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‘Dilli Haat is a brave experiment that brings fresh energy and dynamism to an otherwise banal landscape’

The Dilli Haat crafts bazaar, with a central theme of music, is a dynamic addition to Janakpuri, New Delhi

With the largest complex of prisons in South Asia, a century-old cantonment, and densely populated residential colonies, West Delhi is an interesting urban mosaic. Recreational areas and public spaces here are limited to markets, district parks, open spaces of commercial district centres and newly constructed shopping malls. With this as background, the organisation of an open design competition by Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC) in 2005 for a new Dilli – a variant of Delhi – haat (a marketplace for village and small-town artisans to sell their crafts products directly to buyers) in one of its sites in this region was more than welcome.

The site, a six-acre plot, facing a middle-class residential colony, is flanked by a busy road on the front, while the sides have a bus depot and prison greens respectively. The competition brief by DTTDC comprised craft shops, workshops, display areas, open-air theatre, exhibition pavilions and food courts with public facilities and parking area. It was won by Studio Archohm, a young architecture consultancy. The three salient features of the winning entry were, first, that the core idea for the project would be based on ‘music’ (as per designers’ statement) – ‘haat beat: “haat” is synonymous with the quintessential organic character of Indian bazaars and “beat” is a reference to rhythm, an intrinsic component of music’, thus envisioning a space for various music initiatives of the Delhi government; second, a flexible and elaborate design brief, which suggested that the complex would not rely solely on craft sales for business but also on other facilities and provisions; and, third, to explore the opportunities of creating vibrant public space within the complex. So the final design brief translated into a long list of additional requirements: music centre for the exhibition and sale of musical instruments, music museum, auditorium for shows, multi-purpose exposition hall for exhibitions and seminars, open-air theatre, coffee shops, formal shops and restaurants, integrated with informal craft shops and workshops.

The concept of a crafts haat, with the idea of creating a seamless business interface between the artisans and the buyers, was introduced by DTTDC in the early 1990s when, in 1993, architect Pradeep Sachdeva was selected to design the first ever haat in South Delhi. It was followed by another one in North-West Delhi. For the typical haat, he conceived a spatial composition housing shops, workshop and display areas and exhibition halls for craftsmen. Local brick, stone, wood and metal created a design vocabulary that was vernacular, rustic and gelled with the crafts business scene. It remains a successful and popular design and business model, a source of inspiration and reference for many such projects nationwide.

‘The site is flanked by a busy road on the front, while the sides have a bus depot and prison greens respectively’

In this context, the architects of the new Dilli Haat project faced the challenge of creating a new design identity responding to the ‘here’ and ‘now’. The designers explained: ‘A haat needs its own identity to attract people not only from its own neighbourhood, but from the city at large. It could not be an extension of the previous haats or imitations of villages in the city. It has to be progressive, in tune with today’s times and respecting the craft and cultural centricity of the project.’

Conceived as an introvert composition of bold and contemporary built forms, it is a complete break-away from the conventional notion of a crafts bazaar, both in form and in function. The design approach towards built form is innovative, with a juxtaposition of traditional and modern building materials and introducing a fresh attitude to new technologies. The 8-metre high funnel-shaped structures – clad with bamboo – are, the designers note: ‘beacons to the outside, and sculptural elements, inspired by Parc de la Villette in Paris’.

They house an information centre, music stores and a music workshop on the ground floor with coffee shops on the top. A large exposition hall with three linear vaults of ascending widths in plan, an auditorium and a banquet hall, both with separate entrances, and air-conditioned shops arranged along a curvilinear circulation, form the front formal zone. A large usable green roof flowing above the composition – with multiple connections to the lower movement pattern – symbolises the aspirations of the times.

‘Conceived as an introvert composition of bold and contemporary built forms, Haat is a complete break-away from the conventional notion of a crafts bazaar, both in form and in function’

The informal zone is composed of an organic layout of craft shops, with each designed as a modern tent, ‘evocative of the tents of Bedouins’, say the designers. Clad with Delhi quartzite stone, the circular lockable structure has a canopy of translucent tensile membrane, allowing air circulation as well as a shade against harsh sun. One of the highlights of the project is a grand open-air theatre, with a seating capacity of 800, a first of its kind in the whole region. Designed as a series of seating steps finished in stone, grass and shrub beds, it is an anchor of the whole composition, marking the transition from formal to the informal zone on the south-eastern corner. The progression of the movement has a variety of spatial forms – a wide entrance piazza, finished with neat rows of Agra sandstone and cobbles, a central courtyard, paved with Agra sandstone, opening up into an enclosure created by built forms along the exposition hall, and circulation along the craft shops meandering through the streets, giving an intimate character to the shopping experience.

In any design intervention there is always a challenge for the designer to create a new role model of something extraordinary. Here, the proposed loaded approach of multiple facilities to make the project economically viable – with banquet facilities, exposition hall, auditorium, restaurant, underground parking, each with its own character that is designed to function independently – culminates in the bringing together of a few stand-alone components into one business model. The design is overwhelmed by the extended design programme, compromising the spirit of a crafts bazaar. The craft shops, although innovatively designed, are laid out in a segregated and isolated rear pocket, occupying just one-third of the site.

The front view from the entrance is punctuated by a veranda with rising walls and huge architectural forms beyond, blocking the inside view of activities and functions of the formal shops. In the absence of any design clues, markers or glimpses of them, the view from the large entrance piazza remains uninviting and dull. It fails to envisage the craftsmen with their wares as the prime soul of the programme, for whom it has been created. With a much-tilted scale towards economic pragmatism, it loses the beauty of its journey. Designers dream of ‘art’ for character, experience and many silences, along with the ‘reality’ which is apparent, dry and loud. For a pure composition, we need a balance of both.

‘Dilli Haat is a brave experiment that brings in fresh energy and dynamism to the overall banal landscape of the region’

If the scale tilts too far on either side it violates the creation. The design expression of the programme does not reflect the core idea of ‘music’ as originally conceived by the designers, either in form, function or experience, except for the provision of designated spaces for music sales store, museum and concert halls. The designers clarify that the proposal was never intended to carry ‘music’ in the design language. In the context of it being projected as the main ‘theme’, one cannot dismiss the idea so easily.

Dilli Haat is a brave experiment that brings in fresh energy and dynamism to the overall banal landscape of the region. With the open-air theatre and banquet hall already becoming vibrant spaces, there is no doubt that the project will be a popular and economically viable model of a recreational public space.

Among all the glitz, rush and show of these activities, in order to kindle the soul of the project – crafts bazaar – it must create an evocative ambience not dominated by other functions.

Dilli Haat

Architect: Archohm Consults Pvt. Ltd

Principal Architect : Mr. Sourabh Gupta

Structural engineer: Roark Consulting Engineers

Client: Delhi Tourisum and Transportation Development Corporation

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