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Monday, 10 September 2012

Metro rail asks experts to come up with ideas to beautify its upcoming stations

Sandhya Soman, TNN | Sep 8, 2012, 06.54AM IST

CHENNAI: Fancy looking at a mural while waiting for your train? If Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) firms up its station beautification plans soon, then there might be some bright artwork gracing its stations. 

CMRL recently invited artists or organisations with expertise in local culture and heritage to contact them with ideas to beautify metro stations and structures. NGOs, public sector and government bodies could also apply to "voluntarily adopt metro stations for beautification and advertisement of their cause". 

"We want people to feel a sense of ownership," says a senior official. It will help if there is artwork that recreates the feel of local culture. The idea is to pep up both the lines -- Washermenpet-Airport and Chennai Central-St Thomas Mount -- covering both the underground and elevated sections. 

It will select only technically feasible suggestions. The ideas have to fit the budget, with each station costing around Rs 20 crore. "The responses we have got are not encouraging. We are awaiting more feasible proposals," says the official. Since the basic station design is already in place, the suggestions have to fit in and be finalised before the detailed plan is drawn up. 

According to architects and conservation experts, the initiative is limited as it doesn't provide an opportunity to integrate local architecture or heritage with the designs. "They could have involved architects from the beginning to have better designs within the budget," says V Sriram, historian and convenor of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), Chennai chapter. 

World over, planners try to retain the local flavour while designing metro , tram and other public transport facilities, says Xavier Allard, design and styling director of Alstom, the French company which is designing the trains for CMRL. Allard and his team recently worked with artists to incorporate the design aspects of Rabat in Morocco while coming up with a tramway for the city. 

"They wanted a modern tramway that represented the idea of Rabat," says Allard. The design team collaborated with three local artists and recreated the traditional patterns on seats and ceilings of trains. "The response has been great as both locals and tourists like them," he says. 

What is more remarkable to urban transport enthusiasts like Michael Rohde, a Hamburg-based designer who runs a website ( showcasing metro stations, is the collaboration between planners and archeologists . Many cities have strict preservation laws, especially those with a rich history, like Athens or Rome. In Athens, the construction of a subway line in 2004 turned out to be an archaeological milestone, he says. In Cologne, archaeology determines the pace of subway construction, which has revealed a plethora of finds from Roman history. 

Some cities display archaeological findings discovered during construction at the stations. "The Moscow Metro's underground station is nothing less than a museum," says Rohde. Close cooperation could minimise delays when you stumble across archaeological sites or objects. "In London, the Jubilee Line extension project was done along with the London Museum. It prevented unplanned delays and led to valuable discoveries," he says. 

However, there is not much dialogue when big infrastructure projects are executed in India, leading to delays as seen in the case of the 'heritage' corridor work of the Delhi Metro. "There will be exchange of ideas only if authorities realise that heritage conservation doesn't hamper development," says A G K Menon, Intach-Delhi convenor. 

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