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2002 Award Winners
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Merit Award -- Analysis & Planning

Taj Mahal Cultural Heritage District Development Plan
Agra, India

Brian Orland, FASLA; Amita Sinha; Terry Harkness, FASLA; Vincent J. Bellafiore, FASLA

Vincent Bellafiore
University of Illinois
Dept. of Landscape Architecture
101 Temple Buell Hall; 611 E. Lorado Taft Drive
Champaign, IL 61820
Tel: 217-333-0176
Fax: 217-244-4568

Statement of Purpose: The project involves analysis, planning, and design of an area of the Yamuna riverfront in Agra that includes two-world heritage monuments- Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. The site suggested initially by the client {based upon an US National Park Service recommendation) was 340 acres of farmland across the river from the Taj Mahal. It was envisaged as Taj National Park to be used primarily for local recreational purposes and for tourists viewing the Taj.

The scope of the project expanded as a result of two intense site visits by the entrant team in 1999 and 2000. It is imperative that the park be located within the context of a larger designed landscape that weaved together a number of heritage sites protecting their view-sheds, and allowing public access to and along the river. The Taj Mahal Cultural Heritage District Development Plan, consequently, integrates the conservation of heritage sites with cultural resources in a productive landscape. The project aims to create private-public partnerships to develop and maintain the riverfront. It accommodates current patterns of landscape use, incorporates productive working landscapes, and is based upon cultural landscape prototypes.

The objectives are: physical and visual linkage of heritage monuments through a new riverfront circulation system--promenade for visitors to increase their visitation {beyond the Taj Mahal), restoration of the recently excavated Mahtab Bagh and designing gardens and parks on its either sides to increase viewing opportunities of the Taj, facilitating the 'reading' of the story of heritage sites and historical events through framed views, informational and directional signage, audio-visual displays of recreated historic architecture and gardens in visitor centers, and reduction of environmental pollution.

Community Context: The project advocates planning for urban and rural development by promoting local arts and crafts-carpet weaving, stone inlay work, and leather goods. It promotes environmental sanitation by providing public baths and toilets, community spaces in maidans {large public squares) and shaded courtyards around public institutions such as primary schools, health centers, and craft workshops. It suggests leasing the land back to the villagers for farming but retaining development rights and involving them in tourist economy.

Special Factors: The project is unique because it is involves redesigning the landscape for visitor access between and beyond the two world heritage monuments. Taj Mahal, India's best known building, is the supreme symbol of romantic love Cand aesthetic excellence. Equally significant is the legacy of Yamuna riverfront gardens, including the newly excavated, Mahtab Bagh. Three types of Mughal gardens-tomb {Taj, Itmad-ud-daulah's tomb, Chini ka Rauza), palace (Agra Fort), and pleasure {Ram Bagh, Mahtab Bagh)-are found at the site. These are all that remains of the forty-four Mughal gardens that lined the riverbank in the sixteenth century-a unique historic landscape whose complete restoration presents insurmountable problems. New kinds of land uses have emerged over time-the east bank a mix of rural and urban, while the west bank is totally urban. The proposed site of Taj National Park has three villages with 12,000 inhabitants. Living heritage sites, such as these, present complex problems in drawing up a landscape management plan -environmental pollution, traffic congestion and lack of accessibility, absence of water in the river, lack of public sanitation, difficulties in doing archaeological research in farmland and settlements making it impossible to reconstruct historic gardens.

Significance: Taj Mahal Cultural Heritage District project, because of its high profile, focuses the spotlight of attention on landscape architecture profession, especially on aspects of historic preservation of cultural landscapes, which is an increasingly significant activity. The project was planned based upon environmental analysis by Civil Engineering Department, University of Roorkee, horticultural studies by Center for Advanced Development Research, Lucknow, ethnographic study of the three villages in Taj National Park site by the Anthropology Department of University of Delhi, India. These studies and the Supreme Court of India directive in 1994 to plant a green belt around the Taj Mahal enabled the entrant to formulate design guidelines and draw up an illustrative plan. The design seeks to accommodate current patterns of landscape use by the citizens of Agra and directs visitor movement through this dense and dynamic landscape. It is sensitive to the larger landscape-old city, mixed-use area around the heritage monuments, and farmland on the east bank. The Cultural Heritage District is not a bounded entity-the existing street network approximates its boundaries, while the core is comprised of the riverfront monuments. An environmentally responsible approach is chosen in recommending a combination of farmland, forestry, plant nurseries, and gardens in the vegetative belt as recommended by the Supreme Court and outlined in the illustrative plan. Thus the project goes beyond conservation of historic landscapes to environmental planning necessary for pollution reduction and rehabilitation of the river Yamuna and its adjacent historic sites and current uses.

Communication to the larger public is sought through a printed document, CD-ROM, and a website. Presentations were made to the Government of India in New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh Tourism, the state government, and non-governmental organizations in Agra. Television and newspapers carried reports of the project. The study shows the remarkable breadth of the profession and its powerful potential in tackling complex problems.

Client Statement: The results of previous studies by the entrant encouraged us to invite them to prepare a planning study for the Taj Mahal and its environs.

Major goals included:

  1. The preparation of project documents that illustrate the planning and design intent and may be used for securing financial support for the construction of the project.
  2. The creation of an environment that does not displace local residents but incorporates their current and potential skills and patterns of livelihood in the development of the site and in the day to day operation of the facilities once they are constructed.
  3. The enhancement and linking together of other historic sites, which will encourage tourists to extend their stay in Agra.

The study resulted in handsome publication and CD-ROM that generated an offer of a $200,000 no interest loan from the Asian Development Bank that is yet to approved by the government of India. No people were displaced because the land across the river from the Taj will remain in agricultural use maintaining the green view-shed. The recreational and tourism activities will be concentrated along the rivers edge. The edge will serve as a link to the other historical sites and as a window to the daily life of Agra.

2002 Award Winners
Press Releases
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