Monday, April 1, 2013

The right way, the wrong way.

Of all the matters that are in conflict, one particularly problematic area is architectural design and aesthetics, especially in public spaces.

All cities have really beautiful monuments or buildings. With the passage of time, the areas around these buildings get or need modification. Once this has to be done, there is a plethora of opinion as to the best way that this should be done.

Take for example the proposal to establish a shopping Mall and office development alongside the world famous St Pauls Cathedral. What would you do?

A view of the Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge

I quote from Wikipedia. “St Paul's Cathedral, London, is a Church of England cathedral and seat of the Bishop of London and is the mother church of the Diocese of London. The present church dating from the late 17th century was built to an English Baroque design of Sir Christopher Wren, as part of a major rebuilding program which took place in the city after the Great Fire of London, and was completed within his lifetime.

The cathedral is one of the most famous and most recognisable sights of London, with its dome, framed by the spires of Wren's City churches, dominating the skyline for 300 years. At 365 feet (111 m) high, it was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1962, and its dome is also among the highest in the world.

St Paul's Cathedral occupies a significant place in the national identity of the English population. Important services held at St Paul's include the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill; Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria; peace services marking the end of the First and Second World Wars; the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer, the launch of the Festival of Britain and the thanksgiving services for the Golden Jubilee, the 80th Birthday and the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. St Paul's Cathedral is a busy working church, with hourly prayer and daily services.

So, this is an imposing building dominating the skyline. St Paul’s Cathedral is an imposing structure by any standard. In 2007, an old building owned by the Bank of England located across the street from the Cathedral was demolished. The developers held a worldwide competition to identify the architect and design of the new building that was to be built. Once the design was revealed it led to polarised views for many reasons. First, this was to be a very `modern’ design standing literally across the road from the Cathedral. Then, this was to be a brown opaque glass facade as opposed to the usual whites, greys, silvers, blue silver and black that most modern buildings are. Does this not sound like what often happens in Mumbai? Prince Charles was most upset and made his feelings known to the developers. Prince Charles preferred older designs and wanted the Cathedral to shine thru. Despite the protests the construction carried on and the building was completed in late 2010.

The new building is actually dramatic. Except, you cannot see any of that from the outside. The new building was quickly dubbed the ‘stealth bomber’ after the B2 Bomber. This name was because of the brown glass facade, the distinctive shape of the building and, in my opinion, because the building is so large and yet so discrete, much like a stealth bomber. You would never know that there is something as, shall we say, crass, located just across the street from the Cathedral. I personally think Prince Charles desire that the Cathedral should shine thru is completely met. Have a look at the photos. The very discreet brown glass building in the right of the photographs is this huge 5,60,000 square foot commercial complex.  

The brown building behind the trees is the mall.
The Mall is behind the bus.

Yes, my dear readers. Right next to St. Pauls Cathedral is the One New Change Shopping Centre, complete with a roof terrace to overlook St Pauls Cathedral, top restaurants and shopping. Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver have restaurants in the Mall. Does the Mall disturb the skyline? Absolutely not. Is it an eyesore? Nope. Is it very popular? Yes.

Contrast this with what we have done in Mumbai. In Mumbai we have the beautiful VT Station building now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. The UNESCO World Heritage describes the building in the following words.

“The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus Station, in Mumbai, is an outstanding example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture in India, blended with themes deriving from Indian traditional architecture. The building, designed by the British architect F. W. Stevens, became the symbol of Bombay as the ‘Gothic City’ and the major international mercantile port of India. The terminal was built over 10 years, starting in 1878, according to a High Victorian Gothic design based on late medieval Italian models. Its remarkable stone dome, turrets, pointed arches and eccentric ground plan are close to traditional Indian palace architecture. It is an outstanding example of the meeting of two cultures, as British architects worked with Indian craftsmen to include Indian architectural tradition and idioms thus forging a new style unique to Bombay.

A subway was to be established to allow the tens of thousands of commuters who walk from and to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus on their way to work and home. This caused traffic problems. So the powers that be decided to construct a subterranean pedestrian sub way leading from several roads into Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. The subway had to have an entry and exit point. I must point out that the case of St Pauls Cathedral and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus are no different. In the both cases it was the local authorities responsible for the design of the of the Mall and subway.

In case of St Pauls Cathedral you can barely see the Mall. On the contrary, the Cathedral is on view from many points within the Mall. Mind you the Mall is huge; it has 560,000 square of space. On the other hand you have the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai which has to only deal with the entry and exit points of a subway. And what does our good Corporation do. I do not want to write any more. Have a look at the photos.

1 comment:

  1. How about the skyscraper near the Jantar Mantar or the ones near the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore? Or those great big concrete erections that have laid to waste the aesthetics, environment and ecology of cities all around India? And we are proud of the 'Metro Man.' In my view, Sreedharan is an gluteus maximus disguised in the form of a supposedly intelligent human being.