Urban Rejuvenation through Techno Art Intervention: A Case of Kolkata

AbstractThe images of urban spaces, at present, are manifesting dystopic imageries that are obstructing for the functioning of the public realm. Habitable space of a city should be shaped according to human purposes and to satisfy their needs. In defining urban space design, urban nodes acted as nuclei to provide access and opportunity to the people. Nodes generate out of physical traits, activities and are supported by physical spatial design and public interaction. The scale of nodes varies from large urban squares to a small park, to a partially enclosed space in front of a building, to a sidewalk. Since the cores of the cities are generally highly congested and promoted multi-layered activities, Nodes can be presented strategically to get perceptual importance. Imageability of all these spaces is dependent on the quality attributed to the physical presentation of a space that induces high probability of evoking strong images in the mind of the observer. Thus, rejuvenation of these urban nodes can act as an intervening process to regenerate habitable breathing space amongst the dystopic condition of the city.

With analysis of the existing scenario of these nodes, the elements for techno-art intervention to alter the physical, tangible imageability of the nodes can possibly be identified. Thus, the paper explores the present rate of imageability of the nodes and what could be the possible art and design solutions based on the expert’s opinion to intervene for the betterment of the experience of the physical space.

Keywords – techno art intervention; space rejuvenation; imageability; space design; urban nodes

Tanima Bhattacharya
Indian Institute of Technology
Kharagpur, India
Dr.Ankhi Banerjee
Indian Institute of Technology
Kharagpur, India
Prof. Joy Sen
Indian Institute of Technology
Kharagpur, India



“As an artificial world, the city should be so in the best sense: made by art, shaped for human purposes” [1] Kevin Lynch The study of techno art based design implementation to alter the physical tangible traits of the urban nodes can be started with broad investigation of the different aspects and possibilities of techno art solutions. Assessment of the present situation of the urban nodes is intriguing once activity-based design alterations of urban spaces is taken into consideration. The different tools for activity based alteration of urban spaces as well as visual augmentation are street art, art installations, craftivism, gardening, graffiti, performance art, participatory events for children and community, socio-cultural events such as festivals, reclaim the streets, etc [2].

Advocating that urban design is “a temporal form of art” [3] (Lynch; 1960), assessing the legibility of spaces and their key components, potential for rejuvenation and mode of alteration, is focus of the paper. The visual quality of environment or imageability [4] serves a distinct purpose of assigning its character and locational attractiveness quotient. On one hand, imageability depend on the demographical, physical and design attributes of space, namely, landuse, type of built environment, patterns formed by roads and building blocks, and socio-economic characteristics, which is tangible. On the other, imageability is imprinted by the emotional attachment with particular spaces based on socio-cultural norms, traditions and individual experiences, which is intangible. An understanding of the tangible and intangible elements associated with imageability of space is necessary to bring about any change to achieve the goal of rejuvenation of urban space.

Impact of technological changes have caused paradigm shifts in human behaviour and as the world is shrinking due to „Globalization‟ the distance between humans is increasing, human interactions and humanity is gradually losing its shine. A major aspect of all great civilization has been facilitating human interaction in organized public spaces. Reclamation of the public realm has a social purpose and rejuvenation of urban spaces is a mean of ensuring increased human interaction. The paper attempts to frame a methodology for identifying element of design components to facilitate rejuvenation of existing urban space inclusive of hard and soft infrastructure.

The study objectives are,

  • Evaluation of the existing situation of urban areas based on imageability
  • Identification of elements/channels for rejuvenation of the urban areas

Alike the huge body of discourse on urban planning and design solutions are available and had explored earlier, experiment and implementation of techno art solution in solving the social infrastructural issues not received much exploration. A substantial body of popular discourses on the various individual phenomena related to histories and surveys from respected art and design publishers (especially on street art, e.g., Chalfant and Prigoff 1987; Ganz 2004; Manco 2004; but also of interventionist art more generally, that acclaims critical appreciation from contemporary and successive pedagogues, such as Lacy 1995; Seno 2010); radical, individualistic or independent accounts of particular interventionist actions (e.g., Bloom and Bromberg 2004; Wilson and Weinberg 1999); “manifestos” and other publications by interventionists themselves as can be seen in different art movements (e.g., Fairey 1990; Moore and Prain 2009; Reynolds 2004); Urban Design and planning (A. H. Whittemore); Ecological urbanism etc. have been documented

In academics related to social science, there are relatively few focused studies on imageability alteration of urban spaces by altering art and design approach. Among the existed part of literature, the basic field of practices are dealing with urban design studies, urban regeneration process and pattern. There was a very little body of work to showcase the connection between art, design, community activities and participation [6], that would further address the question of appearance and imageability of a particular space. The perspective of using art and design as an indispensable part of traditional urban planning considers a variety of practices with its grounding. It used as a process essentially to accommodate the exponentially growing urban sprawl, and frequently seems to imply that these acts have little deeper significance beyond serving as an indicator of liveability of the spaces.

