Each aspect of the design in a memorial has a dual responsibility to fulfill. A memorial by definition has to sustain and elicit the memory of the tragedy for the general populace. In this sense it is rooted in the past. The Formulation of the program was a crucial step in this direction; it would determine to a large the extent the sphere of influence and continued relevance of the memorial. The program elements would be instruments that engender their own evolution guided by time and process. The competition brief was open ended and provided ample scope to include elements which would ensure that the memorial design, while being the conclusion of one process, would be a catalyst for many more.
The site is currently situated in the Northern periphery of Bhopal city. It is a part of a small island of industrial plots in an otherwise largely lower and middle income residential zone. Currently, in the context of Bhopal the site is located in the blurry margins of the cityscape and mindscape. At the onset it does not seem to offer much potential in terms of an audience or setting for a memorial of this scale.
But conversely such a project has the ability to revitalize the entire neighboring zone and bring it to prominence. Also, if one maps the projected expansion of Bhopal the area will gradually become a central node in the Northern zone. The site, therefore, offers many latent possibilities that can be harnessed.
Memorial Complex, Site Plan
At a micro level the largely triangular site is bounded by a railway line and vast industrial plots on three sides. Only a protruding edge faces the highway and the settlement. This provides a small window of opportunity for interaction with the public realm. Otherwise most parts of the site are visually and physically inaccessible. Boundaries needed to be broken down to allow the site to be part of the City, while the City had to reconnect with the Factories to be reminded of the tragedy.
There was a need to reexamine and redefine the existing sense of visibility, accessibility and opportunity the Factory complex shares with the rest of the City. To weave the memorial into the existing city systems required efforts to link it to the neighborhood - physically, notionally and functionally.
A powerful way of doing so was to develop new vehicular and pedestrian linkages in order to establish a dominant visual contact with the surrounding area. The realignment of the road opens site to the settlement and makes a part of the site physically merge with the adjacent settlement. The Landscape weaves around the road such that the pedestrian linkages remain unhindered by the vehicular movement.
The M.I.C and Sevin plants from where the gas leaked dominate the memorial complex, both physically and symbolically.
A series of spaces and exhibits illustrates the plight of the victims1 and acknowledges their spirit of resurgence. Exhibits on other industrial calamities make the visitor aware of development problems. Interaction with activists and survirors involves them in the quest to find solutions.
- MEMORIAL WALK: Acknowledgement and Remembrance: The memorial walk focuses on The Bhopal Tragedy while exhibits on other industrial disasters and resultant activism give the added dimension and perspective. The memorial is intended to house the existing body of documentation and art work related to Bhopal and to inspire further research and expression. A series of spaces and exhibits illustrates the plight of the victims and acknowledges their spirit of resurgence.
- Architectural Expression: The memorial walk is a linear progression. It operates on two levels: The plaza at the ground level and the walk at the subterranean level
- The Plaza: The relocated sculpture of the Lady and the Child
The Center would be built on the existing plinths of the abandoned factories and would house offices for various NGOs and developmental agencies involved towards the benefit of the City. Office space would provide an opportunity to build the tax base and rejuvenate decaying infrastructure of the whole site through rents and corporate involvement.
Nothing would be more evocative of life and revival than recasting a contaminated toxic wasteland, which is what the Union Carbide site has been for the past twenty years, into a sprawling ecological park. A decontamination process has already underway; the landscaping would be a catalyst for a new, more hopeful identity for the Union Carbide site, now synonymous with death and loss.
Converting the open area into a landscaped park provides a large public green counterpoint to the existing industrial backdrop. Creating smaller, more intimate sculptures, imaginative parks and installations as points of interest will be instrumental in drawing visitors to the site. Therefore the park is a powerful resource and asset for creating awareness, especially on issues of industry and ecology. While it functions and attracts as a leisure zone, each aspect of its landscaping derives from the Bhopal tragedy.
Legacy: The park is designed along radial zones emanating from the industrial building we chose to retain onsite, namely:
- Ground zero (the MIC and Sevin plants)
- The viewing tower
- The Baolis ( underground wells): where the workers took refuge on the night of the tragedy.
These undulating zones overlap and intersect, providing a matrix of interconnected nodes, paths and sectors. The nodes provide the focal points, be it as installations, performance areas or onsite research labs. The paths direct movement, such that no part of the site remains inaccessible or underutilized. This integrative framework for ecological organization provides a distinct over all identity to the park while being flexible and adaptive. Each sector uses slope gradients, solar aspects, adjacent contexts and vegetation to generate a robust localized identity and accommodate specific uses be it ecological reflection, commemoration of the tragedy, passive recreation or active sports.
- 1. On further interaction with NGOs and CBOs in Bhopal post the competition entry, it was urged that the term 'survivors' be included to identify those living with the after affects of the tragedy, rather than a sole identification as 'victims'
- 2. The lady and the child, by artist Ruth Waterman, is the only public memorial for the tragedy in Bhopal >From its current location at the fringes of the site, this People's Memorial is proposed to be reinstated as the anchor point of the final memorial. Here it will be the physical and notional connector between the "victims" living in the neighborhood and the "Factory". Seen for miles around the M.I.C and Sevin plants are the physical relics and a constant reminder of the tragedy. The reinstatement of the statue would be dependent on the involvement and wishes of the artist and the survivor groups.
Photographs by Jan af Geijerstam
- 3. Ground Zero refers to the Methyl Iso Cyanate and Sevin plants from which the gas escaped on the night of the tragedy.