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Renaissance, Burdwan
Burdwan is a location that demonstrates strong economic growth. Trade links are flourishing and the city is benefitting significantly from its strategic location on the highway as part of the golden quadrilateral network. Investment is being maintained at high levels with continuing opportunities, growing prosperity and secure incomes. Accompanying these changes is a desire for improvements in the built environment and in the general quality of houses, schools, hospitals and other socio-cultural facilities. The Renaissance project strives to address these very issues and generate a development that may serve as a model for future developments.

The site lies on the outskirts of Burdwan town at the junction NH 2 and the newly constructed golden quadrilateral. The site is a total of 254 acres spread over a flat terrain bordered on one side by agricultural land and predominantly by the highway on the other sides. It is located in the zone being developed by the local administration as the new extension of Burdwan town housing institutional and residential sectors.

One of the major challenges of current critical thought on housing is that of generating a residential space, not only from the required technical and spatial reformulation of the ‘built’, but also from the investigation of new urban orders. The key concept being explored for the planning and design of this development is the formulation of a new urban system addressing issues of settlement identity, dynamic and flexible infrastructure, landscape and open space distribution, and perceptual paradigms.

Settlement identity is derived from a clear and well-defined neighbourhood character of the housing clusters. Plotted and pre-built houses are arranged around a tight cluster with a central focus space that combines the terrace and square patterns of layout. The internal structuring is kept simple with a focussed road system and a single centre of activity. The plot frontages within the cluster are given maximum exposure. Size, character and visibility are consciously varied to achieve a diversification of housing types across social class.

Infrastructure servicing any development is seen traditionally as a fixed system that is dimensionally and geographically determined. The most interesting thing about a multi-scale space of habitation of this nature is precisely this problematic constriction that servicing of this kind enforces. An attempt is being made in this development to break this precise definition and introduce ‘open systems’ with an important degree of abstraction in its conception, sensitive to the potential of variation and distortion. This is achieved by superimposing bands of services over the entire site, almost like a matrix of infrastructure, which in turn releases the area around to be formed and defined in any number of ways. A key element of the infrastructure provisions is the use of pedestrian green strips as the main carriers of service conduits resulting in shorter runs and easy maintainability. These become areas for water holding and rain water recharge.

Building has traditionally been centred on the implantation of built figures defined against a background (or foreground) landscape. The consideration today, of void as architectonic material necessitates the use of empty space itself as a basic instrument of urban order. Open space, too, is distributed in much the same way as the infrastructure on site, as strips of usable greens. The precisely definite open space locations juxtapose dynamically with the more varied built space.

Housing developments are perceived in multiple ways. Inhabitants encode their environment within a paradigm generated by territorial identity and usage patterns. Often the same development needs to work also within a public paradigm with clearly defined networks of movement, information and social mobility. A formal pattern of hierarchical socio-cultural infrastructure and city level movement pattern is overlaid on the ‘atonal’ housing mass fabric to create a duality of perceptual fields. This combined with a formal landscape provides the necessary ‘place-making’ element providing the settlement its identity in a wider urban context.

One of the key tests of a civilisation is its housing, and in a modern democracy this must mean that everyone should be able to have a decent dwelling and choice in its attainment. There remains a great need to mobilise organisational systems, finance, industry, and architectural imagination to aspire to this end, and Renaissance is seen as the first step in this process.
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