Imageability is the “quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer” [7]. Physical structural visibility of a space or of an object provokes behavioural approach amongst the stakeholders. The study of imageability is expressly interested in “the need for identity and structure in our perceptual world, and to illustrate the special relevance of this quality to the particular case of the complex, shifting urban environment” [8]. The researcher believes a human being can create their environment‟s image by operation on the external physical shape as well as internally.

Likewise, urban nodes can be designed specifically to enhance public interaction and activity. For example, paths, which generally structure the city, can be designed with/for visual hierarchies, clarity of direction, differentiated, kinesthetic, etc. We can make an imageable landscape is that is “visible, coherent, and clear” (Lynch, 91). The nodes can act as a point of public speculation, therefore the city should be so in the best sense: “made by art, shaped for human purposes” (Lynch, 95).

“A highly developed art of urban design is linked to the creation of a critical and attentive audience. If art and audience grow together, then our cities will be a source of daily enjoyment to millions of their inhabitants” (Lynch; 120)


The study aims to analyse existing urban spaces based on its imageability and the potential for rejuvenation through techno- art intervention. Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) is the core of the Kolkata Urban Agglomeration – one of the most populous metropolitan area in the world. KMC is chosen as a case study for putting forward a methodogical framework for rejuvenation of urban space based on imageability. Six locations have been identified in the KMC in this study for ease of analysis.

This section provides a brief description of Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) along with identification of six spots within the KMC for detailed analysis. A questionnaire survey was conducted among 15 experts for recording their opinion about the six identified locations based on physical attributes, emotional attributes and potential for intervention on a Likert scale. Analysis of obtained data provides evaluation of existing locational attractiveness and identification of elements for rejuvenation and potential means of intervention.

Kolkata Municipal Corporation represents the core city of Kolkata, the largest city in Eastern India. KMC consists of 141 wards, covers an area of 185 sq. Km., with 4.48 million population (approximately) and population density of 24000 persons / sq. Km. The six locations as identified for the study are well known activity centres and majority of the urban dwellers have visited these locations and are well informed about them to offer opinions. Fig. 1 shows the identified locations within KMC.

Figure1. Locational map of KMC with six identified urban spots

Figure1. Locational map of KMC with six identified urban spots


A. Identification of the Urban Nodes

Based on the landuse, population density, activity concentration of majority of the stakeholders, different types of urban nodes can be identified, namely, commercial zones, manufacturing zones, administrative areas, industrial areas, business districts, ecologically sensitive areas, religious areas, recreational areas, transit oriented urban nodes etc. Different types of urban spaces exemplify different set of challenges regarding its imageability. In this paper, to best explore the possibility of urban space/nodes rejuvenation six urban areas have been selected based on their landuse and activity pattern to address the study objectives and propose solutions catering to varied way of space utilisation.

Figure 2. Detailed locational map of Kalighat area

Figure 2. Detailed locational map of Kalighat area

The identified areas are Kalighat (traditional religion- centric nodes), Deshapriya Park (majorly residential and transit area), Rabindra Sarovar (Ecologically sensitive green open land and water body), Rabindra sadan (major cultural centre), Esplanade (Economy driven urban node), College Street (Intellectual hub of Kolkata).

Figure 3. Detailed locational map of Rabindra Sarovar area

Figure 3. Detailed locational map of Rabindra Sarovar area

After  analysing  the existing imageability of these spaces, the potentiality of alteration by implementing technical art and design has been calculated. Fig 2 to fig. 7 presents a detailed location map of the identified locations while Table 1 provides a brief description about them.


Location Description Major landuse Major activity patterns
Kalighat Kalighat     area     is

famous for The Kali temple complex situated      on      the

eastern     bank     of

previous  flow  path of  river  Ganga, which is sacred for Hindus.   The spiritual precinct might have a connection with the name of the city Kolkata.




It is a busy hub of

religious activity throughout  the year.

It  is also a  major

hub    of    creative craftsmanship, particularly   „Pata painting‟.

Deshapriya Park An  important  open

space     beside     an arterial      road      – Rashbehari  Avenue, well-known         for community interaction          and participation.



