For sheer number of signboards, Delhi has few parallels. They stare and scream at you from pillars, poles, facades, electric cables, rooftops, trees… In Karol Bagh and Chandni Chowk, even stairs are painted with shop signs.
But do the thousands upon thousands of signs that mark Delhi create a pleasant urban space? Well, the question has not been an important part of the civic discourse in Delhi.
Urban designers, architects and signage artists are equally appalled by Delhi’s chaotic signboard culture.
They believe signboards are not mere tools of advertisement or information; they constitute public art and reflect a society’s creativity, sensitivity and community awareness.
“Like a footpath, the façade of a shop belongs to the people; so the signboard placed on it has to be aesthetic and in sync with the local architecture and culture,” says Abhimanyu Dalal, who is consultant architect for Chandni Chowk Development Project.
Dalal says the city’s signboards do not just lack in aesthetics, but they also do not reflect the times we are living in and the local context.
There have been attempts in recent times to give an aesthetic touch to signboards in some markets such as Tibetan Market at Janpath. All the shops in the renovated market have uniform signboards in terms of size, colour and typography. But many feel this is a case of uniformity gone too far.
“They seem to have come out of a socialist factory. While the size can be fixed, shop owners should be given liberty to create their own signboards; every shop has its own character, history and identity,” says Gopika Chowfla, graphic designer.
Adds Dalal, “There has to be diversity in unity, some disorder in order. You need not have the same kind of signboards for both a coffee shop and a garment shop.”
The new signboards in the renovated C Block of Connaught Place look equally monotonous; what with their unimaginative placements.
“In a heritage market like CP, you can place them between pillars, on canopies, on screens…there are so many options. In Chandni Chowk we are looking to have signages with heritage information, digital signage and directional signage; their placement will be according to the architecture of the buildings.”
Taking you nowhere
Even the civic signboards are no less chaotic.
“I have seen at least a dozen kinds of No Parking signs in the city. In places, they are placed bang in the middle of the road, elsewhere they are placed on a tree and you can not even notice them,” says Vishal Kapoor, an advocate.
Need for order
So, what is the way out? Dalal says that the answer lies in coming up with a definitive signage programme for the city, which should include signages for heritage structures, markets, commercial establishments, and public facilities.
Recently, with an eye on beautification of the city before the Commonwealth Games, the municipal corporation came up with a proposal to fix the size for all signboards outside shops in different markets. Those exceeding the prescribed measurements would be taxed.
“We doubt the intention of the MCD; look at the shabby signage they have in their offices and buildings,” says Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general, Confederation of All India Traders(CAIT).