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Delhi's cultural hub

Mandi House can be a vibrant destination for the art-hungry visitors when the Commonwealth Games come on in 2010, writes KT Ravindran.

india Updated: Dec 01, 2006 03:48 IST
Metromind | KT Ravindran
Metromind | KT Ravindran

Very few cities in the world have a fully evolved art node like the Mandi House of Delhi.

Starting out in the early fifties under the benevolent eye of the then Prime Minister Nehru, Mandi House is home to a number of art institutions, housed in an interesting array of buildings of varying architectural styles.

Its name 'Mandi House' is derived from an older building of that name, the only evidence of which at present is a well-articulated gate that appears to be shut permanently, though directly facing the roundabout.

The old building was replaced by the gigantic concrete avatar of Mandi House as Delhi's official media centre, with an entry from Copernicus Marg. Its neighbour, across Bhagavan Das Road, is the handsome Bahawalpur House of 1939, presently housing the National School of Drama, the Kathak Kendra and some insensitive buildings created by other invading Central government institutions.

Going around Mandi House you have the uninspired Himachal Bhawan, the visually assertive Sriram Center, Sangeet Bharati, Triveni Kala Sangam which fathered much of Delhi's contemporary architectural vocabulary, the imposingly nondescript FICCI building, Sapru House which is a stylistic relative of the Banaras Hindu University, the obscure and non-interactive Nepal House, culminating in Habib Rehman's modern masterpiece, the Rabindra Bhawan.

In a curious process of historic accretion, many auditoriums and art galleries have also agglomerated around this amazing cultural node.

The newest input into the Mandi House is the newly opened Metro station. It has now become accessible even to the foot soldiers of popular culture. The Metro station links it to remote Rohini and soon would link New Delhi's poor cousins from across the river.

Various, obscure architectural (or merely structural?) protrusions that pop up from the ground are perhaps the Metro's method of dishonouring this unique space. The city should seize this opportunity to turn Mandi House from a mere cultural node to a full-fledged cultural district, a place for its people.

The NSD is perched for a complete makeover that may showcase its rather good looking hybrid dome in the newly configured public space of Mandi House, the Metro's aesthetic disservice to the place not withstanding.

Plenty of under-utilised land owned by various government agencies lie beyond the Bahawalpur House, full of trees and war-time barracks. Besides, the booming art market has its frontrunners amongst Delhi's artist community who are waiting for the right public spaces to encounter the city.

With enlightened political will, this whole area can be urban designed as Delhi's brand new art district, providing gallery spaces, performance spaces for street theatre, book shops, cafés and all kinds of passive spaces where the creative youth of Delhi can flower.

Well-designed pedestrian spaces can bring together in a grand sweep the disparate elements of Mandi House with underground parking and imaginative new lighting to invite roadside painters, musicians, artisans etc to create a sense of the urban carnival which Delhi so badly lacks.

While the Pragati Maidan and Dilli Haat are centres of consumption, Mandi House can provide that place where you can simply hang out to drink from Delhi's creative cauldron.

In 2010, when the Commonwealth Games come on, Mandi House can be a vibrant destination for the art-hungry visitors, and post Games, it can be a permanent asset to the city.

(KT Ravindran is an urban designer and dean, School of Planning and Architecture)

First Published: Dec 01, 2006 03:48 IST