The green area set

amidst low-rise (4-

6               storied buildings)

buildings having mixed              use-


activity offers a must needed breathing space.

Rabindra Sarovar Planned           green

space,  developed  in

1920. Area includes a huge water body, rowing  clubs,  park,

and playground.



People utilize the

place throughout the year for different activities.

Rabindra Sadan The    area    houses

auditoriums, exhibition       space, movie           screens among other centres.

Recreational Major hub for Art

and culture.

Esplanade Esplanade is one of

the  prime commercial zones of Kolkata  as  well  as

an              important

transportation node.



Receive      highest

footfall     amongst all the commercial economy      based

zones in Kolkata

College Street Recognized    centre

of intellectual activity. Houses many          colleges,

schools    over    100

years old.


Commercial, Health

The  place  acts  as

the        hub        of Education. Presence    of    the

largest            book

market in Kolkata.

Experts were asked to given their opinion regarding – physical attributes, emotional attributes and potential for interventions for each location on a five point Likert scale where, one represents lowest score and five represents highest score. The factors comprising physical attributes are – availability of community space, water body, green open space, public utilities such as drinking water facility, toilet facilities, seating area, sidewalk, dust bins and signage.

Figure 4. Detailed locational map of Deshapriya Park area

Figure 4. Detailed locational map of Deshapriya Park area


Figure 5. Detailed locational map of Esplanade area

Figure 5. Detailed locational map of Esplanade area


Figure 6. Detailed locational map of College Street area

Figure 6. Detailed locational map of College Street area


Figure 7. Detailed locational map of Rabindra Sadan area

Figure 7. Detailed locational map of Rabindra Sadan area


Impact of historical precincts, local culture/tradition on ambience, and visual appeal, together forms the emotional attribute of the locations. Potential for intervention is judged through four channels – public space design (involving redesign/redevelopment of built and open spaces); public utilities (provision of drinking water facility, toilet facilities, seating area, sidewalk, dust bins and signage etc.); installation art (including wall art, surface painting, sculpture, topiary, exhibitions etc.); art performances (music, dance, street theatre etc.).


The scores given by the experts have been averaged to arrive at final values representing existing level of physical and emotional attributes as well as potential for intervention. These final scores have been used for comparison among the six locations for identification of possible scale and type of intervention for rejuvenation of specific land uses. Since the scores has been ascribed in a five point Likert scale therefore a score higher than 3 is considered to be significant. Tables 2 and 3 compares the locations based on tangible and intangible elements linked with imageability, and Table 4 provides the potential and type of intervention among the six locations.


Location Availability of Impact of

-nity space

water body green

open space

public utilities heritage structure local culture
Kalighat 3.1 3.6 3.1 3.5 3.9 3.6
DeshapriyaPark 3.3 3.3 3.8 3.9 3 3.1
Rabindra Sarovar 3.3 4.3 4.1 3.8 3.6 3.9
Rabindra Sadan 3.5 3.7 3.9 3.9 3.6 3.8
Esplanade 3.1 2.6 3 3 3.8 2.9
College Street 3.5 3.4 3.1 3.4 4 3.8

Though the „Adi Ganga‟ flows beside the Kalighat Area, which has a high religious significance yet extremely polluted condition of the water renders it unsuitable as a location for relaxation. The river bank is not readily accessible neither is it conducive due to the acrid smell surrounding it. The temple precinct area has a pond for taking bath, before worship of the idol, which is also not readily accessible to the public. There is lack of community space and green open space in the area which has been validated by the obtained score. Overall Kalighat has moderate level of public utilities and is mostly used by people for its religious character emphasized by the scores obtained for impact of heritage structure and local culture. Deshapriya park has green open space and public utilities but not enough tree cover or designated space for community participation. It is a famous for „Durga Puja‟ a festival of four days held annually during which the space experiences average footfall of 5 lakhs per day which causes chaos for the entire central-southern part of the city. Rabindra Sarovar is a favorite haunt for urban residents of surrounding areas who love to spent their mornings in the vicinity of lush green vegetation and a beautiful water body. People from different corners of the city also visit this green space for interaction and relaxation. Rabindra Sadan is a major centre in the city‟s cultural landscape. It is well designed and well equipped with utilities. Esplanade is an important commercial centre and transportation node of the city and though it is placed next to the major green open space of Kolkata – „Maidan‟, access to organised green space with tree cover and water body is hindered and availability of public utilities is also moderate. College Street lacks public utilities and green open space. Blocking of sidewalk beside major arterial road, by informal book shops causes disruptions in traffic – both pedestrian and vehicular. The design of the built space does not allow visual circulation thus presence of water body is largely unnoticed and community space for interaction goes largely unutilized. Though teemed in heritage of Bengal renaissance and educational activity the area requires a facelift for better



