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Ahmedabad – Architecture & Beyond

Full text of my Article published in Architecture – Time, Space & People Magazine (Dec’17 issue)

The official magazine of the Council of Architecture

A walk down the Manek Chowk – A street that never sleeps……..

The city of Ahmedabad undoubtedly boasts of its vibrant cultural and architectural history. Soon before it was declared a world heritage city by UNESCO, I got a chance to soak in the charming spell of the old city and fort of the ‘apno amdavad’. It was almost midnight when hunger pranks brought me and my friends to a bustling street square popularly known as ‘Manek Chowk’. With dazzling lights, colourful food stalls, lip smacking aroma, chitter chatter of happy lit faces of kids and grownups, this street had a reverberating impression on my mind.

Fig 1: Night View of Manek Chowk

The street displayed a perfect example of a mixed use typology and I would not be wrong
if I say it is a street which never sleeps. Interviewing a local kulfi seller , inquisitively I asked, bhaiya, subah bhi ye food stall hoga’, he immediately responds in his local dialect, madam, subah ye sab dahi ho jayega’(my gujarati friends translated the meaning that nothing would remain the same in the morning). It was amusing to know that the place serves as a ‘vegetable market’ in the early hours of the morning, turning into a ‘jewellery market’ when the afternoon peeps and electrifyingly changes into a ‘food street’ by the fall of night.  Unlike many other market streets which become deserted and vulnerable once the shops shut down, this stretch remains favourite amongst locals and tourists who enjoy midnight snacking with local mouth-watering delicacies.
Fig 2: Street View at 2400 hrs

History

The existence of this glamorous street dates back to 1441 AD when Ahmed Shah I built his mausoleum here in the vicinity of the Jami masjid. The entrance to the street is flanked by two massive structures which are a visible reminder of the history of this place.  The entrance on the eastern side of the Jami masjid, reveals the grand tomb of Ahmad Shah popularly known as ‘Badshah Ka Hazira’ or THE KING’S TOMB and the other opposite to it is known as the ‘Rani Ka Hazira’ or the Queen’s Tomb. The ‘BADSHAH KA HAZIRA’ OR THE KING’S TOMB is said to contain the tomb of Ahmad Shah I, his son Mohammad Shah and his grandson Qutubbudin Ahmad Shah II.

Fig 3: Entrance gate of the King’s Tomb

Some scholars suggest that the tomb was built by Ahmad Shah himself and later all three were buried here.  The majestic structure has a large central hall with an imposing central dome and four chambers standing boisterously on all four sides with copulas crowing them. Central pillared porticoes emerge from the centre of the hall, and each colonnade ends into an impressive perforated screen.
Fig 4: The perforated stone jalis

The screens are intricately carved in stone and have various patterns which display the skill and efficiency of the artisans of the era. The design of the jalis can be seen repeated in various buildings in the vicinity. The magnificence of the structure left me spellbound and delighted my architectural senses.
Fig 5: The intricate stone jali patterns which are seen repeated in various buildings in the vicinity

The presence of such an architectural marvel must have played an important role in the development of this street which forms the heart of the city and the area around it which sprang up as the main market.

Eyes on Street….

The building and its vicinity not only displays the architectural heritage of the region, being first of its kind, but also an example of a public space where  women, children and families can move about safely be it daylight or midnight. While, today there is an increasing concern about safety in public spaces specifically in streets and squares, this historical avenue serves as an apt example of a street which induces the feeling of safety through the concept of ‘eyes on street’. In 1961, urban sociologist Jane Jacobs in her book titled “ The Death and Life of Great American Cities “ had developed this theory of ‘ eyes on street’ which advocated that people feel safe and secure in public spaces which have ongoing activities in contrast to those which are abandoned or neglected especially at night hours. This street remains busy with one activity following the other which ensures the informal control and surveillance unlike a deserted city street.

The informal presence of hawkers and vendors at all hours contributes to an atmosphere of safety. Manek chowk street has the characteristics of a thriving urban centre while preserving its historical charm. This adds  to its attractiveness, glamour, accessibility as well as safety.

  • All Phototgraphs & Illustrations – Author

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