Kolkata’s newest mall—City Centre, New Town, in Rajarhat—along the highway to the airport is not only the city’s newest hypermarket address, it is also being touted as an entertainment destination that outdoes its earlier avatar: the Charles Correa-designed City Centre at Salt Lake. Certainly the New Town mall is bigger. But is it better?

Downtown design

The large glass structure, which is part of the facade of City Centre, New Town, gleams in the sun, catching the eye of those travelling down the highway.

Although the paved “street", cubist frontage, semi-open corridors and steps in front are reminiscent of the Salt Lake mall launched in 2004 by Ambuja Realty, the resemblance ends there. Salt Lake’s open-air art galleries, its multitude of side streets and stairs are absent. The new mall chooses instead to guide the visitor in a smooth loop, with little room for confusion—or surprise. Indeed, once you leave the central courtyard and enter the foyer of elevators, you could be in almost any modern shopping centre. The traditional market feel of Correa’s design (much lauded by architects and critics) is absent. “The idea (at City Centre, New Town)," says Kapil, “was to pluck out one little precinct of Manhattan."

Click here to view a slideshow of images of City Centre, Salt Lake

Click here to view photographs of City Centre, New Town

Also Read The mall and the city

But why would a mall in Kolkata, with its flourishing older shopping districts, want to mimic Manhattan? Isn’t there a certain paradox to creating “downtown" in a still nebulous suburb? And, of course, why move away from a milestone Charles Correa model to something with no distinct Indian identity? Harshavardhan Neotia, chairman, Ambuja Realty, says: “Simply because you don’t want to see the same thing again and again. So we were looking for a more eclectic, more young feel." Times, too, have changed. Neotia cites security concerns that resulted in just three entry/exit points in the New Town mall as opposed to 14 at the Salt Lake one.

Besides, adds Kapil, “It is not possible to compete with Charles Correa."

Integration issues

Correa’s ability for Indianization is his unique gift. “When Correa built City Centre, Salt Lake, it was an experiment," says Tapas Bhattacharyya, professor and head of the department of architecture, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. “It is not a pure supermarket or hypermarket." Rather, it is an agglomeration of smaller shops, clustered together in the different masses of Correa’s typical cubist forms. “At that time (five years ago), the Kolkata customer was accustomed to smaller shops or marketplaces, with limited experience of departmental stores. Correa took cognizance of this, and the resulting City Centre was not much of a departure from what the shopper was already used to." Then came larger supermarkets and hypermarkets. In that the architecture of City Centre, New Town, is a marriage of the hypermarket with the traditional shopping district. Bhattacharyya says it is a step in the right direction.

Aesthetically, it is another story. Says Bhattacharyya, “Kapil Bhalla is a very good architect, but (his) approach at City Centre, New Town, is pluralistic in form and composition." Kapil seems to have sought a middle ground between Correa’s cubism and the monolithic transparency of South City (a much-lauded south Kolkata mall, designed by city-based architect Dulal Mukherjee), the professor explains, noting that while this creates curiosity, it could have been better integrated.

Practical problems

The other set of improvements at the new mall include higher ceilings that allow for taller displays and concealed lighting, dedicated space in Celebration Square for product launches—all of which favour shop-owners. Neotia hopes the product launches will avoid disturbing the neighbours, which he claims does happen at Salt Lake.

However, Kolkata-based architect and urban planner Partha Ranjan Das, who was the resident architect realizing Correa’s vision at Salt Lake, says: “In the Salt Lake City Centre, functions (events) are held in the Kund area, which is partially enclosed and...shoppers are not affected because there are other entrances. Here the central plaza (Celebration Square) is unavoidable, and I think the structure along its back and sides may reverberate the sound."

Das also points out that the steep steps in front may pose difficulties for children and senior citizens.

Final billing

Perhaps the dilemma of City Centre, New Town, is well encapsulated in the predicament of the steel-grey Humanoid (a sculpture by Mumbai-based Barish Danet) hanging off the facade. Modernity has been donned like a pair of jeans, with a shedding of local colour. Unlike City Centre, Salt Lake, which kept the local flavour alive, this space isn’t very different from the malls dotting cityscapes elsewhere in India.



Art exhibition

An art exhibition and seminars on ‘Informal Cities’ is being organized by Mumbai-based research collective Pukar (Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research). The exhibition (31 October-8 November) will also mark the formal release of the Indian edition of ‘Dharavi: Documenting Informalities’, a book produced by the Swedish Royal University College of Fine Arts, Stockholm. Artists and architects will be present. Entry to the exhibition is free. To register for the seminars (31 October and 7 November), email informalcitiesmumbai@gmail.com

Architecture of shopping centres

Good architecture translates into good business for shopping centres. Tapas Bhattacharyya, professor and head of the department of architecture, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, and architect Partha Ranjan Das give a few pointers:

• The entrance has to be inviting, with easy pedestrian access.

• To tempt passersby and get the visitor to linger, a mall can be dotted with sensory pleasures, such as seating areas close to the shops, artwork, greenery, great views, insulation from the noise outside and bustle of a busy street or food aromas.

• Just as escalators replaced stairs and made multistoreyed markets viable, shoppers at any level should be able to see all their options, and how to get to them, at a glance. Manidipa Mandal

Victoria and Albert Museum’s design archives

The new ‘V&A Pattern’ series (available in India through Roli Books) is a collection from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s design archives. From wallpaper and carpet to tile and textile patterns, the books highlight works by some great design artists as well as works by unknown designers and draughtsmen. In the collection is a book on Indian floral patterns from the Mughal courts, and another which has a collection of William Morris’ wallpaper and swatch patterns. Each book costs Rs495 and comes with a CD of pattern images. Roli Books has released four books in the series. Seema Chowdhry