The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Big bang
The Batanagar

Opening up stronger and wider links to the river to complement the proposed waterfront promenade and plaza. Creating distinctive landscape languages on individual land parcels. Maximising the chemistry between the golf villas and the river vista to ensure greater marketing leverage. And more ' all just 15 km from Dalhousie Square.

In a unique example of how collaborative architecture and urban design can be, some of the country's sharpest and most creative minds were brought together in a two-day brainstorming bout in town. The aim: to kick off the process to a cohesive urban vision for the Rs 1,500-crore Batanagar makeover.

'The vision of the project is to transform the existing Bata industrial campus into a well-integrated mixed-use development that provides residential, commercial, institutional and recreational facilities besides non-polluting employment opportunities for the city and the Mahestala community,' says Sumit Dabriwal, managing director, Riverbank Holdings Pvt Ltd.

The joint-venture company (formed with Calcutta Metropolitan Group and Bata) steering the 256.94-acre redevelopment had earlier engaged the HOK Planning Group, St. Louise, US, for the proposed redevelopment master plan. On Friday and Saturday, the company organised the novel closed-door conclave preceded by a site visit that set in motion the design dialogue.

Ahmedabad, home to some of modern India's finest young architects, had the strongest representation, with Rajeev Kathpalia, architect-urban designer and trustee of Vastu-Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design, landscape architect Aniket Bhagwat and architect-urban planner Bimal Patel, coming down from the Gujarat capital.

Kiran Kapadia, director of the Mumbai-based architecture and urban design firm Kapadia Associates, Col K.D. Bagga (retd) of Delhi-based Bagga's Golf Management Group, golf architects and consultants, Chennai's Pramod Balakrishnan and Calcutta's Dulal Mukherjee completed the line-up.

The team of architects pores over the township map

Brainstorm basics

The lively debate hosted at a city star address threw up a host of original thoughts and everyone came up with schematic footprints that could lead to certain alterations in the land-use pattern mapped by HOK. And the developers didn't seem to mind. 'It's a great challenge for us from the design surveillance point of view, but we are committed to deliver a landmark product,' promised Dabriwal.

Kapadia, who specialises in creating retail spaces, and Bhagwat both stressed on the need to have greater access to the river. Kathpalia suggested that Tom Bata Avenue, the main thoroughfare in the township, be turned into a pedestrian artery, using side roads for vehicular access to the golf condos.

There was unanimity on the need to use golf as the marketing calling card and Dabriwal, anchoring the parley, underlined that the golf villas and condos would have 'the most profound impact'. Bagga, who will design the nine-hole executive golf course, called for an integrated approach to accentuate golf, agreeing that the clubhouse has to evoke a 'wow', architecturally.

'This is a wonderfully exciting scenario where everyone brings in his own set of ideas which then needs to be exploited to the hilt, not just architecturally, but by knitting the various elements back into the development,' observed Kapadia. Patel said it was important to remain sensitive to the existing customs and rituals like the Pujas and 'not create a gated community'.

Mukherjee felt the successful implementation of the Batanagar building blocks would lead to a paradigm shift and pitchfork Calcutta into pole position with a renewal rendezvous unmatched by any project in the country. Young architect-planner Ayan Sen will be assisting Mukherjee at the Calcutta nodal centre. Sen, who brings to the table his experience of working on the Anacostia waterfront development initiative in Washington DC with his MIT team, feels the 'whole will be even bigger than the sum of the parts'.

Following the two-day brainstorming ' or maybe thought shower ' sessions, it was decided to reconvene on December 16, on the sidelines of the 12x12 National Architects Conference in Ahmedabad. 'By then, the nitty-gritty of the first-flush design footprints should crystalise, and we can take the story forward,' commented Balakrishnan, who would be engaged for the IT parcel.

Before that, however, Riverbanks Holdings is flying in a transportation expert for consultation on traffic flow patterns and junction layouts.

Makeover module

The redevelopment master plan represents the principles of new urbanism that have revolutionised contemporary town-planning practices, breaking up the township into three distinct zones. It utilises elements of tradition and modernity fused with the use of revolutionary tools and acknowledging as integral and incremental elements the concepts of 'the neighbourhood, the corridor and the district'.

District 1. Located on the southern edge, or access point, is more public and civic in nature than the other two districts. There are two large open spaces located on either side of the central avenue. One is in the form of a plaza to the east of the avenue around which a cineplex, retail shops and F&B kiosks are organised. The other is in the form of a park and playground towards the west, catering primarily to the school complex located to the north and providing a green front door to the hospital complex to the south. Bata housing sits further north of the retail and entertainment plaza. A 10-acre multipurpose ground and public gathering space is the other important component.

District 2. Close to the existing Bata factory, is centred on the golf course community. Including an IT/industrial park, this zone could grow into a key employment provider. Workplaces are closely connected with a variety of residential units like golf villas, golf condominiums and Bata employee housing. The nine-hole golf course acts as the crucial organising element around which the residential neighbourhoods are placed.

District 3. Exclusive in nature, comprising primarily high and mid-rise residential neighbourhoods centred on a large public park and open space that includes the two big existing waterbodies. The riverfront is the key element in this zone, including a 500m promenade, a plaza lined with boutique outlets and F&B, an amphitheatre and a boating marina. The existing school will be restored and refurbished. A clubhouse with swimming pool, tennis and squash courts and other recreational amenities, will be located towards the south-west corner.

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