'Surreal' lights in New Town

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By Sudeshna Banerjee
  • Published 17.03.15
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Three luminous waves of white dots floating in space in the dark. A blink of an eye and they are gone, engulfed by the night.

Motorists driving down the Main Arterial Road of New Town are having such a surreal experience while approaching the crossing near City Centre 2.

"I have heard of puzzled bikers stopping at the crossing to check if what they saw was a hallucination. One actually spreads his hand out on the corner island to feel what caused the fireworm," laughs Abin Chaudhuri, the man who designed the Rainbow Fields.

The installation on the four corner islands of the crossing is a replication on a smaller scale of a Kartik puja pandal decoration that Chaudhuri had conceived for a football club in his Bansberia neighbourhood in Hooghly district - a rising mass of light and colour, achieved using bamboo poles cut to specific heights and painted in blocks of rainbow hues.

The adhesive retro-reflective vinyl film stickers affixed to the tops of the poles cause the glowing effect in the dark. "You can see them light up only if you are behind the source of light (i.e at the steering of a car) and that too only as long as the light beams on the sticker," Chaudhuri explains.

Chaudhuri had sent the design to The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. The image of the low-cost pandal design high on innovation has made it to the MoMA publication and exhibition titled Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities.

It explores, according to the museum's website, "new architectural possibilities to address rapid and uneven urban growth around the globe" and consider "how emergent forms of tactical urbanism can respond to alterations in the nature of public space, housing, mobility, spatial justice, environmental conditions, and other major issues in near-future urban contexts".

The exhibition is on at the Architecture and Design Galleries of the museum till May 10. It will travel to the Austrian Museum of Applied/ Contemporary Art in Vienna in June.

At the New Town crossing, Chaudhuri has used 1,526 bamboo poles of heights ranging from 1ft to 8.5ft, in 15 sizes. "Boys of our Kishore Sangha club are taking their family to Eco Park so they can take a look at the club's pride on the way," he says.

The only regret of the alumnus of Jadavpur University architecture department is the material used for the installation - bamboo. "If we could use iron poles, it would have been permanent. But the budget did not permit it," says the director of Abin Design Studio, which was commissioned by Hidco to adapt the award-winning design for the crossing.

Metro had reported it when the pandal design was adjudged the best of show at the Kyoorius Designyatra in Goa in 2013.

"I had seen the picture of the pandal in the newspaper. It's a very down-to-earth and innovative design," said Hidco chairman Debashis Sen, who had asked Chaudhuri to adapt the design for one of the islands on the airport-bound road.

Chaudhuri, whose studio has designed Nazrul Tirtha and the upcoming JW Marriott hotel, advocates more such design dialogues in public spaces for people to appreciate. "We need to train people's eyes in aesthetics so they can distinguish the average from the excellent and it is up to us who work with physical space that needs human intervention (sensual encounter as one enters a building or a park) to provide the scope."