Bombay glory: UNESCO winners share challenges in heritage conservation

By: | Published: December 24, 2017 5:15 PM

Noted conservation architect Vikas Dilawari and his team spent over a month removing extraneous elements from the iconic Wellington Fountain in south Mumbai before restoring it to its original glory.

 

unesco, bombay glory, unesco winner, heritage conservation, wellington fountain, cultural heritage conservation, asia pacific awards, unesco awards, unesco asia pacific awardsNoted conservation architect Vikas Dilawari and his team spent over a month removing extraneous elements from the iconic Wellington Fountain in south Mumbai before restoring it to its original glory.

Noted conservation architect Vikas Dilawari and his team spent over a month removing extraneous elements from the iconic Wellington Fountain in south Mumbai before restoring it to its original glory. The ornate fountain in Colaba is now gurgling again in all its shimmering splendour. One of the challenges faced by the restorers was removing layers of paint the basalt structure, built in 1860s, was given over the years. It recently earned an honourable mention in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. Dilawari, in his late 40s, is no stranger to UNESCO awards, but he says each recognition motivates him to look at heritage buildings “more humbly”. “Ever since my college days, restoration has excited me more than demolition of a structure. And, the successful projects have not only enriched my experience, but also helped open eyes of people from the government side, local or otherwise, on the value of heritage and its adaptive reuse,” he said. “People generally think old buildings should be just discarded, because that is the ethos in our county. When we restored a hall in the grand Mumbai municipal corporation building, and its glory was revealed again, then the civic officials saw the merit in it,” Dilawari told PTI.

The Mumbai-based architect has restored some of the most iconic landmarks of the country’s financial capital. This year, Dilawari’s painstaking work on Christ Church in Byculla won an Award of Merit. His work on the Bomonjee Hormarjee Wadia Fountain and Clock Tower also earned an honourable mention in the awards announced last month in Bangkok. Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is one of the oldest cities in India and it is endowed with iconic old public buildings, private mansions and parks and fountains, a lot of which has suffered neglect or erasure. The Royal Bombay Opera House, one such landmark, had fallen into disrepair and was practically on the verge of collapse when a heroic restoration project brought back its glory in 2016 after seven years of painstaking work.

Mumbai-based conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, who led the restoration project for the former royal family of Gondal, its current owner, says it was “leap of faith” given the myriad challenges they faced. “We went through old documents and drawings during the planning of the restoration. But, it was the end scene in a 70s Bollywood film which provided us vital clues about its original interior,” she told PTI. A listed heritage building in Baroque style, the Opera House was inaugurated by British monarch, King George V, in 1911 and completed in 1916, and won an Award of Merit from the UNESCO, making it the fourth recognition for Mumbai this year in the Asia Pacific category.

But stories of restoration and challenges involved have come from Delhi and other parts of the country too. Nestled in a narrow bylane of the Walled City, three- storeyed Haveli Dharampura in Gali Guliyan, a stone’s throw from the historic Jama Masjid, was rescued after six years of restoration. It is now a boutique hotel, and has won an honourable mention in the UNESCO awards list. Union minister Vijay Goel, owner of the haveli, says, “The restoration was a herculean task, but such projects need passion. We hope more people would take up conservation after seeing these success stories.”

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