Santiniketan students studying in the open
Students study in the open in Santiniketan.Reuters

The story of Santiniketan, which is home to Rabindranath Tagore's Visva-Bharati University (VBU) and a model of university-town planning, is being taught at the United States' Massachusetts University of Technology (MIT). The lessons on the bard's unique concept of university town includes how how a university influences the environment and economy of a place and how, with the passage of time, unchecked growth outside the campus affects the institution's character. The same is happening with Tagore's beloved institutep in West Bengal.

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The architecture and town-planning faculty of the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur had done a project for Bengal's urban development department to try and identify areas outside the campus that need to be preserved, including the Khoai, a unique geological formation which has been identified as ecologically endangered. It was then that the idea to turn a slice of Bolpur, the nearby town, into a signature township that will bear the imprint of the VBU in every nook and corner, was born.

The credit course is being taught at MIT in collaboration with IIT-Kharagpur. Subrata Chattopadhyay, the head of the project, has collaborated with MIT professors Bish Sanyal and Arindam Dutta to start the one-year course. The name of the course is Triple Bottom Line Approach for a Sustainable Heritage City.

According to Times of India, Sanyal, who is the Ford International Professor of Urban Studies at MIT, said: "Santiniketan is a world-class example and though we are initiating it, many more foreign universities should study the relevance of this 19th-century town planning marvel even today."

Chattopadhyay also added that the three key areas of research are urban design and heritage, creative economy and environment.

According to the introduction to the MIT-IIT project, Santiniketan is a landmark where emphasis has been laid on rural and the agrarian art. But rapid urbanisation has taken a toll on the heritage place.

As per TOI, having studied the architectural significance of VBU, 15 students from MIT and 12 students from IIT-Kharagpur — under the guidance of the faculty members — will now come up with a plan of how these imprints could now move on to a catchment area of Bolpur which will then developed into a model township.

The team will include in its plan redressing of the haphazard growth outside the campus, which has no connect with the essential spirit of the VBU. The VBU and the urban development department will also contribute to the plan to make additions and changes.

'Shakespeare's birthplace an example'

"We have the example of Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, before us. The entire town has been designed keeping the bard's house as the fulcrum. Even bank ATMs or the sandwich outlet is in sync with the design. We want to create that effect here," Chattopadhyay said.