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East meets West

Posted by
Anshu Choudhri Gautama
on March 29, 2014 at 05:47 PM

Typically you would think this is an article on the cultural confluence of Asia and the Western world. But No. To an average Mumbaikar East is the Central Suburbs and West the Western suburbs and the confluence of the two a distant dream. As one of many Mumbaikars who faces the trauma of this travel daily, I am bringing to the table, the severe delays in infrstructure projects - particularly the bone of contention; which is the Mumbai Metro and its VAG Corridor ( Versova – Andheri – Ghatkopar). Mumbai Metro - a single-line metro over a span of about 12 km only and 7.5 years into its construction are we as educated citizens questioning: why?

 

© Courtesy of sources & research

The VAG Corridor

The project commenced in 2006 and is still inching at snail’s pace towards its implementation. Beyond the several trial runs we witness I wonder when the metro would start serving the city. The first line of the 3 line metro was awarded on an international competitive bidding process on BOOT basis for a 35-year period. The 2356 crore(US$380 million) (US$380 million) contract for the Versova–Andheri–Ghatkopar corridor was secured by a consortium led by Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group's Reliance Infrastructure Ltd, along with Veolia Transport Co. and the MMRDA. It is amazing that the competitive bidding process had no clauses for time frame for completion of the project. Why are the figures critical only for the cost of project and the figure of time always undermined?

 

Infrastructure upgradation is a burning need and no matter how hard we try, it is always inadequate for its ever exploding population. Projected to carry about 6 lakh commuters per day initially; the metro will provide the much awaited and much needed east to west connectivity; thus improving the life of many Mumbaikars. The principal advantage would be the significant reduction in travel time from the current 90 minutes or more to about 20 minutes along with an upgraded and relaxed travelling experience that every individual desires after a long day at work.
 

A journey from the Commercial to the Political Capital

In a city like Delhi , one that is as busy as Mumbai the Metro authorities have carved out an incredulous station underground in the heart of the crowded Chandni Chowk and here In Mumbai, the so called commercial capital of India we are struggling to finish a metro line that has all overhead stations. Today Delhi boasts of a metro network that has improved connectivity to the entire NCR. Noida and Gurgaon are no longer left out of this development. In the span from 2006 since when the Mumbai Metro was initiated in Delhi multiple lines and their connecting nodes have been executed thus reducing an average commuter’s time and thus the quality of life in the city.
 

Alas the status of our city is different in the wake of this infrastructural development we have just landed affecting the road traffic too.  The never-ending digging construction and maintenance and hence the never-ending road blocks and hence the never-ending journey home.

 

 

Drawing Parallels

A short stint in NY and I fell in love with an efficient metro network one that was like the arteries in the human body transporting  millions of commuters from a borough to borough. We often draw parallels between Mumbai and New York but if the infrastructure system and the metro network were to be compared, Mumbai hasn’t achieved an iota of what NY has. Built in the early 1900s the Big Apple’s subway metro system is one of the oldest public transit systems and also one of the most extensive public transportation systems in the world with 468 stations.  In contrast to our mere 12km stretch this 373 km system the subway caters to over 1.65 billion riders. I always question myself why do we ape the west for their style of architecture and alter Mumbai’s skyline to a mirage of glass buildings but refrain from instilling their efficient well planned infrastructure systems in the city. Internationally Ridership of these public transit systems has been consistently increasing over the last several years, especially because of rising gas prices and the energy efficiency of these systems.  As the country looks to create world-class infrastructure, Mass Rapid Transit System  need to be implemented but the word ‘Rapid’ should be applicable to both the speed of the train but more importantly to the time frame of execution of the project.

Another aspect of the New York Metro that made my experience as a rider more interesting and varying from station to station was the individualistic feel given to the station be it the signages or the artistic exhibits. Several site-specific public art in stations are developed by the MTA; such as the humorous bronze sculptures, this is 'Life Underground' by Tom Otterness installed at the 14th Street station in 2004. This brings me to the next aspect of the discussion that of the Metro nodes being more than just Metro Stations.

More than just Metro Stations

The other important issue is more an architect’s concern: Can these metro stations be more than just nodes on the route could there architectural manifestation be beyond these prototype concrete sheds? 

