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Amravati: in the eye of a 'capital' storm?

Posted by
on January 30, 2017 at 04:23 PM

The very controversial issue regarding the design of the new capital of Andhra Pradesh – Amravati – once again brings the focus on how political will influences decisions in India. As of December 2016, the decision is that Norman Foster, of Foster+ Partners, Britain and Hafeez Contractor, of AHC, India have been jointly assigned the task of master planning 365 hectares of the new city, as well as designing an assembly building, a secretariat, offices for department leaders, ministerial residences and guest houses. But while congratulating Ar. Hafeez Contractor after hearing this good news, there are some issues to delve into.

On a personal level, I am proud of Contractor’s success and laud his achievements. But my happiness on hearing that Foster+ Partners was collaborating with AHC on the design of the new city – was short-lived. Apparently, this piece of information has a darker underbelly – and it is time that we inspect and analyze how corrupt governance can and will impact design in the public realm.

As we go live, yet another petition has been launched, with several eminent Indian architects beseeching the President of the COA to “take action to curb unethical practices and backdoor entries through political intervention”!

TFOD checks out the facts and flaws around the hottest story in Indian architecture in recent times.

© Courtesy of Internet Sources

After new political boundaries were drawn two years back, Andhra Pradesh lost its State Capital Hyderabad to the newly formed state of Telangana. Andhra Pradesh therefore needed a new Capital and sought assistance from the Singapore government to draw up a masterplan. The three layered (seed capital, capital city and capital region) master plan for ‘Amravati’ has been prepared by Singapore government agencies - Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), Singapore Cooperation Enterprise, and Surbana who delivered a 217 sq km master-plan. 

Amravati, chosen as the spot for the new capital lies between two developed cities, Vijayawada and Guntur. Besides being the only place where the Krishna flows north instead of east or south (considered an extremely auspicious occurrence) the availability of contiguous terrain and the willingness of a majority of farmers to give up their land were the two other major factors in this choice. Amravati has been envisaged to be developed as smart, green and sustainable city which will be a symbol of pride for the people of Andhra Pradesh and India. The new city is expected to match the world’s great cities in aesthetics, infrastructure, liveability, connectivity, and as the seat of e-governance and administration. 

Architectural companies and consortia with an annual financial turnover of Rs. 30 crores (US$4.5 million) were invited to bid for the design of the 1.2 million sq m complex. However, the dozen design firms that responded were sidelined and the State Government invited Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry and others. Three firms were shortlisted in the final stage competition including Richard Rogers of Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners from London, UK, B. V. Doshi of Vastu Shilpa Foundation from Ahmedabad, India and Fumihiko Maki of Maki and Associates from Tokyo, Japan. The jury then awarded the design to Maki & Associates in March 2016. 

However, the decision triggered a protest – mainly from Indian architects, and an online petition was launched against the design; which questioned why more Indian designers weren’t invited to compete and also brought up the issue of commissioning designs to foreign firms. The protest also included an objection that the design by Maki & Associates wasn’t “Indian enough”! Frankly, in the current, increasingly global architectural scenario in India, this itself is a preposterous contention. 

Meanwhile, Fumihiko Maki, the principal architect of Maki & Associates, has sent a letter to the Council of Architecture in India - alleging unfair practice, a lack of transparency and ‘choreographed appointment’ of new architects, denouncing his firm’s removal as ‘fraudulent.’ They have further alleged that AP Government officials insisted that Maki & Associates collaborate with Indian architect Hafeez Contractor as the local architect! 

And in December 2016, Maki & Associates was unceremoniously removed – and replaced by design collaborative between Foster+ Partners and Architect Hafeez Contractor! This has raised the hackles of the architectural fraternity in India and the COA must now analyze the various issues, from the very beginning. And consider very objectively: Would an architect of Contractor’s stature stoop so low? Are arm-twisting tactics acceptable in the code of ethics we architects promise to uphold?? Why does politics have to rear its ugly head everywhere???

We really don’t know the whole story but as if the filthy mess around the design wasn’t enough – the grapevine suggests that the new design of Amravati will be modeled along the lines of the mythical, fantasy city shown in the blockbuster movie Baahubali

That, I must say, would be the last nail in the coffin… 

An excellent opportunity to create a State Capital from scratch – taking inspiration from its architecturally prolific antecedent Hyderabad and yet having a global manifestation – may be lost in the utter chaos that has followed. 

Photo Captions:

Pics 1 - 3: Images from the design presented by Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, UK

Pics 4 - 6: Images from the design presented by Vastu Shilpa Foundation, India

Pics 7 - 9: Images from the design presented by Maki & Associates, Japan (declared winners in March 2016)

Pic 10: Actual site of Amravati, new capital of Andhra Pradesh

Pics 11 - 15: Amravati Masterplan created by Singapore government agencies

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