Vidhan Bhavan, Bhopal (Charles Correa Now)
6CR7+49Q, Arera Hills, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh 462011, India

Built after the government decided to stop using Mino Hall, the old parliament, Vidhan Bhawan, is the new state assembly building for the government of Madhya Pradesh (M.P.). It is a vast building situated on a hilltop of the city. Widely acclaimed by critics of architecture, it received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1998. Still, since its construction, the building has adapted to changing times and political powers.


In an interview, Nondita Correa Mehrotra, an architect and scholar affiliated with the Rhode Island School of Design in the United States, recounted that the authorities had to appoint three different contractors one after the other during the construction because of the slow pace of work and disputes over various issues. As a result, the completion of the project took more than a decade. She told me that Charles Correa intended for the building to be constructed using foam-finished concrete but that this was beyond the capabilities of the contractors. In fact, the project has been the subject of a legal battle between the first contractor hired and the State of Madhya Pradesh.


During my visit to the site in February 2021, the maintenance engineer, Mr. Narinder Singh, indicated he was still in the process of preparing documentation for the case. Mahesh Buch, former secretary of the state government, said, "This project would have been completed a long time ago if not for disputes with the former contractor. My assignment was to complete it as soon as possible. As the chairman of the empowered committee, I had full authority to avoid the bureaucracy. Charles has done a great job not only in his design but also in supporting Madhya Pradesh artists, exhibiting their work in this building."


Correa meant for the building to be a foam finished concrete structure, but that was not possible because of issues with the contractors. Indeed, there are unsettled legal issues, especially with the first contractor. While I was talking with Mr. Narinder Singh, a maintenance engineer who has been in his position since groundbreaking on the project, he received a call regarding the preparation of documents relating to the court case.


While I was photographing the external elevation of the building, the speaker of the House was giving an interview to a news channel in which he talked about ‘Vastu dosh’ in the building. It is rumored that many parliamentarians die an unnatural death as soon as they are elected to parliament and begin working in the building. People who hold this belief believe that the design was not done following Vastu Shastra, a traditional Indian system of architecture originating in India which lays out principles of design, layout, measurements, ground preparation, space arrangement, and spatial geometry. The speaker was saying that he will make efforts to curb the faults in Vastu while keeping the budget low. That's the reason they have closed the reflecting pool at the public entrance. Provisions for still water for aesthetics have been filled with earth in which flowers have been planted. The main entrance gate has also been changed. “Now they've changed it and the Vidhan Sabha board is now placed on another entrance. But everyone says that it's a Vastu dosh(problem)“ one of the workers indicated to me. “Now they are planning to change the location of (the) toilets to eliminate the problem,” he said.


Not everyone feels the same about Vastu. Narendra Singh told me during the interview that as soon as he took on the project, Correa began thinking about Vastu. The building was designed in 1984 when using Vastu in modern buildings was not very common. He said “It (Vastu) prescribes that light should be in the North-East direction, so he (Correa) created a terrace garden there. Openings in South West should be avoided, so there he gave heavy footings below the auditorium- as big as a bus. This demonstrates that he had a good understanding of Vastu, even then.


Because the government dropped plans to create a bicameral parliament after constructing the building, Vidhan Parishad was never used for the intended purposes. As Narinder Singh explained, "Chhattisgarh (which is another state now) was also part of M.P. when Correa was given the design brief. That's why the parliament had many seats. Hence, there was a proposal for including Vidhan Parishad as well. That's why this hall was built in advance. When it was made, it had 350 seats, but then 90 seats were removed. Now it has a capacity of 250 in which 230 members sit."


In some areas, locally-sourced red stone, reflective of the building traditions of Madhya Pradesh, was meant to be used, but it has been replaced with finished granite was used, most notably in the administrative courtyard. This was done because of high maintenance. Tea is almost synonymous with administration and bureaucracy in India, and I was informed by someone in the building that it was often spilled on the rough and absorbent sandstone leaving behind marks that were hard to remove.


Many of the people I spoke with, including security guards, parliament marshals, and the engineer Mr. Narinder Singh, still remember their interactions with Charles Correa during construction. These had an enduring impact on everyone. For instance, the story of the decision on the colour of the building is well known among the workers in the Vidhan Parishad. As Mr. Singh explains, "Someone asked Correa Sahab what colour the building should be. A khaki envelope was lying in front of him, so he picked it up, tore off a piece, and said, this is the colour we want. So the building was painted in that precise colour". A policeman who gave me a detailed tour of the building told me the same story from another viewpoint. "the dilemma was that if using blue, could be perceived as representing a certain community, whereas a different colour might be perceived as representing another. So Correa Sahab just tore a khaki-coloured envelope and said, do this colour of paint. Now that colour is changing (from the front elevation), it's getting darker; we don't even get the original colour anymore."


Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. One of the security policemen said that the building exhibits pleasing architectural aesthetics but that the design poses security challenges. Another policeman told me that he regards the four giant pillars supporting the central hall as a metaphor for the four pillars of democracy: the Legislature, Judiciary, Executive, and media.


There is another interesting anecdote that some people recalled during my visit to the building. When Charles was visiting the building during the construction, Someone asked him why he saw the site less frequently? He said, "I've entered this building 1500 times and exited it 2000 times….using computer software."


-Nipun Parahakar, 2021


Notes:

  1. indiankanoon.org. "Puri Construction Pvt. Ltd. vs State of ... - Indiankanoon.org." indiankanoon.org. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/44961/.
  2. Architexturez. "Vidhan Bhavan." Aζ South Asia. Bhopal, March 22, 2021. https://architexturez.net/doc/az-cf-123728.
Location
6CR7+49Q, Arera Hills, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh 462011, India
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1980-1987
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Vidhan Bhavan, Bhopal (Charles Correa Now)
मध्य प्रदेश विधान सभा सचिवालय
Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly Secretariat
Vidhan Bhawan Bhopal
Vidhan Sabha Bhopal
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parliamentary building
government
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