Hailing from a small town in Kerala, being a passionate foodie , my first fond memories of a city are the huge malls, pizzas and sizzlers which were once (until about 10 years ago) exclusive to only the metropolitan Indian cities. In fact I would always look forward to visiting my cousins who lived in the city, for my yearly pizza. It was not until I moved to Chennai for my undergraduate studies, five years ago that I could truly explore a city in terms of the multiple culinary dimensions that it has to offer.
Food is as much a part of culture as architecture is. But what is fascinating about food and cities today is that the cities today have become truly global offering us a taste of multiple cultures through a wide array of culinary experiences. For example, while Chennai stays true to its own South Indian Filter coffee and Idly, Vada Sambar, the spicy streets of Sow carpet (in North Chennai) are sure to impress one with the true north Indian flavours.
This quest for what a city could offer in terms of food led me to explore the same through my undergraduate architecture design thesis. My exploration of gastronomy began with a study of the culinary world today. Visiting culinary schools, getting a sneak peek of the workings of kitchens of five star restaurants, enjoying cooking sessions while making new friends at food studios, being a part of food walks where in one could explore the city through its cuisines, learning about how food start ups work, sharing my food experiences through social media food groups, I realized how cities today offer much more than just multiple dining experiences. Food today is no longer a mere means for sustenance, it is an art, a hobby, a profession, above all a kaleidoscope of experiences that people crave for!
Creating a Food Public Space
Food and Architecture being creative fields due to the exuberant quality of art that exists in them, my exploration furthered to see if these synonymous projections could be extended to explore a newer perspective; one that could inscribe value to our cities and engage a wide range of its citizens. The architectural concern of my project was to bring together people through food as a medium by creating a new food public space in the heart of the city that caters to the multiple dimensions that the culinary sector today has branched into.
Bangalore-a truly vibrant city with its fascinating culinary world, be it the ‘oota walks’, the late night partying in gastro-pubs, food melas or the numerous food start ups that can get you anything from a salad or a cookie to a celebrity chef in a jiffy – set the ambience for the design. The site on Church Street, one of the oldest food hubs of Bangalore within the CBD, abounding in eateries and pubs, well connected and surrounded by commercial spines, with a steady pedestrian flow provided ample scope for the project to expand from a ‘culinary arts centre’ into an ‘urban eat street’.
Designing for Food
A study of the existing streetscape and the urban context was important to understand how the built form responded to the same. Food, being a very sensuous phenomenon, works best when it is not hidden away, but exposed, letting the aromas linger. What was interesting about Church Street was that despite the large number of eateries present, there was hardly any spill over onto the streets. The reasons were mainly two:
- The street is not pedestrian friendly. It is punctured by transformers and piles of garbage, with uneven foot paths and haphazard street parking, cutting off any contact between pedestrians and the adjacent buildings.
- The buildings themselves are largely introverted (barring a few), not even attempting any engagement with the chaotic street.
As an architectural intervention for an urban transformation the design proposal focuses not just on the built form but also on creating a vibrant eat street.
Programming for Food
The culinary arts centre, whose built form was conceived as a response to the city, the streets and the people (and function) at three different scales, was envisioned to be a reflection of the vibrant urban culture, connecting multiple user groups through food and letting the streets flow into the building as much as possible. As the idea was to connect multiple user groups through food, the building is a collaborative food space that has chef studios, co working kitchens, public cooking studios, food retail, culinary schools, restaurants and amenities like library, auditorium etc.
Connecting with the Urban Street
The main design challenge was to understand how a vertical building as tall as 24 metres high in a tight urban context with FSI, setbacks and other building constraints could achieve an extroverted character, unlike the other tall buildings on Church Street that strictly did not engage with the pedestrians.
Hence the building was conceived as a heterogeneous vertical street with a play of inside and outside, multiple walkways within the building enabling many circulation paths for an interesting spatial experience. Transparency as a tool was used to connect the multiple levels and activities and project gastronomy as much as possible. Solids and voids, textures and colours also add to the extroverted building character, making it dynamic. The materiality of the building also draws from street characteristics such as plain vertical planes for graffiti, steel frames for banners etc .The building comes alive at night as the open spaces double up as dance and disco floors. The colourful banners of street festivals, events and performances get displayed on the steel grids of the building facade and the glass exterior facade of the rotated auditorium has LCD display that screens food videos, music, etc, becoming a focal point for the street node.
