|Urban Design Concept||Stein Doshi & Bhalla|
Lodi Plaza Complex-Urban Design Proposal
SGA develops Hudco's Proposal for a Sunken Plaza Parking as an urban design solution that solves many problems at once.
In order to approach urban problems of institutional and office complex zones in Delhi, HUDCO and SGA collaborated to create a novel concept for a common plaza between the institutions of the Lodi "Steinabad". The essence of the concept was to develop the area as one large, coherent and well integrated urban centre, as compared with the conventional approach of piece-meal development of one small lot after another resulting in a fragmented development, keeping in mind the special character of the area as an important urban centre in a world city like New Delhi.
The area adjacent to the Lodhi Gardens abutting Max Mueller Marg and Lodhi Road has developed into a vital and desirable venue for a variety of institutions dealing with physical, economic, environmental and cultural issues with a distinct character influenced by and in harmony with the garden it skirts. As early as 1976, Joseph Allen Stein of M/s Stein, Doshi & Bhalla worked on integrating the growing intensity of development in the Lodhi Institutional Area. Essentially, it was planning with an awareness of the issue of appropriate density for this section of Delhi, and, at an optimum but higher density, achieving through the careful integration of building and landscape the character which began with the construction of the India International Centre. Both the building forms and open spaces in between, it was felt, should establish a coherent hierarchy of urban spaces while blending, preserving and enhancing the character of this important area. At the same time, it was hoped to carry forward the original impulse of the founders of the IIC, which was that this portion of Delhi be a place dedicated to scholarly interchange in an atmosphere of tolerance and good fellowship, and enshrined in built terms in the commemorative plaza, built in 1968, and dedicated to two great men exemplifying the search for social justice through non-violence: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Evolution of the Concept
Based on the principles outlined above and realizing the criticality of parking, the design concept worked out by Stein as consultant of HUDCO, envisaged a central plaza with six out of the seven institutional plots oriented towards it. Each institution had to contribute, without losing its building rights, 14 per cent of its plot area for making the plaza. A basement car park below the plaza accommodated the parking requirements of all the plots. Thus the area would gain a significant urban space which would contribute to the character of the Lodhi Institutional Area, whilst simultaneously freeing the surface for landscaping. The basement could hold 130 cars and was to be fully protected by a sprinkler system from fire, a stringent fire department requirement. The cost of the basement, plaza, landscaping and service was to be shared proportionally by the six institutions around the plaza. , The urban design was approved by the Delhi Urban Arts Commission at the conceptual stage whereupon HUDCO commissioned M/s S Ghosh & Associates to undertake detailed designing. A prime concern of the architects appointed for detailing was to investigate ways of animating and activating the plaza, particularly after office hours. The approach initially proposed was to create a setting for the exhibition of arts and crafts and intimate open-air theatre punctuated by sculpture, landscaping and a water fountain. By providing a mid-level overlooking the basement car park a level of vigilance to discourage vandalism and crime was proposed. The participating institutions had some reservations and various alternatives within the framework of the plaza with parking in the basement were explored. The high cost of this design concept which increased from Rs. 1 crore to Rs 2 crore due to rising costs (and the additional burden of an electric switching station and other infrastructural requirements of the civic authorities) was not acceptable to some of the participating institutions. This forced HUDCO to compel the architects to review the design proposal and consider other options. At this point, intense interaction between the architects and SK Sharma CMD, HUDCO followed which resulted in the development of a highly innovative, environmentally superior and substantially less expensive solution
The Sunken Car Park Concept
The concept as it evolved proposed the creation of a sunken court depressed at ap¬proximately 1.7 m below the ground level and creating, with the help of certain elements, a semblance of a plaza at + 0.9 as the new ground level. The plaza has been projected along the perimeter of the sunken court to provide covered parking at the lower level and create a foreground for the surrounding institutional buildings at the new ground level. A path dividing the sunken court into smaller segments allows for convenient pedestrian movement and enhances the sense of the plaza, in an attractive manner. A great advantage in this design approach is that since the sunken court is at - 1.7 m or so, there will be no problem of sub-soil water and as such, a raft foundation at the basement level will be unnecessary. There will thus not only be a substantial reduction in the cost, but the sunken court can also be landscaped with hard surfaces for car movement and soft surfaces in other places. Since the raft foundation is eliminated, it will be possible to retain the major trees already existing at the site as attractive design elements with their bases stepping down into the sunken court. Creepers planted along the columns of the covered parking will provide a rich green character to the sunken court. The lower level being basically soft & green can also be planted with trees, both shading and concealing the cars & creating an interesting landscape pattern of trees at two levels. Trees retained on earth mounds, meandering paths and projected decks over¬looking the sunken parking green help retain, by th.eir visual linkages an image of a split -level plaza with cascading tiers and steps tying the two. Water bodies with water fountains can also be provided in the sunken court. The sculptured tree mounds would be articulated to suggest settings for community or street theatre, nooks for office-goers to have a leisurely lunch, and steps linking the two levels. During normal day to day activity, the number of cars in addition to the 82 provided on the surface, may never be more than 70. These will get tucked in the covered parking area leaving the sunken court as an attractive landscaped area. It is only during special events that the entire sunken court may get filled up by the 130 cars. Thus a dull underutilized basement parking with all associated problems of fire fighting, security etc., will stand convened as an attractive landscaped feature. Thus this approach allows for a fluid and dynamic balance between parking and landscaping, one easily being convertible into the other. Drainage of the sunken court can be easily handled through ground percolation and, if required by creating soakage pits. In case of unusual rain leading to accumulation of water, the pumps of the water fountains are designed to pump out the excess water. The institutions around the sunken court stand to benefit substantially from this concept. Their basements can open out on to and draw light and ventilation from the covered sunken parking. They can park their cars in the sunken court and walk straight into their well lit basement areas.
This solution could be applied to numerous development projects like community centers, town centers, etc, which need extensive parking, normally provided in the basement, supplemented by unsightly surface parking. In such developments, the concept can be extended by planning activities with heavy servicing at the sunken court level so that the visual clutter at ground level is reduced. The Local Authorities and Urban Arts Commissions can play a leading role in im¬plementing sunken car parks in lieu of basement parking. In the case of plotted development in heritage zones or areas of great visual merit, the Local Authorities and Organizations like INT ACH can insist on the preparation of urban design studies to reduce the impact of surface car parking. Impact on city management systems The concept if extended on a larger scale, has wide implications on the city water management systems. By eliminating the rafts and leaving larger areas soft, the recharging of underground water will improve and problems of drainage bothering most cities, will to some extent stand reduced. For environmental reasons, designers should, instead of making hard areas all over, try to leave as much area in cities soft as possible.