Final year students from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris La Villette (ENSA-PLV) are in Kolkata to learn about urban values and politics that influence a city’s heritage. Fourteen students from the biggest architecture school in the French capital have been walking the streets of Chitpore for a fortnight now, documenting not just the built architecture in isolation but how it has been moulded and continues to be shaped by the myriad trade that is carried out along this heritage corridor.
Also part of this ‘Learning from Indian Cities’ documentation initiative are 34 students from Bharati Vidyapeeth College of Architcture, Navi Mumbai (BVCOA); and 12 students from College of Architecture Trivandrum (CAT).
After spending another week studying and interpreting one of the oldest stretches in the city, the students from ENSAPLV will return to Paris and work on design interventions and implementable ideas to be presented at the end of their semester in July.
“Architecture students need aview of society. In Paris, and several other European cities, there are strict urban rules in place. While this helps preserve the built heritage, there is no scope of learning about urban values. An architect needs to imagine a project not just from the technical point of view but social and political as well. That is not possible in Paris. Kolkata, Chitpore in particular, is the perfect classroom to offer students an insight into how a living heritage precinct is kept alive by the throb of life and gets reshaped by the demands of livelihood and urbanisation,” said Claudio Secci, the ENSA-PLV faculty accompanying the students.
Over the past fortnight, the 60 students from the three institutes have scoured the Chitpore neighbourhood between Tiretta Bazaar and Kumartuli and interacted with people who live and work there to take note of the diverse trades that are carried out and the architecture and urbanisation that is derived from the various occupations.
Heritage India Synergies founder and conservation architect Kamalika Bose, who is assisting the programme as a local resource person, said the students have since mid-January spent nearly 10 hours daily on the streets of Chitpore, starting with multicultural neighbourhoods of Tiretta Bazaar and Ezra Street where foreign migrant communities inhabited to Colootola and Burtolla, Burrabazar, Pathuriaghata, Beniatola and finally Kumartuli.
She cited an example of how the condition of building types in two localities where the profession had been the same reflected the changes that had occurred in the economy, community and the trade.
“Bengali goldsmith families that work in Garanhata Street in Beniatola live in low-rise townhouses above. Some owners resided there but upper floors were largely tenanted. Most of the buildings are in dilapidated condition, a reflection also of the decline in trade and lack of real estate pressure on land there. In the shops situated on the ground floor, many workers now make imitation jewellery. In contrast, the non-Bengali jewellers community in Burtolla Street in Burrabazar still reside in the buildings above the workshops. However, they employ skilled Bengali goldsmiths and have also diversified from gold to diamond and gem stones. Many houses have converted into profitable jewellery malls,” Bose said.
Source: Times of India