Revitalizing Ethnic Identity: Kolkata

Summer School 2014, Faculty of Design
Instructors: Kamalika Bose (CEPT) and Thomas Hilberth (Aarhus School of Architecture), assisted by Bhavin Shukla
22 August 2014

This study was conducted as part of CEPT Summer School 2014, a collaborative effort between CEPT University and Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark. Field studies in Calcutta were undertaken for a week where students documented, observed and analyzed various urban and spatial dimensions of the settlement and community interaction patterns embedded therein. We presented our documentation of architectural spaces and inhabitation patterns of the Chinese community in Calcutta in a monograph titled Cheenapara: Cultural Identity & Urban Heritage of the Chinese in Calcutta. It serves as a primary account of the formal, aesthetic, and cultural resources that become potential assets for any future urban conservation efforts.


The eclectic history of diverse immigrant communities shapes and leaves an indelible imprint on a city. Kolkata is a ‘melting pot’ of migrant Armenians, Chinese, Jews, Anglo-Indians, and Greeks. Their traditions, reflected through cultural and occupational practices, food habits, dressing, and architecture, lend identity to the broader landscape of the city. Passage of time and altered socio-economic circumstances threaten to erode this shared cultural heritage.

The primary objective of this study was to understand the culture, community, settlement and contemporary significance of an ethnic group in Calcutta – the Indian Chinese – whose strong identity is palpable even today. We selected their first formal settlement in the city center – old Chinatown, near Tiretta bazaar – as our core study area. Change in the community’s economic fortunes over time and ensuing over development of the neighboring areas has greatly threatened to corrode historic Chinatown’s urban character.

Through on-site study of the settlement, institutions, living practices and community interactions, students have evolved methodologies to address key issues threatening the place and community that can potentially trigger holistic revitalization processes.

The Silent Undercurrent, a brief documentary made during this course, documents the everyday life as it happens in this Chinese community.

From CEPT these students took part in this course:

Hemani Badyal

Namrata Bhoir

Yatin Fulari

Prathyusha Nilakantan

Sowmya Peddakotla

Nidhi Ravindran

Arunima Shankar

Carissa Silveira

Shalini Singh

Richa Raje

Aman Amin

Naomy Parikh

Kshitij Charania

Gaurav Banerjee

Atreya Bhattacharya

From Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark, these students took part in this course:

Peter Bisgaard Dan-Weibel

Lasse Vejlgård Kristensen

Eirin Bakken

Sebastian Bech-Ravn

Jakob Ørum

Ida Lundø Madsen

Thea Dahl Orderud

Marie Søndergaard Ramsing

Marie Due Tankmar

Vicki Buhl Lausen

Jesper Jones

Anna Katrine Tan Nielsen

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