Delhi is simultaneously a young city and an old one. The history of Delhi does not need recounting here: the heritage is hard to miss even on a casual drive through the city. Yet, Delhi/ NCR in becoming one of the largest Urban sprawl on the planet has sprouted a building culture that swallows up all context and spits out a bewilderingly melange of messy architectural idioms. From the “wanna-be“ pastry architecture of upscale residences piped with Doric columns, to the stern Nehruvian architecture of the aptly named Nehru Place, Delhi struggles to find a style that it can truly own.
Yet, for a country that is on the cusp of a transition, a tabula rasa in Urban aesthetics might just be the way to go. Delhi’s Aero City district has provided a clean slate for a new form of Urban development, the basic premises of which does not find any predecessor in the city. A commercial development mated with a hospitality hub, common in international developments, finally finds expression in the Indian Capital. What makes this development so unique in the Indian context is that fact that this entire development is completely dissociated from residential neighborhoods. Although a short hop away from the south Delhi neighborhoods of Vasant Kunj & Vasant Vihar, Aero city stands in splendid isolation, bounded by the International airport on one side and pulsating artery of NH 48 on the other, giving the impression of a modern, but somewhat sterile development.
The recent development of an urban street, situated between Bharti realty’s 2 & 3 buildings, leading up to the WorldMark 1 is an effort to bring footfalls to the district. Disneyesque in its execution with make-believe, stylized street with a clutch of fancy restaurants, retail outlets, cobblestoned walkways that attract the well-heeled, the street does set up an aspirational standard that other cities in India will sooner than later seek to replicate. There will be sanctimonious posturing by some, on how alienating this architecture is, but the Aerocity does add another facet to the experience of Delhi and shows a new direction in which the city will inevitably develop. The purists need shed no tears: the chaotic streets of Paharganj and Chandni Chowk remain for those who wish to experience Purani Dilli as it always was. For the others, unburdened with nostalgia, the seductive promise of the very international experience of Aerocity represents a new aspirational India that the nextgen is not apologetic about.
There is a little structure, seen in the photo above, that exemplifies the conundrum that Aerocity represents: a bench along the pedestrian spine that looks like it could be a bus stop at a location where no DTC bus will ever arrive. Lit up from below to make its wooden trellis structure glow warm at night, the “bus stop” (as I call it), is utterly pointless where it stands, yet is unexpectedly inspirational in how a humble bench can acquire such an alluring form. In the context of the urban development challenges that India faces, Aerocity is an insignificant and possibly irrelevant blip on a blighted landscape. Yet, if we looked at it a little kindly, it is a beautiful expression of how design need not always be contextual: sometimes beauty can exist for its own sake.