Quality based on

space design emotional connection visual appeal average score
Kalighat 3.3 3.8 1.8 3
Deshapriya Park 3.6 3.1 2.7 3.1
Rabindra Sarovar 3.9 3.8 3.3 3.7
Rabindra 3.8 3.7 3.7 3.7
Esplanade 2.9 3.3 2.5 2.9
College Street 3.4 3.9 2.8 3.4

Rabindra Sarovar and Rabindra Sadan emerge as locations having best overall scores representing attractiveness to urban dwellers as proper interaction space. Visual appeal of the locations mirrors the general imageability, which places Kalighat as the least attractive place to visit, though the emotional connection to the space is high. Since none of the scores have gone beyond 4 it indicates the necessity for rejuvenation.

Average scores obtained for different modes of intervention across the six locations outlines no clear winner as there is no significant difference between scores 3.5, 3.6 and 3.7. The slight difference between scores for intervention through public utilities and other means is also not significant to be declared for the whole of Kolkata. However, scores for individual locations depicts better choice for intervention. Each location has different character and set of challenges, hence calls for specific intervention.


Location Intervention potentiality based on
space design public utilities installation art art performance
Kalighat 3.4 2.4 3.6 3.6
Deshapriya Park 3.5 3.2 3.5 3.3
Rabindra Sarovar 3.4 3.5 3.3 3.9
Rabindra Sadan 4.1 3.4 3.7 3.9
Esplanade 3.8 4.1 3.7 3.2
College Street 3.8 3.4 3.3 3.4
Average 3.7 3.3 3.5 3.6

Kalighat area can benefit most from techno-art interventions considering less spatial availability for physical design interventions. Rabindra Sarovar and Rabindra Sadan require art performances considering they are the most attractive locations as per Table 3. However, the scope of intervention through space design, installation art is also significant for Rabindra Sadan which has organised space for art performances. The obtained scores for Rabindra Sadan may be interpreted as calling for temporary structures that may be replaced to introduce more variety. Esplanade requires better physical design offering more accessible green open space and water body, public utilities as well as installation art. College street mainly requires intervention through space design. In all locations there are moderate to high scope of intervention through art installations, art performances as well as space design for creating more acceptable public spaces.

The six locations in Kolkata portray that in a developing nation context, urban spaces in

1. Locations having majorly commercial activity require better physical space design

2. Locations beside major transportation corridors require better public utilities

3. Locations having majorly residential –mixed residential landuse require installation art and art performances


Analysis of the given data set manifest lower scores representing imageability of the selected urban nodes than expected, hence, pinpoint higher potential for intervention by art and design solutions. Gradual degradation of the physical attributes as lack of community space, open spaces, water body, and public facilities have acted as a catalyst to lower the quality of stakeholders‟ experience. Thus possibility for art and design rejuvenation by implementing public design projects, art installations, and performance art has grown upto 4.1 in terms of space design and public utilities in Esplanade and Rabindra sadan area followed by College Street and Deshapriya park area. Thus, the analysis and calculation shows the extent of techno-art driven design solution aided to alter the imageability and physical experience of urban spaces.


This research is majorly based on the expert‟s opinion survey on the spatio-visual analysis of the Imageability of urban nodes. Urban experts and scholars from different universities have helped me with their views. Thus, for guiding me with their valuable opinions, I would like to thank the experts from IIT Kharagpur and Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata.

[1]     K. Lynch, The Image of the City. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1960.
[2]     G. C. C. Douglas,Do-It-Yourself Urban Design: The Social Practice of Informal “Improvement” Through Unauthorized Alteration. City & Community, March 2014 doi: 10.1111/cico.12029
[3]     K. Lynch. The Image of the City. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1960. [4]     Imageability, Retrieved from
[5]     J. Armstrong, The Contested Gallery: Street Art, Ethnography and the
Search for Urban Understandings, 2005.
[6]    American  Planning  Association,  The  role  of  the  arts  and  culture  in planning  practice;  205  N.  Michigan  Ave.,  Suite  1200,  Chicago,  IL
60601–5927, retrieved from www.planning.org
[7]     [1] Ibid; Page no.9
[8]    Ed. M. Larice, E. Macdonal, The Urban Design Reader, 2nd Edition, Routledge, May-2013



Written by

The author didnt add any Information to his profile yet