"The City Centre was conceptualised as a complete family shopping and entertainment destination. It succeeded because visitors do not necessarily have a precise idea why they would be going there! The biggest footfall driver is that you get all under one roof. On the other hand, for retailers, City Centre has also created a pride of association."
- Harshavardhan Neotia, Chairman, Ambuja Neotia
How would you describe the prevailing spirit of City Centre Salt Lake?
“City Centre has successfully created the aura of an alumni – quite like Coffee House or Flurys – without the benefit of history or nostalgia to aid the emotional connect. That is the true achievement of City Centre.”
What was the initial idea behind City Centre’s ‘open’ architecture?
“Our design philosophy is neatly captured in the treatment of the boundary wall. We don’t have one!”
“We insisted that if City Centre truly belonged to the citizens, then a wall would be contrary to that spirit. A casual visitor should not wonder even momentarily whether she should come in or not …she would decide involuntarily to walk in with no wall to prevent her. Also, contrary to the prevailing mall theory, footfalls do not really need to be guided, which is really like saying, ‘Let the consumer be guided by her instinct’. And that is what really happened.”
What did it take to convince a genius like Charles Correa to design a mall?
“Charles Correa refused us twice over…He told me clearly, ‘Malls don’t excite me’…When I went back a third time to Charles Correa with the request that he design the City Centre, he started showing a little more interest than usual. And then it happened when I told him that my vision was to create a community – not a market. That is when he really warmed to the idea.”
Is there any defining essence for City Centre Salt Lake?
"Visit Tea Junction. In a sense, it was Charles Correa’s brainchild; he didn’t want an air-conditioned store at the corner; he felt there shouldn’t be a shop but some community space that would flow out like an Irani restaurant or like 'Apollo Bunder' in Mumbai. We created a traditional 'chai ka adda' like Sardarji’s 'dhaba' on Elgin Road. We transformed wooden benches into ‘moraas’ and converted tea caskets into tables. We had started with only 'singaara', 'chai' and 'moori'. In doing so, we customised a corner coffee shop into a corner tea shop – something quintessentially Kolkatan!”
What would you say has been the most compelling influence of City Centre?
“The one contribution that City Centre has probably made to the retail industry in India is the balance between the open and closed layout on the one hand, and the organised-unorganised hybrid on the other, which is now being replicated in some other places in the Country.”