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Reconstructing Mumbai’s past for the future

mumbai Updated: Mar 06, 2017 16:01 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Mumbai

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), the most famous railway station in the country, is undergoing a long-drawn restoration.(HT photo)

Even as Mumbai’s building boom is obliterating old residential and industrial areas,  some of the city’s urban heritage is being quietly restored. The century-old Royal Opera House, the Art Deco Liberty cinema hall, the BH Wadia Clock Tower and the Town Hall have recently been restored to their old glory.  The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), the most famous railway station in the country, is undergoing a long-drawn restoration. Private properties such as Esplanade House, once home to the Tatas, and the Lal Chimney Compound , a residential colony for poorer Parsis, have also been done up.

Conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, who has  been in the forefront of these efforts, says Mumbaiites deserve a pat on the back. “In Mumbai, people have a sense of ownership, which is missing in other cities. Unlike a city like Delhi, Mumbai’s heritage buildings have an active use -- be it a church, station or even a library -- engaging people constantly. There is a sense of involvement,” she said.

“The heritage structures of Mumbai are exemplary and the city takes pride in them. They should be restored and preserved just because they are aesthetically exceptional,” said Chetan Raikar, conservation architect who was involved in the restoration of CST.

Funds for the conservation work come from a variety of sources. For example, the erstwhile royal family of Gondal that acquired the Opera House in 1952 funded its renovation, while the government paid for the restoration of places such as the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum and CST.

The state government has set up a fund under the collector for heritage buildings owned by the government. Beyond that, there are private organisations like JSW Foundation, the Tata Trusts, and organisations such as the Kala Ghoda Association and Elphinstone College.

Sangeeta Jindal, chairperson, JSW Foundation, which helped restore the SNDT (Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey) Kanyashala, a century-old school building, said, “As citizens of Mumbai, we must try and help in any way we can. There are several buildings in the city that are dilapidated and are an eyesore. Restoration of such structures becomes a source of aspiration for the younger generation,” said Jindal.

“It’s a mixed bag and, unlike any other city in India, Mumbai has so many different models of partnership for restoration projects,” said Lambah.    

Pankaj Joshi, executive director, Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), says there are cultural factors at work behind the renewed interest in conservation of Mumbai’s urban heritage. “As we entered the postindustrial era, the city moved from primary to secondary industry. From there, it shifted to the service sector, and now the clear trend is a tangent to the cultural industry,” said Joshi.

The city boasts of 17 UNESCO recognitions, the most for any Indian city, since the inception of their Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2000. The city’s urban heritage spans two millennia, from the 1st century cave architecture seen in the Kanheri hills to the Gothic and Indo-Saracenic styles of the 19th century to the Art Deco of the early 20th century and the glass-and-chrome buildings of Bandra-Kurla Complex.

As interest grows in architecture and the preservation of urban heritage, the city is drawing up a list of landmarks that need protection. The list includes not just buildings, but also precincts and playgrounds. The list of Mumbai’s protected architectural sites, which charts about 1,400 structures in the city, has two versions. The first list, conceptualised in 1992, was created in 1995; another list was released in July 2012. Conservation architects said  the second list had 800 more structures.

Built in 1913, the Gloria Church in Byculla is one of the largest and oldest Roman Catholic churches in Mumbai. (Kalpak Pathak/HT)

The 1995 list recorded only two structures beyond south Mumbai, the Sacred Heart church in Bandra and the fort in Madh,” said David Cardoz, a conservation architect who is currently restoring Gloria Church in Byculla.

“The old city was the nucleus of growth and has more public heritage structures, so it gets more [focus], whereas suburbs are recent and have more private ownership heritage,” said Vikas Dilawari, a conservation architect who won 12 of the 17 UNESCO awards for restoring various heritage sites in Mumbai.

While citizens have been doing their part, the government, too, is part of the movement.  “We have gained overall awareness and significant landmarks are being looked after, thanks to some pilot public-private-partnership projects such as those that restored Rajabai Tower and the Bhau Daji Lad Museum,” said Dilawari.

What is Mumbai restoring

The restoration of Flora Fountain in Mumbai is expected to end soon. (Satyabrata Tripathy/HT)

FLORA FOUNTAIN

Conservation architect: Vikas Dilawari

Cost: Rs 2.34 cr

Work on the city’s most famous fountain started in September 2016 and is expected to end soon. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is handling the project. The Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee approved the restoration plan in 2013.

WELLINGTON FOUNTAIN

Conservation architect: Vikas Dilawari

It was built in 1865 to commemorate the exploits of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. The basalt stone fountain with six marble reliefs had been painted over. The layers of paint have been removed with help of INTACH. The circle has been renamed Dr Shyamaprasad Mukherji Chowk.

