English model for edifice revival - Strand landmark to undergo store makeover

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By SUBHRO SAHA
  • Published 14.03.06
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The Corn Exchange Building, Manchester, UK ? badly damaged in the IRA bombing of 1996, wonderfully resurrected as the Triangle in a ?28-million makeover push, housing a new state-of-the-art retail mall with a swanky sky bar.

Mackinnon & Mackenzie House, 16 Strand Road, Calcutta ? devastated by a fire in 1998, being given a Rs 100-crore conservation prod to morph into a 400,000-sq ft riverside retail rendezvous that could enhance the waterfront urbanscape and become an icon and a destination.

The former, an eloquent example of how old and new can coexist in harmony and add value to public life, and the latter aspiring to become an urban-renewal beacon to catalyse Calcutta?s much-needed riverside regeneration.

?In projects like this, the most critical concern is to strike the right balance between the existing old elements and the superimposed contemporary inputs,? Simon Blore, executive director, Benoy Architects, tells Metro. Founded in the UK in 1947, Benoy, among the world?s leading retail architecture design firms, is involved in both the Manchester and the city restoration efforts.

The stunning river-view the splendid Strand edifice ? once home to names like SAIL, UTI, Indian Bank and of course, Mackinnon & Mackenzie ? provides, is the fulcrum on which Benoy hopes to create its design solution for the born-again building, working on the ground with city-based architect Dulal Mukherjee.

?We are looking at one fully-integrated, seamless departmental store, perhaps the largest in the country, spread over 350,000 sq ft and going up with an increasing footplate, housed in a heritage structure with a magnetic pull,? says Shishir Baijal, CEO of Kshitij.

The asset-management company backed by Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd, managing a total capital of $330 million, is the biggest retail real estate fund in India. Leveraging Pantaloon?s expertise in retail, Kshitij ?aims to create quality retail infrastructure for consumers and value for investors?.

?We are trying to figure out if the existing dome can be pulled up to the top to create something like the see-through Reichstag bubble in Berlin,? says Blore. A projection system is also being planned to project artworks on the building skin to ?animate the fa?ade?.

Benoy has created design solutions for such celebrated projects like Kowloon station retail, Hong Kong, Bluewater, Kent, Bullring in Birmingham, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay and Puerto De Triana, the mixed-use scheme on the banks of the Guadalquivir river in Seville, Spain.

?We are extremely excited about the Strand project and sincerely hope it could become a destination and act as the starting point for an orchestrated regeneration by the river,? says Kishore Biyani, supremo of the Pantaloon group. While the mammoth departmental store will be housed in the reconstructed inner shell, the L-shaped outer arms will house some chic boutique retail.

Coffee shops and open-air restaurants, live music and a four-screen cineplex on the upper levels to exploit the views will add spice to the retail racks. ?Birmingham used to rank a poor 12th in the UK as a shopping destination. The Bullring has catapulted the Midlands town to number two, after only London,? smiles Blore.

Having blueprinted numerous inner-city rejuvenation projects all over the world, Benoy identifies certain core strengths in Mackinnon & Mackenzie House that could combine to spawn a ?Selfridges of Calcutta?. Location along a strong pedestrian flow, the power of the building?s architecture, clean uninterrupted view of the river and the grand old staircases have been identified as ?real assets?.

The fire-ravaged building is being renovated by Diamond Group, a consortium led by A.N. Shroff, with the restoration effort anchored by architect Mukherjee. Post-permission, construction time for the heritage retail haunt would be around 18 months, says Baijal.