Designing to make a difference -Nupur Prothi Khanna

“Designing to make a difference” is the key dictum to every design approach that Nupur Prothi Khanna develops. More often than not, landscape architecture is viewed as an add-on, or an adornment to built spaces. Its significance is undermined by the fact that it is invariably the last thing to arrive at site. Ironically though, Nupur states that it also makes the first impression!

Nupur’s education in Physical Planning, Landscape Architecture and Heritage conservation has brought with it the realization that an important precursor to design is adequate research on the subject.  This is coupled with the reality that, unlike discussion forums, the design discipline can make a real difference on ground and wield the power to change the face of urbanism. With this perspective, Urbanist Nupur Prothi Khanna set up a design firm Beyond Built Pvt. Ltd. She believes in a holistic approach to “making a difference to our urban realm”.

Beyond Built strives to work in myriad geographical environments.In 2010, post their project management experience for the DIAL Terminal 3 landscape, Nupur along with her team at Beyond Built felt that a designer’s engagement on a project should extend beyond paper to hardcore site engagement. Further, involved mainly with cultural and infrastructure projects, Nupur realized that one needs to engage with commercial space design to address evolving recreational needs in cities. As a landscape architect, Nupur wonders how one can leverage on the financial success of this trend to create open spaces that are contextual, socially meaningful and inclusive.Based on this thinking their project Elante, a multi-use development in Chandigarh evolved.

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The vision of Elante seamlessly integrated a retail Mall experience with a ‘cultural beat’, creating a common civic space inside a shopping Mall that hoped to encourage meaningful social dialogue. Elante was a play of contrasts. While its architecture aimed at grandness, the landscape aspired for a human scale, envisioning a space ‘for the people’.

The availability of a large central court in the heart of the complex allowed creation of multiple spaces of varying scales for public and not so public interactions, while also offering the possibility for large cultural fiestas. The courts were located and named as per their possible uses. For instance, People’s Plaza was the performance space and Pebble Court was the space for children’s activities located in the shade of the adjacent hotel.

It was a unique experience where they were not only the Landscape Architects for Larsen and Toubro but were also, for the first time, allowed to collaborate with their contracting arm, ECC for micro supervision on site with their team members, Vandana Babbar, Krishan Kumar and Mansi Saxena playing a pivotal role. Elante and its outdoor spaces thereby carved their place in the contemporary culture of Chandigarh city.
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Nupur believes, awareness towards “design and its cultural ethos needs to start young”. This has led Nupur, with her colleague Malvika Bajaj Saini to initiate Culture Connect, a series of workshops through Beyond Built Trust in an effort to nurture awareness and passion for culture and context among young people to ensure a meaningful tomorrow.

Their philosophy and aspirations can best be put in these endearing words of the Mahatma, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world”.