Chicago born Architect Harry Weese made a very pertinent statement “I think the Metro system design has run its course. It made sense initially to have a single aesthetic.”  He strongly believed that we should continue the drama of a train travel into the architectural manifestation of a station. The excitement at arrival and departure can’t be ignored in the design process; hence one needs to play with scale and openness. The similarity of the stations makes orientating yourself that much more difficult and Architecture gives an identity to a space; a station cannot be treated any differently.
 

As an architect I dream of that the Mumbai Metro experimenting more with their station designs. The city that never sleeps needs its stations designed as more than an entry or exit point. Its observed that the entrance points into the Montreal stations are  designed unconventionally to be inviting for a traveller post a long day at work.
 

To analyse the metro station its best for us to view the plethora of stations across the world; many of which are a gamut of varying experiences in contrast to the monolithic metro stations in our metro line. Programmed varyingly from archaeological museums to shopping centres to an art gallery these stations each have an identity of their own true to the site, city and context geographic, historic and architectural era.
 

Colour Me Up

Some of the stations that break away from the monochromatic experience and bring in a riot of colours and moods are The Drassanes Station , Barcelona, Spain  that reinvents  its dark image with white glass-reinforced concrete coverings and well lit futuristic murals in the heavy public zones. The Munich U –Bahn in Germany is also an example where just a mere burst of colours along the walls has enlivened the old metro station. The Madrid Metro stations most striking feature is the giant eyes that stare down ominously from the pillars. Metro stations in Munich and Lisbon breathe life into the otherwise minimalistic stations with a burst of colour in the roofs and walls. The stations hence are more than an engineering feat they are an artistic engineering or what I shall define as ARCHITECTURE. In a country like India so rich in culture and colour and a city Like Mumbai that’s so eclectic I hope when we get a preview of the station there’s more than the mundane grey mushroom like shell of the station. 

 

Style & Stations

Master Architect Norman Foster has lent an identity synonymous with his style to the Bilbao Metro. The Bilbao Metro is ultramodern yet ambiguously organic with glassy, tubular station entrances at street level and steel wonders underground. These are aptly called the ‘Fosteritos’, and the glass station entrances have already become an iconic part of the city’s architecture. The unique, ornate, Art Nouveau metro entrances designed by Hector Guimard are synonymous with Paris's metro. Even in its futuristic interpretations many a Dubai metro station integrate in its conceptual design traditional architectural ingredients observed in traditional Arab architecture such as wind towers, oriels, alleyways or internal arches. The garden city of Singapore’s stations is intricately landscaped to reflect its flowering orchids, tropical palms, or shrubs. Vancouver's LRT -Skytrain incorporates a hybrid style of organic designs, west-coast wood architecture and modern metal-and-glass designs.
 

Program a Space; Give an identity to the Place

The connect of a station with its precinct is most visible in the Toronto Museum station.When Daniel Libeskind designed the addition to the Royal Ontario Museum the subway below it was also given a much needed lift and the identity of its association with the museum was translated into include columns inspired by artefacts found within the museum. Designed by Diamond & Schmitt Architects the five column designs represent Canada’s First Nations, Ancient Egypt, Mexico’s Toltec culture, Ancient Chinese culture and Ancient Greece. On similar lines but at a more programmed scale the entire metro station at Athens has been transformed into a museum exhibiting interesting archaeological exhibits. Stockholm's Metro station ‘The Tunnelbana’ is discussed to be the world's longest art gallery as works of art have been integrated in almost every station since the 1950s. 
 

The Dead Line

March 31st seems to be the promised deadline for the metro and it is a tax payer’s right to expect the commencement of the service! Construction, operation and maintenance of about 12 km elevated metro with 12 stations enroute has taken over 7.5 years. Beyond the time frame maintenance is a question at the onset itself as even prior to the inaugural the signage of all the stations seem to be dropping a letter here and there Versova being just Vesova and Airport Road as Airpor Road – a loss of identity prior to its commencement. So besides meeting the dead line, one even hopes to see the system infused with a new energy - with a new identity which transforms the journey into an experience; offering respite from the travel ordeals of a Mumbaikar...
 

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