’s son Raja Raj Krishna Deb. It is now owned by his great grandson Gautam Krishna Deb and his two brothers,” said Ritwik Das, the director of Bluechip Projects Pvt Ltd, the company anchoring the makeover.

The retail-residential combo is coming up on the eight-acre plot opposite SA Jaipuria College and will have 15,000sq ft of built space, including 8,000sq ft of niche retail. A food boutique, an art gallery and an outlet to showcase the work of city-based fashion designers will complete the Rs 3-crore project expected to be ready in a year’s time.

The developers hope that the makeover will give the crumbling brick-building bastions of north Calcutta a tourist magnet and an urban-renewal catalyst. However, a large section of the city’s architecture and urban design fraternity fears such “indiscriminate re-development” is changing our cityscape irreversibly.

“This is a shame. The (Calcutta Municipal) Corporation can’t treat its list of heritage structures as sacrosanct and allow unlisted buildings with significant history and character to be pulled down at random,” said conservation architect Manish Chakrabarti.

He lamented that the heritage legislation in the city existed only on paper and “can be manipulated” by anyone. “As a result, we are being saddled with such monstrosities like the Varnaparichay book mall on College Street, which will permanently change the character of the unique corridor,” added Chakrabarti.

Developer Das is armed with his building plan sanctioned by the CMC, following which the “old, damaged structure” that stood on the premises, has been pulled down and foundation work for the new building started.

His architect Raj Agarwal has sought to incorporate “a sensitive mix of British and Gothic architecture” to give the new structure “a post-modern look”. But experts fear, in the absence of structured urban design guidelines, the new development could stick out like a sore thumb.

Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya agreed this could well be the case, pleading helplessness. “We realise we hardly have control over the aesthetics of new structures which are coming up, like this one in Sovabazar, but there’s nothing much we can do, given the sheer density of construction in city core areas and the perennial demand for housing and commercial premises,” he told Metro.

The mayor felt urban design guidelines can only be successfully formulated for and implemented in new townships, a view also contested by experts. “Urban design norms could be drawn up even for micro-level implementation, like in Washington DC, where there’s a Pennsylvania Avenue development authority for just one road,” pointed out architect and urban designer Partha Ranjan Das.

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