The Telegraph
Friday , September 6 , 2013
 
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Man with the Nazrul Tirtha plan

Construction work in progress at the New Town site (Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha)

The honesty of Kazi Nazrul Islam will get architecturally translated to exposed concrete in the building named after and dedicated to him that is coming up in New Town. “Nazrul Tirtha will be the first public building in Calcutta with such extensive use of exposed concrete,” says Abin Chaudhuri of Abin Design Studio that has come up with the design for the research centre in Action Area 1.

Exposed concrete is the signature material of controversial Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier whose work closest to home is the city of Chandigarh which he helped plan after Partition. “Usually concrete is plastered and painted over. But Le Corbusier kept it bare, using its form as well as its texture and colour. That is exactly what we plan to do with Nazrul Tirtha as well,” says the 38-year-old architect.

The studio got the right to design Nazrul Tirtha after winning a nation-wide competition, judged by advertising guru Ram Ray, artist Suvaprasanna and architect Prabir Mitra. The result was announced by chief minister Mamata Banerjee on May 25 last year at a Nazrul Jayanti programme in Nazrul Mancha.

Plots, old and new

“We had won the earlier design contest too when Nazrul Tirtha was supposed to have come up in Salt Lake on the Indira Bhavan plot. Since it is like an island, enclosed by roads all around, we had planned a circular building. The exterior would have had lattice work reminiscent of Mughal architecture. The colour scheme was radical, in keeping with Nazrul’s rebel image.”

The new plot is on the Major Arterial Road, in front of the DLF building. With the building area increasing from 55,000 sq ft to 1,00,000 sq ft, new components have been added to the old plan — an open-air theatre, an auditorium and a bigger cafeteria.

“It would still be one building that would house it all — Nazrul academy, the library, research centre, 400-seater auditorium....” But the plan looks like a conglomeration of building blocks adjacent to but facing away from each other. “The twisted formation reflects the tension in the writings of the rebel poet. The blocks are all joined at the centre through ramps, gangways and staircases,” says Chaudhuri, showing a top view of the plan.

Graphic impressions of the complex

The main gate has an 8.5m high block of concrete sitting atop stilts, another Corbusian influence. On it are embedded the words Unnata mama shir, from Nazrul’s poem Bidrohi. Of the seven blocks, three would house the museum, one block a library and another an auditorium. “The museum circulation has been planned such that visitors can see everything and come out. Research fellows have a separate entrance through the back.” The illumination within has been planned after studying modern museums in New York, Rome and Japan. “Museums need a typical temperature and lighting. We have used a combination of gray, black and white inside.”

The monotony of the concrete slabs outside is broken by jagged straight lines which create a visual illusion of extending from one block to another. They are punctured in places to provide the light source. “Since the building’s energy consumption should be kept at a minimum, we will let in optimal sunlight. Too much sunlight will increase the heat and push up the air-conditioning costs.”

The use of concrete will help in heat management. “Le Corbusier preferred concrete as its thermal mass keeps the interior cooler.”

The courtyard in the middle of the blocks will have the open-air theatre seating 175 to 200 people on its four ramps. The backdrop of the stage will be a green wall, with live plants. “Crates of plants are available which will be vertically stacked. The crates have channels to allow automated water flow. At the eye level of the audience, Nazrul’s profile in aluminium sheets will jut out from the green wall.” To the right of the open-air stage, a pool will harvest 2,500l of rain water. “Rain water harvesting is an important component of all modern buildings.”

The government has announced Nazrul Tirtha to be a Rs 60 crore project. “We want this building to be talked of as an iconic structure on the city’s map.” Building major Shapoorji Pallonji has started work on the project, which will end next year.