Urban structures, including sculptures and fountains, are built aiming to enhance the beauty of the capital city often fail to live up to the promise of creating a positive environment, even create incoherence and sometimes even become eye sores for inappropriate choice of structure and the lack of proper maintenance by the authorities.
Different government and autonomous bodies, including Dhaka South and Dhaka North City Corporations and Universities had initiated structures at different intersections and important locations over the years and they gave rise to aesthetic concerns in the urban spaces.
Officials of both the city corporations in Dhaka said that they leased out the spots to different people and organisations for beautification, allowing them to place advertisements as sponsors of the built structure and re-arranged the environment to ensure beautification of the city, but the agencies, mostly consisting of banks, that are involved in such work hardly take care of these spaces.
Residents said that they always saw advertisement but hardly enjoyed the beauty of the structures as most of the fountains were kept shut and the sculptures were in need of proper maintenance.
Dhaka South City Corporation chief revenue officer Md Yusuf Ali Sarder said that they were again initiated to renovate the structures ahead of the Mujib Year celebration, marking the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
He said that already they leased out some locations to banks and some to individuals, including sculptor Mrinal Haque.
But the architects, urban planners and artists however said that even the existing structures and artworks could hardly contribute to the beautification of this crammed city, where sufficient open spaces and greenery is a crying need.
They also criticised the authority for setting up most of the artless, irrelevant and unplanned structures without any proper plan for the beautification of the city.
‘Many structures that were set up in the name of city beautification, only make city look ugly,’ said the country’s preeminent sculptor Hamiduzzaman Khan.
The 75 year-old sculptor, who made a number of award-winning sculptures at home and abroad, said that the government should not pick any sculpture without having a proper justification for its creation. The process should involve an expert panel of artists, structural engineers and landscape architects, he added.
He said that in public spaces, sculptures should be aesthetically fitting, structurally sound and attendant to its site-specific nature, since they need to be proportionate and in perfect synchrony with the landscape.
‘As these are permanent structures, they need to be made of using long-lasting materials,’ he said and hastened to add that it cannot be built by a single person. It should involve a group of people, experts who would give their valuable inputs to the artist to ensure space-specificity of the work.
Architect Ehsan Khan suggested that the priority should be keeping the city clean and creating open spaces.
He suspected there was huge corruption lurking behind the ‘so-called’ beautification projects and there has been no pragmatic rules and concepts behind such sporadic attempts at re-designing space.
He also criticised the authority to fail to maintain the quality of the beautification work and the poor maintenance of the existing structures. So, before even the question beauty is dwelt on, we must ensure that in the name of enhancing the beauty of the city, structures are not inserted into the most unlikely places of the city.
Ehsan Khan said that in a city replete with such unplanned structures, they only enhance visual pollution for most.
His suggestion was that the authority should not build any structure at busy and congested intersections of the city. ‘There is no need to make the city clumsy by setting up structures haphazardly in the name of beautification,’ he argued.
During a recent visit at Kakrail, two sculptural insulations were seen lying in an abandoned condition.
One of them ‘Equity’ was built by Mrinal Haque on Kakrail square and it looked as if it remained uncared for over the years in a place where it could hardly attract public attention.
Digital posters and long grasses covered most of the portion of the discoloured structure.
Some 50 feet away from the structure, another public space called ‘Proshanti Chhattar’ lies in a dilapidated condition for lack of maintenance.
Colourful lights meant to illuminate the structure have crumbled, fallen down, fencing around the structure broken down and dead leaf covers the beauty of the structure.
The calligrapher of the structure Mizanur Rahman said that he wished to effect mental peace in the visitors when he designed the space, but now the structure could only inflict pain.
‘The structure is now giving me pain instead of peace,’ he said, venting his discontentment.
There are a number of structures, including the clocks at Matsho Bhaban and Gulistan that remained unattended by the authority, he pointed out.
Mizan said that he had built them at his own cost to beautify the city.
