A Call for Inclusive City Design

The formation of the Kolkata Architecture Foundation has been a manifestation of the urgent need for a binding body, which not only raises awareness of the deteriorating architectural landscape of the city, but also creates a platform for the end-user to participate in the design/planning phase, and thus become an integral part of the city’s development. This democratic design process is intended to eventually encourage the city towards a more resilient and inclusive future. Participatory design has been a successful model of growth in many cities across the world for a decade. It has been found to engender a sense of civic pride amongst the citizens, which is starkly missing in our cities, leading to rampant misuse of public infrastructure and disregard for its well being.


Launched in September 2017, the Kolkata Architecture Foundation (also KAF) is envisaged as ‘One’ multidisciplinary binding body for the built environment – a citizens’ collective with an intent towards architectural and urban development of Kolkata. Founded by architect Abin Chaudhuri, it has become a forefront for architectural activism in the city and spearheaded collectively by several entrepreneurs, conservationists, architects, city planners, artists and noted academicians. Till date, the organization has hosted several activities and intervention programmes, following through with its agenda of giving back to the community and the city. 


At the moment, there are several governing bodies for architects, planners, artists, statisticians, even individual and localized groups for community intervention, but no platform for the stakeholders and beneficiaries to interact with the planners, designers and policy-makers – a gap that has been rapidly widening with the commercialization of architecture and increasing client-based design. With the immense demand and release of public projects by the government, the involvement of public has become a question raised by many. The KAF has been generating opportunities to create interactive platforms for the designers, stakeholders and beneficiaries to collaborate for a better physical environment. By raising awareness of the architects’ role in the society, it calls for an optimization of resources, capital, labour, while preserving the aesthetics and functionality of the project/ urbanscape.


The mission for KAF is addressed through a series of activities – “engagement” or raising awareness through workshops, social media and public participation events; “encouragement” or discussions, through routine discourses, identifying issues and sharing best practice norms, open sourcing of this knowledge and scholarship programmes; “enquiry” or research, involving various organizations, institutes and independent work; and “intervention” which involves implementation of the learning through public participation, review and documentation. As a young organization experimenting in the difficult task of city redevelopment, the stark reality of limitations holds back its efforts. At the moment, due to its completely voluntary nature, the participation of all user groups needs to be preceded by ground work from the younger generation of enthusiastic architects and citizen volunteers. Awareness of architecture, capital required for independent intervention efforts and apathy of large masses of society towards their built environment are some of the few bumps on the road to development. Lack of availability of public data is one of the key issues faced by KAF and other independent initiatives. 


As the encouragement of the citizens grow, so does the spirit of KAF.

kolkata land use map, source: NATMO