Sunday, December 25, 2011

Celebrating a heritage: 200 years of Hazratganj

A renowned urban planner and an Economist with a Master’s degree from London School of Economics, Nasser Munjee is the Man behind Ganj’s Makeover. Apart from being on the board of several multi-national giants, he is also part of the CM’s task force to transform Mumbai into a World Class City. Here he lays bare his vision, plan and love for the city in a candid conversation with M Tariq Khan

I have been visiting Lucknow for many years and eventually bought a flat in the city. My wife is from Lucknow and I felt it appropriate that we should have a physical space in the city. Since then my visits became more frequent. I have always been interested in urban development and cities for many years and naturally I began to study Lucknow from an urban redevelopment point of view. Hazratganj, was, is and will continue to be a central focal point for the city (most cities are not fortunate to have this advantage). It was so sad to see this central street desecrated by anarchic use (signages, circulation, non-maintenance of facades) to such as extent that this wonderful space was reduced to no more than a market street to be found in any provincial city.
I happened to be the Chairman of a small entity that consisted of young architects and planners and I got them to have a look at Hazratganj. We came to the conclusion that we would record what we had without the elements that defaced the facades. We decided to sketch each and every building on the street and view it as a continuous whole. Those plans are now available as our first attempt to record the possibilities for the future. We even publicized these efforts and met with shop owners and other stakeholders to invite their comments and suggestions in terms of how we might take this further.
This effort really forms a profile of the agenda for urban renewal of Hazratganj. It demonstrates what we need to do not only for the buildings but also for circulation and movement of pedestrians and vehicles, street furniture and lighting. It shows also the inappropriateness of some of the new buildings that have been built (the LIC building for example) which will probably need a new façade to be constructed in keeping with the aesthetics of the street much like the modern makeovers being done to old buildings using new materials and techniques. In the Hazratganj case we will need to move the other way – to superimpose old motifs and designs on new modern (and very ugly) buildings.
Our attempt was to demonstrate that relatively simple innovations could restore an icon of the city back to its old charm and functionality. It would restore the joys of “Ganjing” as an alternative to wandering around new super modern malls, which can be found anywhere. It would demonstrate”specificity” to the city, and more important, give back pride to local residents that we were indeed restoring a proud heritage back to the city for today’s citizen to experience and enjoy.
Unfortunately this effort died as gracefully as the city had been built! My increasingly infrequent visits owing to work pressures resulted in the constant pressure for change being dissipated at the local level. A few dedicated citizens plugged on anyway. When we heard of the 200th anniversary of Hazratganj I knew our time had come. I attended a citizen meeting to discuss this subject in Lucknow and produced the plans we had painfully worked on 5 years ago. People there were aghast that such an effort had been put in previously. This has spurred on a new energy and a few months ago, on a visit to the city, I met with a senior member of the government to push this project to its logical conclusion. I am delighted that this has been taken seriously and the government seems to be fully committed to the project. We now need to work the mechanics of the effort and to take off where we left off last time around.

From the very beginning this was an effort to rally people round an idea. Our plans produced the rallying point of what could be possible. Hazratganj could well be the beginnings of a revival for the city itself. Its success will determine whether we take on different precincts of the city and undertake a similar task of urban conservation, which is consistent with modern use value. After all it must provide new-found possibilities for economic livelihoods, promoting tourism and culture as well as the fine arts all of which were the defining principles of the city in the first place.

The Makeover Plan
M Tariq Khan
It’s a Rs 15 crore makeover for Hazratganj that promises to take the old on a trip down the memory lane, and, the young a glimpse of its glorious past.
The guidebook for scripting Ganj’s journey back in time has been painstakingly prepared by prominent urban planner and architect Nasser Munjee. The onus of implementing his recommendations for revitalizing and restoring this exquisite architectural heritage that completes 200 years in October this year lies on the LDA.
“We have sent the proposal to the State Government and have been told that the funds required to give shape to the project are on their way,” said LDA Vice Chairman Mukesh Kumar Meshram. Commissioner Prashant Trivedi had held a meeting with members of the Hazratganj Traders Association (HTA) on January 2 to work out a time-schedule, seek their suggestions and shortlist the problem areas.
Complete with exhaustive drawings of the existing architectural eyesores, Munjee and his team of conservation architects and urban planners have outlined remedial measures for refurbishing the promenade’s famous façade. But what was the need for undertaking such a study now? In Munjee’s own words: “Ganj’s premier position is facing a serious threat from the many malls and multiplex complex that are springing up all over the city.”
The convenience of parking, toilets and air-conditioned comfort are the biggest drawbacks of the traditional high street. Thus, to retain its numero uno position, Ganj will have to sustain itself on its heritage, character and flavour, which the modern commercial hubs lack, points out the project report. A unique USP of the beautification blueprint is that it promises to profit and provide value for anyone and everyone.
Here’s how: A rejuvenated Ganj would increase the land/property value for their owners. It would increase its economic potential and provide greater security of investment for developers. Property occupiers and managers would have happier workforce with better facilities and easier maintenance. A well-managed market would provide better security, more equitable and healthy environment to the public at large.
No wonder, Ganj lovers are Gung ho over the project. What about traders? “Right now we have got our hands full as it is the end of the financial year. But we intend to get into full steam for October celebrations from next month,” said HTA president Kischan Chand Bhambwani.
Steeped in history, the old world charm of Ganj’s elegant esplanade has always been a visual treat on foot rather than on wheels. Insensitive expansion and renovation over the years has caused incongruous changes leading to decay and deterioration of the street’s famous façade.
Soulless shopping malls have today stolen a march over a celebrated street that was once billed as the heart of city. Nasser Munjee and his team, however, feel that the traditional high street can still sustain itself on its heritage, character and flavour. They have mapped a civic plan including arrangements for seating and lighting along the entire stretch to restore and enhance the overall experience of visiting Ganj and make it a convenient and coveted destination once again.
“Both from aesthetic and material point of view, the walkways are presently devoid of any street furniture for the convenience of pedestrians. The little (furniture) that exists does not follow an overall design scheme and is either on ad-hoc or as-is, there-is-basis,” points out the makover plan charting out a holistic approach to the issue. The two main elements of the design scheme for the streetscape, namely, cusped-arch and lotus pattern have been chosen keeping in mind the distinct architectural characteristics of the buildings.
The aim of the design scheme, points out the beautification plan, is to evolve systems that are not only sensitive to the heritage streetscape, but also revive the ambience and provide improved civic infrastructure in the form of railings, benches, bollards, litter bins, directive signage, improved lighting and paving. The designs for furniture, signage, streetlights, information kiosks and building plaques, however, can always be modified as per the public needs and requirements.

Railing and Balustrades
Stylistic balustrades at regular intervals
Perforated sheet metal panels in cusped-arch profiles
Provision for sponsor panels within panel
Finish with plastic-powder coat for better resistance and low-maintenance

Seating Arrangement
Tubular steel benches with inset panel
The seat should be fabricated from galvanized steel slats and perforated finish with plastic powder coating.

Litter Bins
Designed keeping in mind the psyche of the people with opening only on one side.
The other sides designed using the same panels, except without any punctures.

Street Lights/ Lamp Posts
The posts have been designed to accommodate, either one or two directional lights, as per public need and requirements.

Building Plaques/Planters
Original names to be restored and highlighted
The plaques reflect the traditional style of mounted letters in metal/stucco or embossed wood or even engraved stone.
The letter style and font design should be adhered to the architectural style and period of the building.
The kiosks can be covered or open to sky cubicles, with three sides open.

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