[ecis2016.org] Writer’s Building in Kolkata, which served as the erstwhile state secretariat, spread over 10 acres, could be worth over Rs 653 crores
Kolkata has several landmarks including the grand and once-buzzing Writer’s Building, the erstwhile state secretariat. This grand old structure is situated at the prime central Kolkata office address of Binoy Badal Dinesh (BBD) Bagh, Lal Dighi. Inextricably intertwined with the social, cultural, historical and political ethos of the city, the construction of the Writer’s Building began in 1777, with Thomas Lyon as its architect. Locally known as Writers’, it is the official but presently unused state government secretariat, covering a whopping 10 acres and spanning 150 metres in length, along the whole northern section of the famous Lal Dighi and at the centre of the business district in BBD Bagh.
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The name originally came from the building serving as the core administrative office for junior clerks or writers during the East India Company’s (EIC’s) rule and has been extensively renovated and expanded over the years. It has accommodated the chief minister’s office from 1947, along with offices of senior officials and cabinet ministers until October 4, 2013, when a major restorative exercise was announced for the building. Most government departments have been moved to a new building on a temporary basis called Nabanna at Howrah. Writer’s Building has been labeled as a mini township with its built-up area spanning at least 5,50,000 sq ft and it previously had 34 departments of the state government, while being an office for a whopping 6,000 employees and counting.
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Kolkata Writer’s Building value
Wondering what its value in terms of money would be? Well, the whole complex spans roughly 10 acres of land which equates to 4,35,600 sq ft. The average values of commercial real estate in the prime BBD Bagh office district work out to between Rs 14,000 and Rs 15,000 per sq ft. Assuming Rs 15,000 per sq ft as the price for this heritage structure, it works out to a mind boggling Rs 653 crores and 40 lakhs. Considering the heritage and historical value of the structure, the value is likely to be much higher.
Writer’s Building Kolkata construction and history
Writer’s Building Kolkata has been deeply linked to all three ruling dispensations of the city. The Writer’s Building was designed in 1777 by Thomas Lyon for the EIC and accommodated clerks and for more than 200 years, it served as the British power center and government seat in Bengal Presidency and later on, the Bengal province. In the early 20th century, it witnessed agitations and movements pertaining to the Indian independence and from independence in 1947, it has been the state secretariat of the government of West Bengal.
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Writer’s Building has also played a major role in the historical evolution of the surrounding region with the Kalikata village becoming Calcutta under the British and eventually the capital city of Kolkata. The building was designed to be a major administrative and business hub for the city, as a focal point from its inception and was built near existing infrastructure that the EIC already owned. It was built on parts of the same land plot where the EIC built the original Fort William which stood till 1756. It was also the center of the White Town, majorly populated by English officers, EIC employees and British merchants who were separated from the Black Town, which was majorly populated by native businessmen and land owners.
The site where St Anne’s Church was demolished and its adjoining site were provided for Thomas Lyon. The road running behind Writer’s Building is today called Lyons Range in his name. Lyon was a highly established architect in the city then and finished construction on behalf of Richard Barwell, the member of the Supreme Council of Bengal and ex-writer for the EIC.
Then governor-general of the Presidency of Fort William, Warren Hastings, presided over the completion of construction, after having commissioned it. It was Kolkata’s first-ever three-storeyed building with the main block having 37,850 sq ft in terms of ground coverage. This was finished in 1780 and it occupied a side of today’s Lal Dighi or Tank Square as it was known back then. It was built with a straight and simplistic façade, enclosing compounds at the back. The building opened initially with 19 residential quarters and each with three sets of sturdy windows. The famous façade was created in 1821 with a 128-ft-long verandah added to the first and second floors with its lovely columns, going up to 32 ft in height. Expansion further took place between 1879 and 1906, with two more blocks being added along with iron staircases that are still used. The total ground coverage of the new five blocks covered 58,825 sq ft and the Greco-Roman look was acquired by this structure along with a central bay portico and red exposed brick surface. The French Renaissance style was used by the Victorian British administration for lending a grand look to the building with edifying statues that were created by William Frederick Woodington lining the building’s terrace (installed in the year 1883) and the Minerva Statue above the central portico along with the famous parapet.
(Source: Rangan Datta, Wiki)
Today, there is a statue of the martyred Binoy, Badal and Dinesh in front of the building. Between 1945 and 1947, the open courtyards were sealed owing to the need for more space. After 1947, many more blocks were added although the main block including the five core blocks and rotunda, is the portion with a heritage structure classification. The elevation has mostly remained the same.
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Writer’s Building Kolkata: Interesting facts
- The central giant pediment has the statue of Minerva and four clusters of statues line the terrace, named Commerce, Justice, Agriculture and Science.
(Source: Rangan Datta, Wiki)
- Today, Writer’s Building has 13 blocks, six of which were integrated after Indian independence.
- The most memorable event that took place at Writer’s Building was the assassination of British lieutenant colonel NS Simpson, the inspector general of prisons, at the hands of three freedom fighters of Bengal, Binoy Basu, Badal Gupta and Dinesh Gupta, who disguised themselves to enter the building and shot the infamous colonel, known for his brutality towards Indian prisoners.
(Source: Rangan Datta, Wiki)
- Writer’s Building still has its original name although the area has witnessed a change in names with the passage of time. Originally known as Tank Square, it became Dalhousie Square in commemoration of the then-governor general of India and thereafter BBD Bagh after the three freedom fighters who killed the British colonel in the year 1930.
- Extensions ultimately led to the creation of 13 blocks which were interconnected.
- The present chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, came to prominence in the year 1993 when police opened fire on her protest march to the iconic Writer’s Building.
- The building is today being restored as per her initiative and multiple new blocks may ultimately be demolished.
- The chief minister has already shifted to Nabanna in Howrah with almost 3,000 out of 4,500 employees, across the river Hooghly.
Writer’s Building is the cradle of Kolkata and West Bengal’s administrative and political history, inextricably linked to the historical evolution of the city and its corridors of power over the ages. Today, as it undergoes restoration and is temporarily unused, the building still manages to retain its grandeur and overwhelming nostalgia which is not just synonymous with its glory days but also of the city of Kolkata as a whole.
When did construction start on Writer’s Building?
Construction commenced on Writer’s Building in 1777.
Who designed Writer’s Building?
Thomas Lyon, a famous architect in Calcutta at the time, designed Writer’s Building.
Who commissioned Writer’s Building?
The construction was supervised and commissioned by Warren Hastings.
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