LIBERTY CINEMA, New Marine Lines

A great example of Art Deco architecture, the cinema hall opened in 1949. Now a Grade 2 heritage site, the theatre stopped screening in 2012, due to a drop in ticket sales (as multiplexes took over). It reopened with the screening of Dangal, in December 2016. With traditional seating sections such as the Balcony and the Dress Circle, the theatre has a red carpet flooring and has retained its balustrades and decor.

LAL CHIMNEY COMPOUND

Conservation architect: Vikas Dilawari

Also called Lal Chimney, supposedly because the area used to have a red chimney stack, the colony in Agripada was built for the working class Parsis — clerks, artisans, etc. Five vernacular-style buildings incorporate wide teakwood balconies, carved façades, gable roofs and curved Gothic windows with wooden shutters.

FITZGERALD FOUNTAIN

Conservation consultants: Urban Design Research Institute

The Fitzgerald fountain and its lamp-post, erected in 1867, were among the relics of the British colonial era which were removed as a part of the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement in the 1960s. The structure will now be restored and moved from its current resting spot in the backyard of the Bhau Daji Lad Museum. The 35-foot- high castiron Fitzgerald Fountain was located near Metro Cinema where the dome of the subway now stands.

THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE

Restored by Abha Lambah

Completed in 1915, the Royal Opera House hosted operas and live performances until converted into a cinema in 1935. In January 2013, the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee approved the proposal for the restoration of the Royal Opera House. Conservation work lasted three years and the venue was completely restored and reopened to the public in October 2016.

WADIA CLOCK TOWER

The Wadia Clock Tower at Bazaar Gate Street in Mumbai while it was being restored. The work ended in December 2016. (HT FILE)

Restored by Vikas Dilawari

Named after Bomanjee Hormarjee Wadia, it located at the junction of Bazaar Gate Street and Perin Nariman Street, and was erected in 1882. The Kala Ghoda Association funded the restoration work that was completed in December 2016. Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta opened it to the public on January 5, 2017.

CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI TERMINUS

Restoration architect and civil engineer: Chetan Raikar

The station was designed by British architect Frederick William Stevens (1848–1900). Work began in 1878. The station took ten years to complete, the longest for any building of that era in Bombay. The building, designed in the High Victorian Gothic style of architecture, exhibits a fusion of influences from Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival architecture and classical Indian architecture. This is the only World Heritage Site in the city. The restoration has been going on for more than nine years now.

JN PETIT INSTITUTE

Conservation architect: Vikas Dilawari

Designed by Indian architect Merwanjee Bana, the institute is in the Gothic revival style and uses yellow Malad stone and polychromatic limestone. The Grade-II heritage structure was built in 1898 in memory of Jamsetjee Nesserwanjee Petit. In September 2015, the restoration received the Award of Distinction from UNESCO for exceptional restoration.

ASIATIC SOCIETY

Restoration by the firm Laxmi Hericon

The restoration of the central hall is part of the second phase of the entire project, which began in 2009. The first phase included the restoration of the library and the durbar hall. Restoration The entire building is being restored at the cost of Rs9 crore.

GLORIA CHURCH, BYCULLA

Conservation architect: David Cardoz

Built in 1913, it is one of the largest and oldest Roman Catholic churches in the city. Funds for the conservation work, estimated at Rs 4.5 crore, were raised by donations from parishioners. The restoration, which started three years ago, is expected to be completed by mid-2017.

Damodar Thackersey Kanyashala

Conservation architect: Abha Lambah

The school, run by Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey (SNDT) Women’s University, was one of the first set up in the city to educate women. The building, which dates back to the turn of the century, was restored with the help of JSW Foundation.

COOPERAGE BANDSTAND GARDEN

Conservation architect: Rahul Chemburkar

The 19th century bandstand and garden near Oval Maidan will be restored at an estimated cost of Rs50 lakhs. The location was known for hosting musical band concerts on a daily basis. The wooden structure, which has decayed and deteriorated over the years, will be restored to its original shape in approximately seven months.

SIR COWASJEE JEHANGIR PYAU (KALACHOWKIE PYAU)

Conservation architects: Vaastu Vidhaan Projects

Located at Babasaheb Ambedkar Road, the Pyau was built in 1865 by Macdonald of Aberdeen and donated by Sir Cowasjee Jehangir to serve the people along a regular tram route. It is a red granite structure with three semi-circular niche arches. One of the niches (East side) has projected bowl and spout.

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