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Project Profile

 

2005 Award of Excellence

Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum

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Project Title: Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum

Location: Mumbai, India

Size: 1,152 square metres

Costs: Approximately US$454,545

Responsible Party: Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai

Heritage Architect: Vikas Dilawari

Client: Bhau Daji Lad Museum Trust

Contractor: Premier Construction Co.

Date of Completion: October 2004


Context

Throughout the nineteenth century, British administrators, merchants and civic leaders made a great effort to make Bombay, as Mumbai was then known, an internationally noteworthy city. This effort resulted in a number of monumental public buildings, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, now called the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum. One of Mumbai’s most architecturally significant buildings, the museum is situated within a 48-acre complex in central Mumbai, which also features a zoo and a botanical garden. The entire complex has been listed as a Grade IIB structure, as per Development Control Rules of 1995 of the Government of the State of Maharashtra.

The project to restore Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum was carried out in the spirit of a joint public and private effort. The project was the product of collaboration between the municipality of Mumbai, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation. The Victoria & Albert Museum in London assisted in providing technical information on finishes and on nineteenth-century aesthetic standards.

Building History

The items housed in Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum were originally part of the Central Museum of Natural History, Economy, Geology, Industry and Arts, which opened in 1855, inspired by the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. The contents of this museum were relocated to the Town Hall two years later and were housed there until funds were raised for the construction of a permanent exhibition space. The fundraising efforts were led by Indian physician and antiquarian Dr. Bhau Daji Lad (1822-1874) who, together with Jagannath Shankarshet, mobilized funds from the Indian community in an effort to make the museum a product of local support. The building, initially named Victoria & Albert Museum, after the museum’s inspiration in London, opened to the public in May 1872. At the time, the museum held the most complete collection in the world of objects, books, images and maps related to the history of the city of Bombay and its peoples. In 1975, the museum was renamed in honour of Dr. Bhau Daji Lad as a testament to his contributions to the institution.

Unlike many public buildings of the late nineteenth century in Mumbai — most of which adhered to the then popular Victorian Gothic or Neo-Gothic styles — the new museum was designed in the Classical Revival or Palladian mode often associated with an earlier era. Built of stone with a steel frame, the structure measures 53 by 84 metres and is 15 metres high. 

The interior of the museum was designed to create an atmosphere of grandeur, through the rich palette of colours and intricate details favoured by Victorian designers. Visitors enter on the ground floor into a central hall, which features a cast iron gallery above it. The most distinctive features of the building are its terracotta decorations, displayed on both the interior and exterior. These include Corinthian capitals, projecting cornices on the terrace level, balustrade parapets, floral swags on the terraces and decorations adorning the window pediments. The flooring on the first level and staircases feature patterned Minton tiles. A statue of Prince Albert accompanied by two female figures, symbolizing Art and Science, dominates the ground floor and the central gallery space within the museum.

The building underwent a number of repairs and alterations over its history. Continuous leaks caused the roof slab to collapse in 1904 and again in 1924, leading to the roof slab’s reconstruction. In addition, the original wooden staircase was replaced with a wrought iron design. Other changes included the installation of electric lights (with insensitive wiring and cabling), the removal of columns and cornices, the sealing of clerestory windows with bricks, wrought iron grills placed on the windows and supports added to external cornice and window lintels. Furthermore, the entire museum was repainted in a monochromatic off-white colour, and its polished and gilded surfaces were painted. Owned by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, the building fell into a state of disrepair towards the end of the twentieth century due to lack of maintenance.

Project History

In the 1990s, INTACH recognized the historic significance of the structure and its need for restoration and conservation work. In 1997, an inspection report revealed that the museum required immediate structural and non-structural repairs, both internally and externally, and listed the repairs and restoration work that needed to be completed. The Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation stepped forward in 2001 and offered to fund the entire project. This offer was accepted by the government. This was the first time in the history of India that the government allowed a private donor and conservation organization to restore and revitalize an important public building.

In August 2003, workers installed scaffolds and by October 2003 the civil work, lime-plaster removal and paint scraping had begun. As part of the project, members of the conservation team visited London to view outstanding examples of nineteenth-century Victorian architecture and design. This trip was undertaken with the cooperation of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Charles Wallace Trust. Upon their return to Mumbai, the team members looked into advances in the areas of museum modernization and development. In this way, they were able to both gain insights into Victorian interiors and learn about up-to-date international trends in museum display, lighting, curatorial management and outreach.

Project Scope and Framework

From the start of the restoration, the plan was to not only restore the building and its architectural elements but to also modernize the museum and redesign the museum displays. This process began with complete documentation of the structure. The original building materials were analyzed and replicated as closely as possible. When substitute elements were required, the project called for the employment of traditional materials and techniques. The collections were also documented, and were moved to appropriate facilities for storage during the restoration and reorganization process.

The project’s designers determined that it was necessary to remove all incongruous accretions that had altered the original fabric of the structure over the building’s history. They further decided that the only interventions made during the restoration project would be to assist with the services and infrastructure necessary for the museum’s modern-day needs, and these interventions would be sensitive to the historic character of the building. Finally, the designers envisioned that the project would set the benchmark for good conservation practices in the city of Mumbai.

