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The Bandra Collective

by Meghana Injeti

Ever wondered what would make your neighbourhood better? Perhaps, more places to play and engage. More opportunities to come together and celebrate. Can citizen groups come together to carve these meaningful spaces? What kind of impact would they create in that same neighbourhood?

Photo courtesy: The Bandra Collective
Carter Road Promenade

Often using small-simple ideas can have a massive impact on potential spaces and, ‘The People Place Project’ recently interviewed a collaboration of urban thinkers and practitioners called “Bandra Collective” which did just that! A collaboration between six talented and quirky architect-design firms, working pro bono to manifest their love for Bandra! The firms, Abraham John Architects, Architecture BRIO, The Busride Design, Sameep Padora & Associates, Samir D’monte Architects, and Urban Studio came together to solve the aching issues of public place underutilisation and the dwindling number of open spaces in Bandra, a suburb in Mumbai.

Why Bandra? “Our offices, our residences are in Bandra, and it’s the place we know best. It’s where we grew up and it was in some sense like looking at our own backyards first”, says Sameep Padora from Sameep Padora & Associates. Living in an area with strong resident group ties and good ALM (Advanced Locality Management) network, the collective was already a part of the community and had already been trying to work in individual capacities through documentation or proposals to better public space here. Rather than complaining about all that was wrong these individual practices decided to pool their resources to try and make a difference. A plus point in their case is that the suburb already had an underlying history of creating public places, since Shabana Azmi, PK Das and other activists in the late ’80s and early ’90s had started restoring and developing the Bandstand and Carter road promenades.

The Bandra Collective, in close association with citizen groups like BWRA and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), has since consulted on the design of various inclusive public places in Bandra. They have helped revamp and design, skate parks, sports facilities, promenades, road signs for chowks, public parks, steps, ramps etc.

Their projects have added to the historic, cultural and associative value of the site, reclaiming and re-writing the narrative for instance in the case of the Bandra Road Signs Project. The project emerged during the time of renaming old roads and chowks. A few churches had approached the collective, through the local corporator, to design the signage boards for the chowks in which they were located. The Bandra Collective designed and executed massive 7’6” ft high and 3’6″ ft wide road signages that were inspired by the motifs of the church buildings themselves.

Robert Verrijt from Architecture BRIO mentioned, “like in any collective there are different opinions and viewpoints in the Bandra collective. Similarly in the public domain, there are also a variety of forces and different opinions about public spaces by people with different backgrounds and expectations”. He mentioned that because public spaces are generally constructed via the path of least resistance avoiding any risks, they end up being badly made, unengaging, and restrictive. These spaces only serve generic segregated activities, like children playing and elderly walking only in the mornings or evenings.

It seemed that people on the promenade were not engaging with each other enough. Even more so, the city lacks a variety of recreational and sports facilities in public spaces. Skateboarding acts as a force of “social disruption”. The skate park helps bring together many different community groups, young children, elderly and young men and women from both underprivileged communities as well as the well to do, join in a sport that binds them together, breaking down cultural barriers.

Skate park near promenade. Photo courtesy: Architecture Brio
Skate park near promenade. Photo courtesy: Bandra Collective

The Carter Road promenade was a project that had been stuck half done for a couple of years and the Bandra Collective first got involved primarily to help expedite the project. The collective wanted all sections of society to be able to make use of the space. The aim was to create a social and community-centric impact, with optimum utilisation of space while being economically effective. The public parks and promenades were designed with the above philosophy in mind, Nikita, a collaborator on the project, mentioned that their biggest asset was having interacted directly with residents, being able to address their concerns and incorporate their inputs when the designing of the promenade was in process.

Zameer Basrai from The Busride Design, says their projects are a good “model of practice, people can consider these projects as examples of how to engage with the public and government which are often outside the capacity of individual studios.” Architect-designers can tackle larger public projects by collaborating and forming partnerships while continuing their practices along individual trajectories.

“Our collective is inspirational and aspirational for us, and we hope other groups and collaborators take on other areas in Mumbai”, says Alan Abraham from Abraham John Architects.

Aangi, a collaborator points out that the collective is “Currently working towards opening up places post the lockdown in a safe and resilient way without increasing the risk of the current COVID-19 virus. Simple systematic solutions like wedging a planter between a public bench can prove to be a quick, effective economic solution”.

They’ve also submitted a document to government agencies consisting of different strategy modules using technology and the “whole art of design” as Pronit Nath from Urban Studios mentions for people’s engagement with public spaces after the lockdown.

Nikita and Sameep broached another current project of the collective, ‘The Vikhroli Street’ design project, which they were working on before the lock down. Their design for  Vikhroli Park Site Road redesign project had won them a street design competition held by the BMC called the ‘Mumbai Street Labs’. The site featured a long under utilised street in Vikhroli and where vehicles and old cars and trucks were just parked haphazardly sometimes in a double line. The design strategy from the BC miraculously was able to create 3 acres of green space for the citizens, a green way with landscape, preserving existing trees adding new public facilities, all without disturbing the daily functioning of the road, The project upon completion will not only improve the ambience visually but will also activate the place to be more than just a street, a place for recreational activities where people interact and in some sense reclaim green space from impervious road.

Vikhroli Park Line out Photo courtesy:The Bandra Collective

A good city, for the Bandra Collective, would be one where sensitive design is able to convert spaces to places ”with the help public participation,” states Pronit. This helps project outcomes be successful and in line with community needs, for the collective lastly mentions their viewpoint of place-making is all about staying “light-handed ”. They find that being light-handed and reactive is a better approach than being prophetic and immovable, the ability to hop from a promenade to a skate park is what makes them resilient. Sameep mentioned, “COVID hasn’t impacted the rhythm of the Bandra Collective, the group has adjusted from designing a promenade to now working on a post -lockdown resiliency project for Bandra’s street markets”.

The Bandra Collective

All the architects at the Bandra Collective, though run individual practices, consider these collective projects their priority. Serious about wanting to update and re-equip public spaces, they are always on the lookout for well-intentioned Citizen Groups, Councillors, Government Officials or private organisations as their CSR initiatives, to partner with bringing their design, architectural and experiential strategies to help improve the fabric, mechanics, and lifestyle of the local city.

#changemakers in place-making series

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