Anjana Susan Ninan


Hidden Gems

Kochi is a port city that sits within a complex network of canals, rivers and backwaters. It connects the iconic brackish backwaters and tidal mangroves of the state, forming an immense infrastructural water network. Market canal plays a major role in socio-economic and cultural development. They not only support commerce and economy, but also connect communities and ecosystems. Over time, rapid urbanization has resulted in neglecting widespread exploitation of this resource. The street stretches across 1.45 kilometres, running north-south, parallel to the Marine drive. There are significant hidden gems embedded within this stretch, terminating at a three-acre bird sanctuary. The project aims to discover, regenerate and connect the city’s natural assets along Market Street. Whether we discover the hidden gems embedded, regenerate the canal passageway or reconnect the fragmented ecology to a larger lung space of the bird sanctuary, this community gains its resources from its immediate neighbourhood street. 

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Kochi sits within a complex network of canals, rivers, and backwaters. As the city grows due to increase in population, there is a dearth of open spaces. WHO recommends 9sqm of open space per person. But Kochi has only 1.1sqm. The streets and water bodies together have potential to be transformed into a social space that can also connect other public open spaces in the city. Including water bodies and streets, an average citizen can thus enjoy 7.2sqm of open space.

Canals were widely used by the locals in the past as a means of transporting goods. But due to rapid urbanization, they have been neglected. The market canal street stretches across 1.45 kilometre running parallel to Marine drive. The street consists of a 660m long canal with one end opening to the backwaters and the other end closed where it meets a crossroad. The street passes through Ernakulam market and terminates at the Mangalvanam Bird sanctuary. The stretch consists of treasured possessions that have been unnoticed or under prioritized.

Understanding the physical layers and the major activities present in the corridor. As it is a Market corridor, the streets have high pedestrian density with majority of people come to shop.

The street consists of an existing natural setting that has been disconnected and these assets have been underutilized or neglected. To bring people closer to their city’s assets, three strategies have been proposed - Discover, Regenerate and Connect. Discovering and polishing the existing gems embedded within the street. Regenerate and upgrade the city’s natural assets by bringing visual and physical access to them. Regenerating the local activities and programs that make it easy to enjoy the canal front destination. Connecting these gems to the community.

The three strategies are placed across a 1.45 kilometre stretch to discover, regenerate and connect the hidden gems by extending the pedestrian pathway and inserting ecological niches. Various programs and activities have been proposed to activate the entire corridor and allow the citizens to engage with their city’s assets.

A closer study on the canal street was carried further. The edge of the canal that was fenced has been upgraded by ecologically treating and planting trees reminiscing the backwaters of Kerala. Various programs and activities are introduced along the canal stretch to bring people closer to their city’s asset.

The programs have been identified by carefully studying the edge of the street. Plazas have been placed where there is a vacant plot and where the residential street meets with the proposed street. Two water plazas with stepped seating are proposed that overlook the canal and allow people to engage with water.

The design intends to reminisce the backwater of Kerala in an urban city, therefore local materials and finishes were used across the street. To bring strong visual appeal to the street, red oxide finished planter boxes have been inserted in front of the compound wall. The selection of trees planted across the edge of the canal is what makes the street unique. The species chosen are an extension of what is seen in the bird sanctuary.

The goal was to extend the bird habitat to discover the gem and make it more visible and prominent. Therefore opening up and facilitating species from inside the bird sanctuary to have an extended habitat through the edge of the canal was carried further.

The canal is rejuvenated, upgraded, and strengthened by naturalizing the edges and by giving local backwater character to the urban city. It also allows people to access and enjoy the canal front. The city’s fabric is characterized by the crossing of different water channels but today it has shown its back to the water. These strategies can be adopted in many canal streets. Thereby increasing the open space in the city and allowing the citizens to discover and connect to their city’s assets and celebrate it.