A city adds facets to its personality through the community spaces it defines.
With Bangalore’s multitude of green spaces, there is much that can be said about the city’s personality. Yet, what was missing was an urban park that allows people to express themselves through unique activities, made possible in its expansive environs.
The genesis of this park lies in the architectural competition organised to reinterpret the use of the Central Jail premises. Established on the periphery of the old city and the new cantonment by the British in 1867, the existing jail was shifted to a new address on the outskirts of the city. The old, overgrown premises now lay in a state of disrepair with the danger of being converted into a commercial space. Spurred by the desire to turn this public institution into an interactive community space, the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF), on behalf of the government, invited architects to submit their ideas for the redesign.
Preservation of strategically selected old structures has enabled Mathew & Ghosh to offer visitors snapshots of the complex’s history.
The architects leave the visitors with a distinct impression of what was, by paring down all ad hoc structures that were not part of the original jail plan and by removing some unsafe barracks. Planned movement routes lead to imprints of the original design. Sections of walls with fenestrations, plinths of barracks long gone, and roofs and roof trusses invite the observer to catch nuances of a time gone by. Points in history are showcased by the restoration of key architectural elements such as the barracks, the quarantine dormitory, and the gallows. Some life-like figures add to the drama.
The century-old Central Jail was designed on the lines of the panoptical concept with a central watchtower enabling all parts of the jail to be kept under constant observation. A key element of the revival plan by Mathew & Ghosh was to turn a space conjuring poignant, negative imagery into a backdrop for a free-flowing people’s plaza emanating positivity and freedom. Mathew says,“Thus, in a complete reversal of roles, what was the origin of oppressive power was reduced to being a mere spectator of people’s freedom.”
Today, the old watchtower stands shorn of its outermost layer to uncover its original core. Visitors have access to the top that offers a panoramic view of the entire complex. Extending all around this vertical element is a bold, pared horizontal plane that is in sharp contrast with the foliage and high grounds at two ends. This flat surface is planned along the east-west axis to enhance the play of light and shade, and as a place to enjoy its vastness and the spray from the mist fountain.
Largely envisioned as a landscape project with minimal building intervention, the pattern of the land slopes gently from north to south, pointing to the path of surface water. Several water bodies dot the landscape at low points to maximise water recharging of the soil; positioned berms further slow the flow for increased percolation.
Similar flowering trees grow in groves to mark the scene lightly. Naturalised trees with light foliage were deliberately chosen, as the effect desired was of a cool, shady environment with a changing landscape every few months.
Sharing space with museums, retail outlets and performance areas in this complex of 22 acres is a space specially marked for protests and demonstrations. This rally space occupies five acres and is spread along the length of the complex. It is only befitting that this rally point was recently brought into the limelight by supporters of the Jan Lokpal Bill; coming a full circle – what began as a place for reform still continues to serve the purpose, only with a shift in power.