The JDH Urban Regeneration project, reviving and renewing the old walled city of Jodhpur, the historical two-kilometre long precinct around the historic Mehrangarh Fort, has gotten the design and luxury community excited since 2014. The tourist hotspot has already gotten contemporary desi brands such as Nicobar, Good Earth, and very recently, Forest Essentials India,
and is gearing up for a few more until its scheduled completion in 2022. But this one is unlike any other heritage or shopping destination. The blue walled city on the eastern edge of the Great Thar desert, Rajasthan, was built by Rajput chief Rao Jodha way back in 1459. It is where Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas got married and is frequented by artists Anish Kapoor and Dayanita Singh. Jodhpur also hosts some of the most extravagant royal parties, events and cultural festivals. How does one then rethink and remake the city, which exudes as much grandeur as heritage and still appeals to contemporary, luxury buyers? Architect Akshat Bhatt, 40, Founder of Delhi-based multidisciplinary design practice Architecture Discipline, also involved in designing a few buildings of the project, including the Forest Essentials India store, tells us about his experience working on the project.
What is the vision of the JDH Urban Regeneration project? The project intends to restore the old walled city of Jodhpur to its former glory, breathing new life into its invaluable landmarks and generating livelihoods. Though such a transformation can only be driven by local expertise, it will gain immeasurably from the injection of new ideas, infrastructure and influences from all over the world. The project aims to identify the key pathological elements and use them as catalysts for the regeneration process. The idea is to present the historical context of the city
to the world, instilling a sense of pride in the Jodhpur community. The project is privately funded by Blue City Hospitality and Motherland Joint Ventures along with other stakeholders.
What is the scope of the project?
The project’s area of intervention extends from the walled city’s old grain market and goes right up to the Mehrangarh Fort – identifying critical nodes along the pedestrian route and then restoring, rehabilitating, and assigning functions to them to represent a contemporary India; and using these revitalised nodes to regenerate the city and its public realm. Right now, we’re working on a total of 21 properties in the area.
What is Architecture Discipline’s design philosophy and how are you incorporating it in the Jodhpur Regeneration Project? Technique and value engineering while engaging with regional expression is what sets us apart. Our buildings are well put together and hard to photograph and that’s what I take pride in. I think the experience of our project is much greater than what the photographed document reveals. I also feel that we bring tremendous value in terms of cost to our projects; they are thoughtfully engineered and energy-efficient. They also respond to their physical, historical and social contexts, which I believe is good hygiene in architecture.
Please describe your projects under the regeneration plan? Forest Essentials: Advancing towards the Stepwell Square in the old city of Jodhpur, one comes across the most prominent building of the JDH Urban Regeneration Project: a residential building dating back to 1960. It was refurbished and adapted to house retail operations for Forest Essentials India, a cosmetics brand that bases its products on the ancient Indian beauty rituals of Ayurveda. The design scheme, in response, is replete with traditional and regional elements — (a) the blue and gold colour palette, a homage to the city itself; (b) traditional multi-foil arches, strategically resized to achieve balance; (c) hand-cut linoleum flooring, an adaptation of local mosaic patterns; (d) the use of vernacular gold-plating techniques for window signage; and (e) a scaled model of the stepwell and the public square. The retail outlet also represents Art Deco in a contemporary chic avatar by exaggerating colour schemes and proportions. The interiors are in pastel green, the colour of the brand’s festive catalogue. These elements aim to establish an interface between the visitors and the brand, subtly introducing them to the architectural and cultural heritage of Jodhpur.
Toorji Ka Jhalra: The first project of this initiative was the revitalisation of Toorji Ka Jhalra, a decaying stepwell in the heart of the city, and the urban space surrounding it, into a retail and cultural hotspot housing some of India’s finest brands. The stepwell, dating back to the ninth century, was filled to the brim with toxic water owing to years of waste dumped in it. Our team, in collaboration with the district collector, the Nagar Nigam, volunteers and local youth cleaned it and unveiled the architectural wonder buried underneath. The Stepwell Café: Perched precariously on the top edge of the stepwell, the café opens to the depths of Toorji Ka Jhalra on one side and the heights of Mehrangarh Fort on the other.
What other projects are you working on?
We’re busy working on establishing a community of young designers. In Kolkata, the refurbishment of the Oberoi Grand, Kolkata, one of the oldest buildings in the country and a grade-one structure, is keeping us busy. We are simultaneously designing multi-dwelling, a residential project in the heart of Delhi.