Modi’s Central Vista plan: The emperor’s new residence and a vanity project!

The PMO is the ringmaster of the new Central Vista project, awarded to Gujarat-based architects HCP

Modi’s Central Vista plan: The emperor’s new residence and a vanity project!

Ashlin Mathew

In what could possibly mean the destruction of Rajpath and Central Vista as we know it, the video of Ahmedabad-based architecture and design firm HCP’s master plan suggests razing of several of the existing structures and rebuilding a few new ones. It looks like the Rashtrapati Bhawan, North Block, South Block and Parliament will remain untouched.

What is clear is that the current Parliament will become the Museum of Democracy and the new Parliament will be where the Annexe is. The North and South Block will remain, but it will become structures which showcase “The Making of India” and “India at 75” respectively. However, Union Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has said the facade of Parliament, the North and South Blocks would not be redesigned.

The master plan video indicates that the MP offices will be near the North Block, where currently it is the L&M Block, which currently houses offices of several ministries.

The video suggests that the Prime Minister’s Office will be at the end of the South Block, where Dalhousie Road is. What is new here is the coming of a new residence for the Prime Minister, just near the Rashtrapati Bhavan, where the AB Block is.

“Everyone in the department knew HCP would get it because the proposal they had submitted earlier was not up to the requirement. They were asked to resubmit their proposal and that has been chosen. None of the other firms have suggested the shifting of the Prime Minister’s residence to this area from the current Lok Kalyan Marg. It was not even a part of the CPWD tender to build a new home for the PM. Clearly, there were directives from the PMO. Otherwise, why would this be a part of the chosen plan,” pointed out a source in the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) which is implementing the project.

“Could it be that the entire project is a self-serving, vanity project akin to those undertaken by medieval emperors rather than modern democratic leaders? The project appears to create even greater distance between the head of the government and the people through the clever use of architectural design. The question to ask is whether the PM will next plan Diwan-e-Aam like gatherings outside his new residence,” said a CPWD architect.

HCP’s video proposal only identifies Rastrapati Bhavan, North and South Blocks, Parliament House, Rail Bhawan, Krishi Bhawan, Nirman Bhawan and Raksha Bhawan near the Hyderabad House.

What the master plan doesn’t explicitly inform you is that in between these identified buildings are the National Archives, Jawahar Bhawan, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), Vice-President’s residence, Hyderabad House, Bikaner House, Princess Park and a few other houses.

The HCP’s master proposal video seems to indicate that none of these heritage buildings will remain. The video is deliberately vague about Udyog Bhawan, Nirmaan Bhawan and Jawahar Bhawan. The video showcases that there will be new structures instead of these existing ones, but it hasn’t named these buildings.

The video showcases that the Central Secretariat will come up where the IGNCA and Raksha Bhawan are, the Central Conference Centre will be where the National Museum, Vigyan Bhawan and the Vice-President’s residence are and the Secretariat Annexe and Support Facilities will be where Baroda House, Princess Park and Patiala House are.

What the video doesn’t indicate speaks louder. It is not clear whether the Hyderabad House, Jamnagar House. Bikaner House and Jodhpur House will remain or whether they will only be refurbished or whether they will make way for other structures.

What did the other firms submit?

There were submissions from five other firms – CP Kukreja, Hafeez Contractor, Sikka Associates Architects, Arcop Consultants and INI Design Studio.

Here are the video submissions of the other five firms

CP Kukreja Architects

In their video submission, they said they hoped to reimagine the Central Vista by extending it from the Ridge to the Yamuna. They indicated they would create semi-public spaces, which would free the Rajpath of traffic. The Secretariat Buildings would be in red sandstone with a design which would incorporate Indian elements such as jallis (latticed screens), jharokhas (overhanging balconies), chajjas (overhanging eaves) and chhattris (elevated, dome-shaped pavilions). It would be eco-friendly and would use terraced landscapes to accentuate the greenery in the area.

Architect Hafeez Contractor

The submission from architect Hafeez Contractor has copied their lotus idea from Beijing-based architects MAD, who had designed a conceptual star-shaped mobile Chinatown in 2008. Then, the architects had described the project as "MAD's response to the redundant and increasingly out-of-date nature of the contemporary Chinatown".

Sikka Associates Architects

Their submission includes building a new, glass-based, mostly circular structures for Parliament and it has new structures for the PMO.

Arcop Architects

The video submission from Arcop doesn’t elaborate much about the design they intend to pursue.

INI Design Studio

They proposed to build a Parliament in the middle of the Central Vista and they included an active public space with traffic on the edges only

A functionary who works with the CPWD underscored that unlike the few other proposals, HCP has not even indicated how the new Parliament will look like or what material and style will be used.

“The video submission from CP Kukreja at least informs us that they intend to keep the open spaces, use sandstone and other Indian motifs, while also being environmentally friendly. HCP’s proposal has nothing of that sort in it. The process is extremely vague and opaque,” said the source.

According to the Urban Affairs Ministry, HCP was chosen on basis of their technical bid. HCP hadn’t even quoted the lowest figure, which was quoted by CP Kukreja Architects, who had pitched it at Rs 218 crore. HCP had pitched it at Rs 229 crore.

The government has estimated expenditure of around Rs 12,000 crore and has set the deadline for the completion of the project as March 2024, two months after which would be the next general elections.

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Published: 3 Nov 2019, 10:45 PM