The built-form is ultimately an expression of a vibrant urban street. The street design proposing a pedestrian-friendly street, takes the vehicular traffic and parking underground. The idea is to enhance spill-over onto the street and add elements of colour, play and food throughout. The 750m stretch will have three pedestrian subways and one vehicular entry and exit point. The street is envisaged to become an urban canvas and a renewed food public space in the heart of the city of Bangalore.
Experiencing Food through Architecture
Architecture is played with to add a physical dimension to the food experience with multiple hues that accentuate the spirit of the place. The building elements were composed to form voids, frame views, fuse activities and provide fascinating new user experiences. Just as food has multiple flavours, the building’s spatial heterogeneity was a deliberate attempt to express the cultural diversity of the city. It also hints that only if architecture implants variety in the cityscape will it be a fertile seed for urban transformation.
The building thus becomes an identity for FOOD CULTURE and in parallel transforms the image of the context. Just as a city offers us a plethora of culinary experiences, the design aims to capture the essence of it on one platter to offer to its people.
[This article is a collaboration between Hashtag Urbanism and Priyanka Sreekanth, based on her Undergraduate Design Thesis, “Eatsup- A Culinary Arts Center on an Urban Eat Street”, compiled in the document below.]
Noteworthy mention – Presented at NIASA (National Institute of Advanced Studies in Architecture) Thesis Awards South Zone jury.
Cities are inevitably judged by the efficiency and inclusiveness of their transportation systems and networks, them being vital veins for the city’s functioning. It is, therefore, no surprise that the Transportation sector has progressed immensely over the past few decades, so much so that the pioneering two-wheeled human-powered transport system – the cycle – has little, sometimes no space on the roads any longer. To this inescapable conundrum, Chennai is no exception.
From vital transportation to fitness and recreation, cycling is a greener and cleaner option for all needs – and of late, the latter aspect has been on the rise in the city. And why not? There is a certain wonderment experienced when you get onto that saddle and pedal yourself forward – the joy of your leg muscles’ pull as forward you’re pushed; the wind in your hair and a song in your heart – there is a certain wonderment when you get onto that saddle and explore the city and all the joys it has to offer. But then, there’s a catch – inside the city, cycling is almost fatal; you’re bullied by the motorised vehicles, the unfriendly lorries and mean horn-blasting cars. To experience the joy of cycling, we are forced to escape to the outskirts, or to the really early morning hours or late nights.
Travelling is a way of experiencing new things, of exploring new places and feeling new things; it broadens the mind and makes some peace. And travelling by a cycle only makes the whole experience even more fulfilling. The trick is, it’s just fast enough to keep you moving ahead, and just slow enough to let you savour and enjoy each moment, each scene you cross – the birds on that tree, the lone pink flower in a sea of green, the smiling old shop lady who hands you bottle of water while you try to catch your breath, “Where are you cycling from? All the way from there?!” That’s something you do not, and CAN NOT, get from any motorized vehicle- bikes are too fast, cars too closed, flights too detached, and walking, well, unless you have a lot of time on your hands.
So in case you’re not already on your cycle, here are a few routes around Chennai to get you started! As a general rule, all routes mentioned here are safe for cyclists at the following timings;
04.30 am to 07.30 am
10.00 pm to 12.00 pm (Main roads only. Front and back cycle lights, helmets mandatory.)
A. Beginner Routes – Below 20 km
Route 1 – Koyambedu – Anna tower park – Koyambedu
Short and easy, a route in the centre of the city – if you want to add a challenge ride up the Koyambedu flyover and cruise down. A stop at Anna tower park is great in the mornings, walk a circuit or two to stretch the muscles before getting onto the saddle again. The avenues of Anna Nagar are mostly residential streets so less traffic can be expected.
Total distance 10 km. Duration (max.) 1 hour
Route 2 – Madhya Kailash – Besant nagar beach – Madhya Kailash
Who doesn’t love the beach in the mornings – the fresh breeze and gorgeous sunrise. The roads are hard and neat, speed cycling is great, especially tree-lined Besant Avenue close to Theosophical society.
