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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Rajabai Clock Tower Revisited


By Pari Syal


Heritage buildings keep alive our roots, giving the present generations a sense of pride and hope for a grounded future…

While 1857 is a year remembered instantaneously for its Indian Mutiny, a lesser remembered fact is that it was the year when a premier education institute - the Mumbai University was established. Two decades later, a beautiful clock tower with library building stood as adjuncts to the University - the library building a ground-plus-one structure; while the clock tower, the main icon of the building, was 280 feet high and 7 storeys tall. The tower, built abutting and adjacent to the library provides the entrance to the library through a porte cochère (a carriage porch with large pointed arched openings supported by vaults) at its base.

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The two Gothic and Art Deco buildings fronting each other created a magnificent setting - expressing dominance, and constituting historical importance along the Oval Maidan. The architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott had established another feather in Mumbai’s colonial architecture of the Neo Gothic style. 

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The magnificent building with its load bearing walls in Malad stone masonry, Gothic pointed arched openings, Ogee arcades in western balcony and multi-foil openings with stained glass work had two juxtaposing roofs – the library building with its double roof of brick vaults and timber joists and the clock tower with its conical roof carved in Porbunder stone. The building stood testimony to the social fabric of Western India via its multifarious decorative elements - stained glass work; gargoyles; stone mouldings, embellished arches and fine detailing; and the highlight – its 24 ‘dressed’ statues that represented different castes of Western India.

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Sadly, all buildings age with time. This 133-year old Grade I historical beacon too is now ready to be restored. Various structural and non-structural cracks apart, visual depreciation is apparent in the stains on stone work and masonry, umpteen missing and broken decorative elements, biological growth on the façade, moss growth, water seepage, peeling plaster, exposed wiring, damaged floors, ceilings, doors, windows and general age-related distress.

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With a team led by principal architect Brinda Somaya of Somaya & Kalappa Consultants Pvt. Ltd., structural consultants Ghadiali & Raval and conservation consultants, Sheetal Gandhi & Associates, the proposed restoration is set to be initiated soon after the 2012 monsoon season. The projected duration of completion is set along approx. 12-18 months.

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