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Pune Design Team Bags UN Honours for Contribution to Cityscape

Posted by
on October 07, 2017 at 12:53 PM

TFOD is a platform created with the core purpose of celebrating design and showcasing the contributions of designers in enhancing the spaces around them, personal or public. It is, therefore, with immense pleasure and pride that we take the opportunity to report on one of our own being conferred international honours in recognition of their game-changing design contributions to their own city. TFODian Dr. Kiran Shinde, along with designers Ashwini Pethe and Sandeep Pethe as team mates, have been conferred the 2017 Asian Townscape Award, instituted by the UN-Habitat (Asia-Pacific) and others, at a ceremony conducted from 28th- 29th Sept 2017 in Yinchuan, China. This award recognises their contribution to the rejuvenation of the Pune cityscape by their design for the adaptive reuse of a non-functional heritage bridge as a citizens’ arts plaza.

© Courtesy of Dr. Kiran Shinde

The Award

The Asian Townscape Awards, started in 2010 by UN-Habitat Regional Office for Asia Pacific in association with the Asian Habitat Society, Asian Townscape Design Society and the Fukuoka Asian Urban Research Centre, recognise contributions made by different projects in enhancing urban environment in Asian cities. Their scope covers a wide range from projects that deal with cities and regions, natural conservation, to the development of landscapes and townscapes. Some criteria considered for assessment of a project are harmonious coexistence, safety, convenience, sustainability, respect for regional culture and heritage, artistry, contribution to local development and the potential to be models for other cities. 

The awards are open to a wide variety of agencies ranging from local governments and urban administrative departments to non-government, community-led, academic, professional and other relevant institutions and individuals with a standpoint of social responsibility. After a two-stage review process of entries at local and country levels, the jury panel constituting of UN-Habitat country heads, eminent urban designers, planners and landscape architects decides upon the awards. 2017 was the second year for Yinchuan to host the awards, which were conferred upon 13 of the 60 shortlisted projects, of which this project titled “Pune Arts Plaza: Adaptive reuse of a heritage bridge as a public space” was the sole winner from India, and also the first one.

The Space

The Pune Arts Plaza project was initially ideated when the Pune Biennale Foundation, led by the same group of designers, approached the Pune Municipal Corporation for permission to use the bridge at the bridge at Bund Garden to display some sculptures created during the 2014 biennale. Fitzgerald Bridge, as it was formally named, was built by the British colonial establishment in 1866 and served the city for 150 years till it was declared structurally unfit for the increased load of heavy traffic and closed for use in 2007. Dr. Kiran Shinde and his biennale team recognised the value of this non-functional yet heritage-tagged piece of the city’s infrastructure as having the potential to be converted into a valuable public space. The bridge spanning the twin Mula and Mutha rivers is a connection between two large city gardens located on its northern and southern banks, a potentially strategic public space or promenade.

The necessary permissions from the Pune Municipal Corporation, which has listed more such heritage structures in the cities for revitalisation, and an adaptive reuse proposal was worked out by the design team. With the committed support of Pune Municipal Commissioner Shri Kunal Kumar, Additional Municipal Commissioner Shri Rajendra Jagtap and executive engineer of the heritage cell Shri Shyaam Dhavale, the project execution duly commenced in January 2015 to see a timely completion and inauguration in May 2016.

The Design

The design of the arts plaza involves visually dividing the 275 m long and 8.75 m wide bridge into 13 bays of 27 m length each, using divider strips of about 3 m each fitted with a 1.5 m wide low height, re-used stone podium or ‘katta’. While some of these kattas are designed as seating, others bear planters of tough flowering plants like bougainvillea and yet others have water pools to create experiential variations. Having thus been divided, the 13 bays, paved with a variety of stones, tiles, sand spreads and grassy lawns and some even provided with seating, are available for hosting of activities like art congregations and displays, workshops on sculpture, pottery or even kite making and photography, and also music recitals. The heritage value of the venue is acknowledged by features like the colonial style CI lamp posts and the stone ornamentation on the katta reflecting that on the bridge’s original railing. Quaint highlights are provided by elements like the blue tile mosaic adorning the central bay to symbolise the confluence of the twin rivers! An old, drab and defunct bridge has indeed been infused with new life in this avatar as a public promenade throbbing with life and art, by a design that is as harmonious as the nature surrounding it, as rhythmic as the arcade of the bridge’s bastions, and as simple as it is useful.

But, as the designers convey, the success of this project lies more in the social meaning it creates than in the design details. The democratisation of finer pursuits like art by making it as easy as taking a walk in a garden, by making it equally accessible to the residents of slums at one end of the bridge as to globetrotters headed for the airport nearby is indeed a commendable achievement. To do it as a sustainable practice by utilising and bringing to life a dead piece of the city’s historical infrastructure gives the endeavour a halo of exceptional awareness and responsibility towards one’s society and surroundings. On this stellar achievement and valuable award, we wish TFODian Kiran Shinde and his design partners Ashwini Pethe and Sandeep Pethe heartiest congratulations and many more... !

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