The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Culture in the clusters
- Swabhumi Phase-II mirrors architectural styles

Jharokhas, jaffries and desert stone from Jaipur and Udaipur. Bright, coloured motifs from the Northeast. Columns and red-tiled roofs in Kerala townhouses... The second phase of Swabhumi, to be unveiled before the Pujas of 2003, will offer a stylised walk-through for shoppers along corridors representing the country’s diverse architectural forms and traditions.

“Each state has distinct architectural styles which relate to climate, culture and material available locally. This variety comes through in subtle folds, in the shape of inter-connected courtyards in one continuous, two-storeyed structure,” explains architect Partha Ranjan Das, a Fullbright-Hayes scholar who has designed Phase II of the heritage park.

Das had designed Sambhar, the urban courtyard in the first phase of the 6.5-acre park, built by Ganapati Parks Limited, a joint enterprise of Ambuja Cement and Calcutta Municipal Corporation. He has now conceptualised different clusters to represent different regional characters of architecture in India. These are not faithful reproductions of the styles, but have been carefully designed to form a cultural theme.

“The Rajasthan wing, for instance, will have typical features of the region, like havelis and forts woven into the general shopping pattern,” says Das. There will also be small arenas for performances all along the courtyards, to promote traditional folklore of the region. “The effort is to create an informal auditorium for the visitor to enjoy impromptu performances.”

The first cluster will have a few shops near an exhibition space, relating to Buddhist monastery architecture in Sikkim and the Northeast, with a riot of colours, brackets and decorative motifs.

The Rajasthan block continues into a townhouse in Kerala, complete with a lily pond in the centre. There will be resting places around the pond for visitors to absorb the ambience. “This cluster will be representative of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The corridors are supported by ornate columns that reflect the strong Dutch and Portuguese influences in that region,” says Das.

From the south, the focus shifts to a shopping arcade with an eastern flavour, revolving around the stylised wooden structures of the Assam tea gardens. “The slim pillars will exude a soft feel, which reflects the climate of the region.” The east cluster leads on to a multi-purpose hall to showcase traditional artistic pursuits in Bengal. The flexible forum will hold workshops on music, art and theatre, with hawkers on hand to create a more interesting walk.

“One of the objectives behind Swabhumi was to reflect the richness of our architectural forms. We have experimented with a few ideas in the first phase. The expansion programme is aimed at exploring the different architectural schools that mirror this richness,” says Harshavardhan Neotia, chairman, Ganapati Parks Limited. Work on the second phase is expected to commence in three months’ time and the extended Swabhumi should be ready for visitors before Durga puja next year.

The transition from one cluster to another will not always be seamless. “The walkthrough is designed to throw up continuous elements of surprise. However, one will constantly be reminded of the unifying symbol, the urban courtyard. The traditional ring of Swabhumi becomes complete once these clusters are ready,” explains Das.

Architect Prabir Mitra, who had designed Santusthi, the food court, says: “Swabhumi is a place to excite and inspire, where each building tells a story and asks a hundred questions of the visitor.” More excitement lies in store when Swabhumi II unfolds.

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