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Project Profile


2008 Honourable Mention

Craigie Burn Bungalow

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Project TitleCraigie Burn Bungalow

LocationCobble Path, Matheran, India

Size4,675 square metres

CostUS$ 302,422

Responsible PartyMody Family, Vikas Dilawari, Abhijit Athalaye, Patrick Mascarenhas and Harish Sawant

Heritage ArchitectVikas Dilawari

ContractorDI Construction

Date of Completion14 February 2008

Project Synopsis

Craigie Burn Bungalow is located in the hill station of Matheran, situated in the Western Ghats, 64 kilometres from Mumbai. Founded in 1850 by Hugh Malet, the Collector of Thane district, and located high in the mountains, Matheran is a remote retreat. Motorized traffic has never been allowed in the station; the asphalt road from Neral ends at Dasturi Naka, about ten kilometres before Matheran. Access to the resort town was only by horse or rickshaw until a narrow-gauge railway was built from Neral in 1907.

Matheran became popular among colonial administrators through its patronage by the Governor of Bombay, Lord Elphinstone. Governor Elphinstone visited Mathaeran in 1855 and built Elphinstone Lodge, a holiday home and retreat from the summer heat of the city.

Craigie Burn Bungalow, named after a stream in Scotland, was built sometime in the late nineteenth century by an unknown civil servant. Judging by its grandeur and its proximity to Elphinstone Lodge, the bungalow was probably the summer home of a prominent employee of the British Raj. As with the rest of Matheran, the bungalow provides a unique glimpse into a largely vanished way of life.

The bungalow is in the Gothic Revival style, with pointed arches executed from local laterite. Ceilings are high and the building is generously fenestrated. It also features Gothic tracery imitated in wood and coloured glass in the transoms and doors. Despite the English origins of its architectural style, the design of the bungalow is in keeping with the climate of Matheran. Elevated on a high laterite plinth to take advantage of the cool winds of the hill station, the house features broad verandahs that provide direct access to each of the rooms. As an indication of the original owner’s status, the bungalow also has servants’ quarters and a stable, both connected with the kitchen wing.

In the twentieth century the house served as the country retreat of the Mody family. In the face of the annual monsoon and poor maintenance, the structure deteriorated over time, however. Furthermore, additions were made that were not in keeping with the house’s historic character. These included installing modern tiles in the bathrooms and covering the original flagstones and laterite floors with concrete.

The house was largely unoccupied from the 1980s until the turn of the twenty-first century. The property’s listing as a Grade II-A Heritage Structure in 2000 helped to identify its significance, but did not allay the house’s slow decline. The conservation of the structure came about following the owner’s decision in 2006 to reinvigorate the house as a holiday retreat, opening up a new chapter in the life of the historic bungalow.

Conservation Approach

The conservation team faced the overarching challenge of carrying out a major project in a remote environment. Materials had to be transported on foot from the railhead at Dasturi Naka, and the supply of electricity was intermittent; a circumstance that meant much of the work had to be executed using traditional manual tools rather than power tools. The water supply, too, was a problem, particularly in the summer months.

Although the house appeared to be in sound structural condition, closer inspection revealed the presence of a large number of cracks in the laterite masonry. The clay mortar in the walls had also deteriorated due to rising damp and the penetration of vegetation. In general the laterite could be reused, but where previous cement plaster had rendered the wall material unsalvageable, brick units were substituted for the stone. New laterite could not be obtained and used, as mining of this material is no longer permitted in the area.

The roof presented a particular problem for the conservation team. The original tile roof could not be replaced as tiles are not practical in Matheran, where a mischievous monkey population makes loose objects prone to theft. For many years corrugated galvanized iron has been the preferred roofing material. This was installed at Cragie Burn Bungalow, but its somewhat harsh appearance was softened by the addition of decorative sheet metal fasciae that complements the wood tracery and cast-iron grillwork of the veranda railings. During the restoration project, workers selectively replaced the fasciae where corrosion had set in.

Interior walls were held together only by their lime plaster. These had to be entirely rebuilt. The restoration team also removed floor surfaces of polished concrete to reveal the original flagstones. Unfortunately, the laterite floors of the bedrooms were of insufficient stability to allow for their reuse; workers replaced these with red polished concrete (“Indian Patent Stone”) as a compromise.

The conservation team took particular care with the final detailing, recognizing the importance of the finishes to the authentic spirit of the bungalow. Workers removed paint covering the original teakwood doors and verandahs to reveal the natural beauty of the material. The conservation team found that the teak truss work was in relatively good condition, albeit out of alignment. The original wood was preserved in general, but where the wood had deteriorated too greatly it was replaced with salvaged Burma teak. Former repairs had been carried out with inferior local teak, which had decayed quickly. 

All of the historic interior fixtures were retained, as was most of the period furniture, which fortunately had remained in the hands of the family. In instances where applications required modern electrical outlets and fixtures, workers installed these as discreetly as possible, despite the difficulties involved in this process.

Conservation and the Community

Craigie Burn Bungalow is one of the few structures in the community to have been restored by owners with the clear aim of retaining a historic property’s historic character. It is also one of the few historic properties in Matheran not to have been converted into a hotel.

While reinforced concrete and other insensitive solutions abound in the commercialization of other heritage buildings in the hill station, the restoration of Craigie Burn Bunaglow set a new standard for architectural conservation. Ideally, the completed project will serve as a model for future residents and entrepreneurs looking to develop their heritage properties in a manner in keeping with the special status of the historic hill station.

Quote from the Project Team

“Now that the Mody family has started using this as a weekend house it is hoped that this project sets a trend for other houses being used as weekend houses and will also initiate a trend for sensitive restoration and revival of the traditional materials and techniques in Matheran.”