From heaving traffic and dense crowds to car-free and tranquil: that’s the vision for Chandni Chowk. But is it achievable?
In his studio on the fringes of the capital, Sachdeva sounds weary rather than angry,
In a cool, tranquil studio in Aya Nagar, far away from the chaos, an architect is working to restore the Mughal splendour of Chandni Chowk. Pradeep Sachdeva’s firm, commissioned by the Delhi government, began work in December. The area has already been dug up and work is under way in an effort to meet the January 2020 completion date.
On his computer screen is an image of how it will look. The most striking feature is the absence of cars. His design shows a calm street lined with trees, benches and lights, with wide pavements on either side of a green central lane. The electrical and telecom cables and water lines are buried underground.
Sachdeva is acutely aware of how important the redevelopment of Chandi Chowk is for the residents of Old Delhi,1 the historic old quarter where the majority of residents are Muslim. For decades, they have felt neglected by the authorities who seemed to care more for other areas of the capital over the of part which, ironically, boasts all the heritage.
A group of conservationists and architects have filed petitions in the Delhi high court objecting to one major feature of Sachdeva’s design: the placing of utilities in the central median. They claim this will act as a “wall” between the two sides of the street and destroy the area’s visual integrity.
“In redeveloping an area you must respect its heritage, but the spirit of this processional avenue is being destroyed with this design,” says AG Krishna Menon, an architect and urban planner. “You can’t put electrical transformers and public toilets in the middle. It breaks up the whole vista. They need to be somewhere else.”
- 1. One of the first decisions he made was to not recreate the canal. “We know from our other projects that we can’t look after bodies of water in India. They get full of waste. So we have symbolised the canal by placing water-like patterns in the central median.”
Another tricky decision was where to place public toilets and police kiosks. He settled on placing them in the central strip, rather than on the footpaths where they would have been an obstruction.