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DRP Cell Balwant Sheth School of Architecture, India Category : Public Space Author : Gaurav Sardana (NMIMS BSSA 2012) City Square _ A Node of Temporary Formality and Permanent Informality How is a City Square Defined? It is defined by its built form-the commercial, residential, institutional and leisure habitats, its growth pattern and the collective function of its various socio-cultural, political, economic and historical organs. It is their interaction which may be harmonious or noisy and this interaction is what creates the image of the city at a smaller scale!

The Square is a part of the city fabric which is an invisible network binding the people, culture, society and the demographic factors within a city. Earlier, the fabric was literally like broad, well-defined strands of a natural outcome, much like cotton! But gradually this network became complex, inter-woven and synthetic, much like nylon! The ‘City’ is created by man through a certain degree of civility, this civility comes through culture and thus the city should essentially reflect this culture! The ‘Fabric’ is a direct response to daily life of the city’s inhabitants, this daily life is shaped by culture and tradition, the culture is built through the location! Thus, CITY FABRIC = LOCATION SPECIFIC. Each cotton fibre is different from the other, it is shaped differently, woven differently and subjected to different processes, Thus, the outcome is Local/Special. Whereas the nylon fibre is composed of the same synthetic material and process making the outcome Global/Common. Ahmedabad is the outcome of this interaction of the local and the foreign right through its birth as a ‘city’. This interaction has characterized the city and led to its cosmopolitan attitude encompassing and amalgamating all the cultures it has been subject to! The Bhadra Square in Old Ahmedabad is a prominent feature of this phenomena of encounter and amalgamation, speaking of a broad time-line still updating itself every day! It is a symbiosis between temporality and permanence, part and whole, big and small, local and foreign, individual and community! The Square reflects the city life at a micro scale, it talks about its adaptability and multi-level activity while at the same time catering to the various communities that inhabit it. It mirrors the forces of change and constancy within the city!


It is a Chowk which has been witness to many historical events and landmarks, thus, representing a long stretch of the time-line. it has done so by constantly tweaking its character to cater to the contemporary demands demanded by its users. This long stretch is evident in the materiality, scale, usage and the activities of the place. The constant change it is subject to is reflected in the mixed-use spaces, the informal establishments and the breaking down of the formal built hierarchy through the street- built form relation. CONTEXT The Square serves the Old City quarters and presently acts as a branch connecting the old city to the new cityscape. The Bhadra Fort served as the main attractor node to the square. But over a period of time with the building of the Teen Darwaza the node got pulled to become an ‘Extended Axis’, breaking the square down for the first time. Today, the axis is further striated and branches out to form multiple connections between two sets of city life. This dilution of the formality of the Square into smaller fragments serves utilitarian as well as socio-cultural and perceptual needs. the smaller sub-squares feed into the network and are fed by the network in a symbiotic relationship between the built mass and the unbuilt void! LOCATION+ACCESS The Square forms a landmark in the old city precincts and yet the ‘new’ city on the west has managed to cut a slice through the square leading to a infiltration of the recent into the historical. The square connects different points in space and this multi-point itself becomes the open-ended access to the square, thus , breaking down the sense of enclosure within the square. BUILT FORM+SCALE Time and outside influence has led to a change in the form and the appearances of the square. The formation of the axis and the old-new city connection further break down the appearance of a conventional square. The axis clearly shows a change in the lifestyle and influences of the people. The various types of built forms change in scale and usage and placement and this serves to bring the square down to a more relatable human scale. The ‘other’ built form-the network of informal commercial street establishments creates adds another dimension of movement and chaos to the square. The fragmentation of the node creates smaller node and interstitial spaces within the larger context of the square. This creates of pauses and re-orientations in both X and Y-axes and further breaks down the understanding of this large space into smaller episodes. All this lead to the notion of the spaces being without a definite and consistent language of built form in terms of its scale, volume and elevation. PROGRAM The square is characterized by a mixed program environment encompassing commercial, residential and religious built forms. This program is broken down into smaller fragments through Street-based-Commercial establishments, Shop-based-Commercial establishments, Building-based-Work establishments and Building-basedInstitutional establishments working in tandem at many scales. The humane scale is characterized by the spontaneous informality of the streetscape which responds directly to the changing densities of users, changing time-periods in a day and changing programs within the square. Individually the street establishments are not prominence but their agglomeration increases their complexity manifold. This informality then becomes a permanent feature of the square. Religious institutions require a network of vendors, thus, generating more informality and temporality in the square The movement of pedestrians and traffic is also in conjunction with the timely shift in the activity zones. They always almost have to meander through the dense labyrinth of vendors, shops and streets. CONCLUSION


This dense labyrinth combined with the subtle formality of the built forms works well within the definition of a square in general and the Indian context in particular. It breaks down the scale of the square, makes it more relatable and inhabitable, allows multiple socio-cultural events to be staged, retains the old and welcomes the new equally, allows for a particular diversity and individuality within the common utilitarian needs of a square, thus, retaining and updating a TIMELINE always. Over the length of the street square, the entire timeline seems to be printed onto the facade of the built formsthe program written onto the buildings, the usage known through scale and the socio-cultural setting known through building arrangements and technological influence known through materiality and construction methodology. The Bhadra City Square serves Historical, Political, Social, Cultural and Architectural Evolutionary contexts well through constant Updating and Assimilation.

City Square - Chowks - Gaurav Sardana  

A discussion on the various threads that bind the ever-changing vibrant square (called 'chowks' in India) in the city of Ahmedabad

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