In a detailed presentation and interview, Dr Bimal Patel, architect and urban planner, whose Gujarat-based firm is redeveloping the Capital’s Central Vista, shares the blueprint and objectives of the coveted project, says it will modernise administration and make it more efficient, defends the 2024 deadline for its completion, and believes fears about the construction causing pollution are “a little bit exaggerated”
NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN: The Central Vista is part of our national architectural history and iconography. Does it really need to change? In the way that you are planning it — tearing down some buildings, replacing it with other buildings — will we lose some of our history with such a change?
As we go around making this major change, we will try to do it in a way that it is not a rupture with the past. What we are trying to do is to respect history, perhaps even strengthen the original intent by using architecture to strengthen the original diagram… There’s nothing we are doing that doesn’t say, listen, this is exactly what (Sir Edwin) Lutyens would have done. It might be a radical change but certainly not something that breaks with the past — it’s taking the past and working with it.
Anybody who’s trying to make administration work more efficiently will see the need for having appropriate infrastructure. Personally, if you ask me, I’m not surprised by the government’s or the Prime Minister’s decision to do it. The way he used to work in Gandhinagar, where you have the Central Secretariat with everybody sitting… the kind of synergies that you get from everybody being in one place, from having a standardised infrastructure… anybody who has run large organisations knows that you need the infrastructure. I see it very much as a part of modernising administration. This is not to build new buildings; the buildings are the means of modernising administration and making it more efficient. The government’s objective is to synergise functioning. That is driving the whole idea.
As for the Central Vista, the avenue would have been refurbished… in any case… and there’s no radical change here. To move people from the ministry, from North and South Blocks… gladdens my heart as an individual. When I go there, I can gape at the buildings, at the mysterious things that go on inside… Essentially, even when Lutyens and (Herbert) Baker built them, these were meant to be architectural instruments of intimidation. They were going to be on a high hill and government was going to be up there… It’s about time, I would say, that we truly appropriated these buildings. These are just personal views.
Sometimes, hesitation paralyses us. I operate in the public realm in different places, and I see that paralysis everywhere because people are so worried about unthoughtful development that they want to see no change at all. I think we have to be cheerful about how we make the change. Change is inevitable because things change, technology changes, population changes, and life changes.