Conservation Methodology and Materials

The conservation method followed a two-stage sequence: first, the museum building’s structure and its decorative elements were restored; second, the displays of the museum’s collections were enhanced, and improvements were made to the building’s immediate surrounds.

Prior to beginning the work, measures were put in place to protect some of the building elements. The stone floor, Minton tiles and statuary were shielded with high-density plastic sheeting for the duration of the project. Workers also placed rubber cushions on the posts of all the scaffolds.

Work began with the removal of loose plaster from surfaces to expose the original colour scheme and gilding of the museum. Workers replastered the exposed surfaces with a lime plaster sourced from Sikar District of Rajasthan. The plaster was created by mixing hydrated lime with a fine brick dust. This was then augmented with jaggery water (a mix of water and coarse sugar made from palm sap) to create the smooth render employed in the building’s original construction. Because of the humid environment of Mumbai, the plaster took several months to dry completely, leading to a delay in painting the walls. The same plaster mix was used to repair small details that were missing or broken in the cornices and sculptural details of the building, which meant further delays in final painting and gilding.

Finding replacement paint was a challenge as paint from the colonial era was zinc-based and such paint was no longer available. As a compromise, a zinc chromate primer was used on iron features, followed by paint matching the original colour scheme. Because the restoration of cast iron was beyond the technical level the project team, missing cast iron elements were replaced with wood and were painted to replicate the original work. To recreate the original gilding, which had deteriorated and required replacement, two coats of paint were first applied to the surface. Then came a layer of glue, to which workers applied small sheets of 23.5 carat gold leaf. Specialty gilders were employed for the work to ensure consistent results. Paint layers were removed from the terracotta elements, leaving the surfaces exposed, as in their original state.

A large amount of carpentry work was required. One of the most important tasks was to repair the teak ceiling; large gaps had formed between the panels and mouldings. The original painted stencil work of the ceiling was unsalvageable. Workers therefore created wood stencils for the repainting of the ceiling. Prior to this, electrical cables were carefully concealed in the ceilings and walls.

The building’s tall Burma teak windows required repair or reconstruction; many received reinforcing with stainless steel L-angles. Following the removal of the bricks covering the clerestory windows, workers reinstated the teak window frames. 

Missing etched glass was recreated from the original designs. Following the completion of the conservation work, attention turned to improving the presentation of the collections and increasing visitor accessibility to the museum. Previously, the display cases had been cluttered with objects and lacked descriptions for their contents. There was also a general incoherence in the arrangement of the display cases and the logic of the narratives. In the new display, the groupings and classifications of objects were carefully considered to create a coherent and rich narrative. For the core and special collections, special galleries were designed for the optimal presentation of the artefacts. Workers restored the original teakwood and glass cases and enhanced these through specialized lighting for optimum display and viewing. In addition, two modern restrooms were installed in a previously unused barrel-vaulted room at the rear of the building. The previous location of the restrooms became an art storage facility.

Important Issues

One of the most important issues in the restoration of the museum was to make all areas accessible to handicapped visitors, which is a challenge for most historic buildings. The conservation team placed a ramp on the right hand side of the main entrance to allow for building access, and installed a small hydraulic elevator within the building. This was achieved by creating a small hole in the floor plate in a rear room of the museum. This step was taken only after ensuring that such a modification would not disturb the overall heritage value of the building. These simple measures allowed for the complete accessibility of the museum.

Another aspect of the renovations was the construction of conservation labs and special exhibition galleries. Two rear rooms and part of the mezzanines were modified for an INTACH conservation lab, where ongoing conservation of the museum’s collections can be undertaken. Artefacts from private and other museum collections can now be restored on site. The provision of a conservation laboratory thereby gave the museum an additional source of income. For the special exhibition galleries, three rooms on the top floor now provide space for travelling exhibitions from around the world, bringing Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum into the orbit of the global museum community.

Project Sustainability and Viability

The Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum and gardens complex today receives about 5,000 visitors each weekday and around 15,000 on weekends and holidays; nearly double the number of visitors before the project was implemented. The museum anticipates future works to revitalize the entire centre and restore it to its original state. Such projects will introduce expanded parking facilities, new art galleries and a café to accommodate the increasing number of visitors — all to be carried out in keeping with the historic fabric. A partnership continues between the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, INTACH and the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation to help ensure the maintenance and protection of the museum and grounds.

Project Impact

Through a holistic conservation plan, which addressed both the museum building and the collection housed within, the project established a new benchmark for the conservation of museums in India and the region. This project encouraged traditional skills, such as lime plaster application, gilding, carpentry and stencil painting. By looking not only at the preservation of the structure but also at the presentation of the collections, the conservation effort resulted in the first complete documentation of a collection in India. The museum also became more accessible to visitors as a result of the installation of new services, all implemented in ways that respect the historic character of the building.

Quote from the Project Team

“It is a project which has used the best traditional skills and techniques for its restoration and has blended these with the present day needs for a twenty-first century museum without losing its nineteenth century charm.”