The Architect With Kolkata And Murshidabad Roots Transforming The Skyline Of New York

From the proposed recycling of the shell of Madison Square Garden into a new train hall for Pennsylvania Station in New York City to turning the Domino Sugar Factory on Brooklyn’s waterfront into a viable commercial space, architect Vishaan Chakrabarti, with roots in Kolkata and Murshidabad, is transforming the skyline of New York.

How does a Bengali from Kolkata make his way into the overwhelmingly white world of architecture in the US? How does a brown man, with no family connections in his industry, not only survive but thrive in a field where the representation of his kind is “zero”? 

“You fight and you make your own seat at the table, since nobody’s going to give it to you,” responds Vishaan Chakrabarti, 57, one of the most transformative and versatile architects in the US. Having moved from Kolkata to the US as a two-year-old with his parents and sister, with just $32 to spare as a family, Chakrabarti has grown to someone who has shaped the look and feel of today’s New York. 

From the proposed recycling of the shell of Madison Square Garden into a new train hall for Pennsylvania Station in New York City to turning Domino Sugar Factory on Brooklyn’s waterfront into a viable commercial space to expanding the High Line to the restoration of the street grid at the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan, Chakrabarti has brought precision, boldness and what he calls “a sense of pluralism” to landmark architectural projects in New York.

“Architecture remains a very white profession in the US. Even today, very few firms are owned by South Asians or African-Americans. While there’s little to no overt racism, there’s still a quiet discrimination at play, a feeling that it still remains a white man’s game. In such a scenario, you have to turn your obstacle into an advantage. For me, being Bengali is my superpower. It informs the way I see the world and how I can look beyond binaries to develop pluralistic, ambiguous and liminal tendencies,” explains Chakrabarti, who was elected to the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows in 2018 and named an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada (RAIC) a year later.

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