At Shapla Square, which is at the heart of Motijheel, the huge a shapla, or water lily, the national flower of Bangladesh, also lies in neglect. Such a prominent fountain of the city has simply fallen out favour of the authority since no renovation or refurbishment has been planned to mark the beginning of the Mujib Year.
Other structures, including those having historical importance, also gathering moss and plasters also peeled due to absence maintenance.
As for Motijheel’s most recognisable structure, the shapla has gathered dust and the famous flower now seems discoloured as at many spots it is in need of restoration.
Local people said that save for important national days they hardly saw the fountain operational.
City corporation officials said that more than 100 such sites at different locations were considered for enhancing the city’s beauty.
Before the Cricket World Cup 2019, a huge number of human, animal and objects were set at different intersections and medians of the city to enhance the beauty.
The authority found itself at the receiving end of scathing criticism as the structures, including elephants and tigers, seemed disproportionate.
Art critics said that most of the sculptures set up in recent times have no artistic value which could not enhance the beauty of the city.
City corporation officials said that most of the structures were made by Mrinal Haque. When contacted, Mrinal Haque refused to make any comment and said that if he talked his fellow artist would react which would only leave him distraught.
Sculptors and architects urged the government to select outdoor sculptures with caution and they suggested that the process should involve a group of experts and works should only be selected after holding open competitions.
Vice-president of Bangladesh Institute of Planners and also joint-secretary of Bangladesh Society of Geo-informatics Fazle Reza Sumon said that city authority was taking beautification initiatives at pocket spaces without thinking about the visual and physical comfort of the inhabitants.
He said that in the name of beautification what the city corporations were doing in Dhaka only occasioned commuters’ plights.
‘We may set up decent motifs to represent our pride and history by maintaining geometrical proportion,’ he said.
He implored the authority not to set up any barrier for the commuters at the intersections but, instead, develop them as sharing spaces for the citizens.
Sharing space are those that lie at the intersection and are used for all to go to their desired destinations. For example, the Doyel Chattar next to Bangla Academy serves as an intersection and is a sharing space.
No structure should be allowed at any sharing space where people wait for the signal to change. For example, Karwanbazar and Shahbag areas, where there several islands for commuters, are not efficient enough as they do not facilitate people who may need to pause to determine their next move.
Dhaka North City Corporation superintendent engineer and also chief town planner Tariq Bin Yousuf said that recently waste management department of the corporation handed over the beautification charge to his Environment, Climate and Disaster Management Circle.
‘We are planning for renovation and are all set to develop new structures at possible locations,’ he said.
Though there are new structures in the pipeline, the structures those attracted people’s attention in the city also remained in poor condition across the city.
A number of magnificent sculptures including, Aparajeyo Bangla, Raju Bhashkorjo and Soparjito Swadhinota at Dhaka University campus are symbol of many glorious historic events of the nation, they too are losing grandeur due to lack of proper maintenance.
The sculptures of famous sculptors of the country, most of these artworks are gathering moss and their plasters are falling as the authorities are not taking initiatives for their repair and cleaning.
During a visit to the Doyel Chattar, a structure that represent the national bird, was found covered by several posters of recently-published books on the occasion of Ekushe Book fair.
Homeless men have occupied the space and as their presence was represented by a number of dresses that hung for drying.
The main sculptural structures, representing two doyels, were seen discoloured as they had not been painted for a long time and the fountain was not running. Locals said that the fountain did not run for many months.
DSCC officials said that Doyel Chattar was leased out to Uttara Bank but the private bank was not maintaining the structures properly. While asked about the reason why it is so, they said that no punitive actions were taken against the bank as yet although the city corporation could easily cancel the lease.
Yusuf said that they would ensure operation and maintenance of the structure after the final renovation which was scheduled to begin soon.
He said that a new structure was being prepared for Ziro Point as the private bank Dutch Bangla Bank took out a lease on the site.
Urban spaces, since the beginning of the city-centric civilization, were embellished with sculptures and murals which aimed to invigorate the spaces and energise the inhabitants, Dhaka, unfortunately, has given rise to art pieces and structures that simply need to be reconsidered in the light of making it habitable and visually pleasing.
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