Total Distance: 10.1km. Duration (max.) 1h 30 mins
Route 3 – Madhya Kailash – Pallikarnai – Madhya Kailash
OMR is every cyclist’s dream – wide and pleasant to ride. Cycling along the Pallikarnai marsh is a beautiful sight in the morning, you can spot flocks of birds in amidst the greenery. There are small gazebos off the main road where one can sit and take in the beautiful scenery.
Total distance 21 km. Duration (max.) 1h 30 min
Intermediate Routes – 20-30 km
Route 1 – Anna university – Marina beach – Anna University
Right along the main roads, it is advisable to get on the saddle real early to avoid 8 am traffic. Also, this is one of the best night-cycling routes in the city – well-lit streets and good safety for the night rider. Marina beach is a treat in itself – mornings mean beautiful sunrise and fresh air; nights mean a mid-ride ice-cream at the beach!
Total distance 22.4 km. Duration (max.) 1 h 45 min
Route 2 – OMR to ECR loop
OMR is another great night-cycling option owing to the bright streetlights and around-the-clock police patrol. The connection from OMR to ECR at Shollinganallur junction is a great spot to cross a wide and clean Buckingham canal – you can stop at the corner of the bridge for a break from pedalling. Another add-on is a brief detour through any of the side streets on the ECR to an isolated and silent beach.
Total distance 29 km. Duration (max.) 2h 15 mins
Route 3– Velachery MRTS – Ottiambakkam quarry – Velachery MRTS
After Perumbakkam, the route is mostly through winding tarred village roads, so peaceful and silent in the morning hours. Ottiambakkam stone quarry is an abandoned quarry which has accumulated rain water over the years and forms a beautiful pond – swim with caution, though. You can take a brief 15-minute hike to the top and spot eagles or other birds, and experience a panoramic view of the city far beyond.
Total distance 30 km. Duration (max.) 2 hours 30 mins
Expert Routes – 30+ km
Route 1 – Porur junction – Chembarambakkam lake – Porur junction
Small winding tar roads through small towns lead to one of the biggest lakes in the city – Chembarambakkam lake. One uphill and you’re onto the small path just adjacent the large blue water mass. Great for those who love solitude and water. During the return, you can take a short fun detour to Decathlon, every sports-shoppers paradise.
Total distance 32 km. Duration (max.) 3 hours
Route 2 – Padi flyover – Puzhal lake – Padi flyover
From Padi flyover, taking the city route in the morning is better due to less vehicles. Puzhal lake is another beautiful morning spot – during summer the lake is dry enough to walk on some parts of it, mind the sinking mud spots though. During monsoon, the lake is full and if you have the knack of it, you can ask fishermen to lend their canoes to you for a few `bucks. The National highway route back has good ups and downs to train your calves and is mostly free at all times of the day.
Total distance 35 km. Duration (max.) 3 hours
Route 3 – Padi flyover – Sholavaram lake – Padi flyover
A little farther down from Puzhal is this out-of-the-way Sholavaram lake. When the lake is dry, its full of green grass presenting a whole other beautiful scene. Expect to be completely on your own here, very few people wander inside from the main road.
Total Distance 48 km. Duration (max.) 3h 30 mins hours
* All distances measured are nearly accurate
* All ride durations are approximate and are inclusive of an average 15 mins break/stop at the destination mentioned.
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Last Sunday saw MG Road in Bangalore transform from a noisy thoroughfare to a lively, bustling public space, free from cars and traffic. ‘Open Streets’ , orgranised by Department of Urban Land Transport (DULT) and Bangalore coalition for Open Streets, was a landmark event in Bangalore’s struggle for pedestrian friendly streets. Parking lots were replaced by nearly 120 stalls, flea markets, art installations, and dance performances, attracting more than 50000 people in the course of the day.
From 9am to 9pm, MG Road was jam packed with people strolling, children playing badminton and speed ball, college students painting and singing, with the atmosphere of a carnival. Fun and frolic aside, this event drove home the invaluable importance of pedestrian spaces on streets, popularized public transport and called out to the people to reclaim the streets as their own!
Here’s a time-lapse video which captures the spirit and gaiety of the event that brought together people of all ages, cultures and even nationalities. And here’s to more such events on busy roads that ought to be reclaimed by the people. Share to show your support for Open Streets in your city!
[Video shot and edited by Siddarth PT]