The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mix-and-mortar builds best
- Architects seek citizen role in improving urbanscape

Architecture for the people should also be — at least to some extent — by the people. Architects and town planners in Calcutta are convinced that it’s time the tax-paying citizen played a part in public projects.

At its annual convention later this week, the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA), West Bengal chapter, will invite suggestions from Calcuttans representing various walks of life on how to improve the city skyline and make it a better place to live in. Artist Ramananda Bandopadhyay to actor Soumitra Chatterjee, adman Ram Ray to activist Banani Kakkar will share the platform for a popular push with city architects.

“We must look for answers from the users and occupiers of our creations. There may be a few bouquets and a lot of brickbats, but the opinion of our citizens will go a long way in changing the way we look at our great city,” says architect Dulal Mukherjee, chapter chairman, IIA. The main theme of the IIA convention, at Swabhumi from February 21 to 23, is ‘Architecture as a mirror of our society’. The conference is divided into four sub-themes — A city for its citizens; aesthetics of public architecture; sociological aspects of the new neighbourhoods; the future of an old city.

“No urbanscape is complete without interaction with the people. In any advanced country, before the blueprint for a public project is drawn up, popular feedback is sought and displayed at the city centre, since the final product should reflect their needs and aspirations,” observes architect Prabir Mitra, adding that the best way to decide on a city project is to invite design solutions in the form of a competition, “like the revival of Star Theatre”.

IIA will invite suggestions and encourage debate on urban development and civic issues. “That’s the only way forward, and we must try to sensitise and involve the people, like they have done in Europe,” says Mukherjee. The architects’ institute, lamenting the fact that people’s views are “never sought” in any city project, promises to collate relevant ideas into a resolution and also identify eminent citizens who can participate in the urban development process. “Knocking on the government’s door from time to time is absolutely vital, and we must not let the tempo slacken,” says Mitra. Sadly, architecture doesn’t mirror society in Calcutta, observes Santosh Ghosh, former chief architect, Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Organisation. Popular participation could set that right.

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