Contextual Revitalization and Sustainable Place-making

The redesign of the Bengal Rowing Club has been approached in a manner that has resulted in a building that is relevant to today’s time that speaks of its origins and carries the potential to attract people of younger generations.
June 21 / 2018

The glory of a place, its memories and stories oftentimes become old and somehow buried in the glitter of the present. The associations become hazier as the dilapidation of the source renders them bitter-sweet. And then sometimes, this glory is reclaimed; and just like that the Bengal Rowing club was refurbished and renovated, announcing that it was not done with the world, that it is not to be forgotten. In 1929 it came into existence beside the Rabindra Sarobar Lake, and was known as the Marwari Rowing Club. Clubs then represented the charm of its society; the Bengali society back then and still known for its love of intellectual exchange and dialogue. The ‘adda’ is an offspring of this culture. While ‘adda’ translates to ‘place’ in Hindi, its Bengali equivalent is ‘a group of people or a gathering with a purpose to discuss’. An ‘adda’ is not a debate or idle gossip or mindless chatter. Neither does it entail critiquing authorities or establishment. ‘Adda’ discussions range from politics, art, films, food and much brainstorming and ado over nothing. Globally acclaimed filmmaker Satyajit Ray, in his movie ‘Angantuk’, has traced the culture back to Greece at the time of Socrates. Earlier, the rendezvous commenced at tea stalls, at park benches and homes till the club culture was introduced by the British. The Bengal Rowing Club,an iconic club of its time, was built in Art-Deco style.
While Kolkata never lost its impassioned ‘adda’ culture,Art Deco rarely finds any mention in its legacy. The Bengal Rowing Club with time grew dilapidated and within its crumbling body no longer held the charm of ‘adda’ perhaps. In revamping it laid the potential to revive a lost connection with the city, especially the youth. For this Ayan Sen Architects Urban Designers and Planners wished to render the design relevant to current technology and aesthetics. Simultaneously, their intent was to preserve the legacy of the club by respecting the original Art-Deco expression. While some parts were to be restored, there was a freedom to explore the aesthetic of the façade.  The work commenced in two phases, the first phase entailed the renovation of the existing building including extensions of the facade and response to the lake form and the second phase saw the new construction of acon temporary signature canopy hosting the pool side deck, restaurants, pizza area and the changing facilities.
The restoration of the Art-Deco drum at the entrance of the club was central to the design of the main block. The original dialogue of the Art-Deco drum had to be maintained, while the contemporary extensions reflected the contextuality of the lake. The façade was made decorative, and in the designer’s own words “elegant.”
The material palette was muted to brown, warm beige and white in an attempt to emulate the comfort provided by nature, and reinstate the understated luxury of an urban resort by the lakeside. The colours and striations were necessary to respect the original architecture of the building. Fire-fighting equipment, electrical, plumbing and other mechanical services have been camouflaged within the façade.
Fancy, eye catching and unmistakably contemporary is the public space around the swimming pool. Six trusses sit over steel supports, with two ends of the curve and a vierendeel girder housed as a separate element below. Below the vierendeel girder are sitting spaces along the edge of the pool. However, above, it houses a restaurant constructed within the girder, a structural marvel. It provides a visual connection to both the pool and the lake, merging the entire site context and view. The entire composition is sleek, and light on the eye accentuating its public nature. The curved sculptural geometry of the roof mirrors the landscaped contours of the lake.
The tropical architecture of the context was an important guideline while designing this space. The visual and physical axes created in this dialogue were purely generated from the existing context and the needs of the users. Creating this conceived curved form which is both contextually connected to the landscape and the urban realm of South Calcutta is unique to the people. The roof is also fitted with solar panels which are connected to the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation grid. The project recently received a platinum rating from Indian Green Building Council (IGBC).
Most importantly, the designers have achieved what they set about to. The transformation has helped the club to improve the overall statistics and add muscle to its amenities, which, in turn, has helped to encourage deeper connections with modern communities and attract newer and younger generations. Historically the club has attracted middle-aged members but in recent times a boost in the number of younger members has been seen. Thus, this project both serves as an exemplary revitalization with an innovative architectural and structural insert making this a significant destination, a contemporary and contextually relevant insert in the city that Kolkata can boast about. The project being IGBC platinum rated green building sitting in the destination of the South Calcutta Lake is yet another example of sustainable design by the architects.