The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Social vibrancy amid Strand statuary

Not just jazz by the riverside. Folk music and dance, experimental theatre, kite festivals, fireworks shows, decorative floats in the water… And, of course, splendid sculptures by the Strand.

The proposed statue park near Prinsep Ghat, conceptualised by the PWD and designed by architect-planner Dulal Mukherjee, is poised to become the starting point of restoring the three-km stretch of east-bank development, culminating in the flower market. Primarily conceived to relocate the sculpted figures currently languishing at the Barrackpore Flag Staff House, the park plan manifests a bigger attempt to provide a socially and culturally vibrant space within the city.

“It can be a converging point for all, providing a unique experience for Calcuttans and making the river — to which we have turned our backs all these years and paid the price — an integral part of the urban fabric,” explains Mukherjee, who presented a preliminary design solution to the PWD minister and the state industries minister last week. According to PWD officials, the overall design concept has been approved and work on the statue park will commence after “technical details are worked out and relevant clearances, including that of the army, obtained”.

The canvas for the dream destination is the triangular plot along Strand Road, where the James Prinsep memorial juxtaposes with Vidyasagar Setu. “But the green, mundane space in front of the memorial is devoid of any character to highlight the grandeur of the place,” feels the architect.

The sculptured figures have been preserved well at Barrackpore, but unnoticed due to lack of public attention. The PWD feels it is essential to transport these structures to a place where they could be appreciated better. At some places, the sculptures will be dramatically placed on high pedestals against the river. “This can be counter-balanced with a few free-standing, simplistic, tubular forms, which, at night, will serve the purpose of providing dramatic illumination.”

The layout, while highlighting every piece to enhance its beauty and individuality, is also aimed at enlivening the site through activities that will be "entertaining, soothing as well as varied” to draw the crowds.

Soft and subdued illumination of the premises and fencing with creepers, shrubs and hedges, are being planned to facilitate public use. The open ground around Prinsep Ghat and the memorial structure is ideal for hosting performances, like semi-classical and jazz concerts, folk music and dance, alternative theatre, etc, feels Mukherjee.

“We can derive inputs from the happening waterfronts of Hong Kong and Singapore to hold performances on floating decks, made by joining boats on the river, while people enjoy the spectacle from the banks. The experience will bring active and passive performers in close proximity with nature.”

A pedestrian subway below the proposed Circular Railway line, with ramp and stairways, will facilitate undisturbed pedestrian movement and provide a safe link between the eastern (entrance) and the western (riverside) portions. The railway track will be fenced out and extensively landscaped with shrubs and creepers to ensure safety and smother the noise of moving trains.

Temporary kiosks, in stylised semi-urban form, made of weathered wood and raised above ground level, will sell pre-cooked eatables across the park. Roller-skating tracks and natural sand beds of gravel and pebbles will provide recreation for children. The walkways will move in a meandering path in the form of a dried-out streamlet on a bed of loose gravel and pebbles, embellished with flowering trees and shrubs.

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