Theory & Discourse
Central Vista Competition: Debriefing the Design Brief |
Geeta Wahi Dua
LA 60
In recent months, Notice Inviting Bids was announced by the Government of India internationally to appoint a design consultant for the Redevelopment of Central Vista, the historic cultural core of New Delhi Capital City, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker in the early twentieth century. The absence of a clear intent, or a well-articulated brief and questionable process of conducting the competition about the redevelopment of an area of such imminence and significance has raised serious questions about the State’s intellectual capability of understanding the finer nuances of history, heritage,identity, environment and public space. Above all, it has received much public criticism about the way the whole process is being conducted. Many eminent voices from civil society including historians, conservation architects, urban designers, social scientists and writers have raised serious concerns about various related issues on different forums.

In word, wisdom

If a government intends to conduct an international competition, the very first step is the constitution of a Competition Secretariat under the concerned Ministry—an experienced panel of people from various related disciplines. When an area as significant and large as Central Vista is under the ambit of redevelopment, it becomes imperative to have a multidisciplinary discourse across all sections of society to take in views and ideas about the new character of the proposed development before the competition is even announced. Such a place of national importance belongs to all, not only to politicians, bureaucrats and designers but to society at large—people of all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, who come here for earning their livelihood, who come here to take inspiration from the historical architectural assemblage, who come here for recreation, who come here to mark protests against the State’s policies and for whom it is a symbol of national identity and pride. Therefore for the formulation of the Design Brief, in this context, it becomes important to consider Why and How rather than What and When.

In life, service

Delegating eminent organizations working in the areas of built heritage, landscape architecture, urban design, regional planning, environment and ecology, humanities, civil engineering, infrastructure and technology to organize structured and well curated discourses with the participation of thinkers, academicians and practitioners on the subject is the foremost task of the Competition Secretariat. Knowledge of relevant observations and suggestions from prior studies, proposals and nominations to international organizations like UNESCO, by professionals either independently or for government,offer a wider perspective of understanding the site. Inviting views and suggestions from the general public by open invitations, organizing open workshops and presentations about the intent of the development makes the idea of redevelopment/ development a democratic one and strengthens its ideals. Unfortunately, the competition as organized turned a blind eye to these vital aspects.

Based on the described discourse, the Competition Secretariat should draft a detailed competition brief which becomes an articulated vision of the new development that leads to a well formulated design program. A competition dossier of the important existing attributes of the site—topography, built-up forms, open space structure, vegetation, surface and sub-surface water ways, landscape elements, and circulation networks among other aspects in collaboration with public agencies will provide important background data.

The vision statement of the Design Brief should impart a strong sense of historical and cultural significance It will encourage participants to imbibe this knowledge to respond to cultural, functional and aesthetic requirements of the intended development, embedded in philosophical clues. The Design Brief should address the site as a place with strong unique moorings based on its context.


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