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Project Profile


2006 Award of Merit

Sir JJ School of Art Building

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Project Title: Sir JJ School of Art

Location: Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Road, Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Size: 3,400 square metres (floor area)

Cost: US$160,000

Responsible Party: Friends of JJ School of Art Trust, Department of Technical and Higher Education and Public Works Department (Government of Maharashtra), BG Deshmukh, Sangita Jindal and Shri Pritish Nandy

Heritage Architect: Abha Narain Lambah, Brinda Gaitonde, Aishwarya Tipnis and Pradnya Zagzape

Contractor: M/s Construction Techniques and M/s Laxmi Waterproofing & Construction

Date of Completion: June 2005

Project Synopsis

Established in 1857, the Sir JJ School of Art is a pioneering Indian art institution that has played an important role in the development of Mumbai’s architecture and of contemporary Indian art. At the turn of the twenty-first century, however, the building housing the school had suffered from general deterioration of the built fabric and an accretion of insensitive, ad hoc additions that obscured its fine architectural design and decorative details.                                                     

The conservation work was guided by the goal of reversing the neglect, soiling and incongruous incremental repairs of the institution that had once pioneered design. An innovative funding solution was arranged by the Friends of JJ School of Art, a special purpose public trust. This involved harnessing the funding power of prominent Mumbai residents, organizing fundraising performances, arranging the sale of student art and, for the first time in India, obtaining Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) funds from the central government.

The initial round of fundraising enabled the creation of a conservation masterplan, followed by a first phase of works aimed at undertaking urgent specialist restoration works to the exterior of the building that the Public Works Department did not have capacity to undertake. A second phase was undertaken by the Public Works Department using the MPLADS funds, in an unprecedented collaboration with the Friends of JJ School of Art.  This second stage included repairs to the roof, windows, verandah and the plumbing and electrical systems. 

The Friends of JJ School of Art also aimed to revive the educational mission of the school, returning it to its past prominence as one of India’s leading art schools. This involved conducting a complete curriculum review, convening monthly seminars by eminent artists, launching an awards programme and, courtesy of the Swiss Consulate, initiating an annual scholarship programme. The renewal of the school was savoured by an appreciative community of students, alumni and Mumbaikars when the newly-restored building was used as the venue for a student art festival following the completion of the project.

Highlights of the Conservation Approach

Prior to the start of restoration work, a thorough condition assessment was conducted, mapping all the structural and architectural threats to the building. These included the decay of the timber joists, water seepage from ground water, masonry and roof leakages and deterioration of the limestone façade. The building had accumulated incongruous additions over the years, including inappropriate toilets and plumbing fixtures, downspouts and chajjas (cantilevered sunshades) on the building elevations and infilling panels along the verandah.

Roof leakage had resulted in wet rot at the ends of the Burma teak joists where they had been inserted into the masonry wall. Splice repair was undertaken, with rotted sections of timber being carefully cut out and replaced with sections of similar well-seasoned Burma teak.

Water seepage was addressed by removing sources of water logging, including the flowerbeds and planters that had been placed along the building’s external plinth. The surrounding soil was excavated to a depth of one metre, all voids were filled with a waterproof grout, the foundation level masonry was repointed and the excavation was back-filled with loose gravel, thereby allowing for adequate evaporation. 

Throughout the building, the original pointing had deteriorated over time, exacerbating the water seepage problems of the building. The building was repointed using traditional lime mortar, to ensure breathability and evaporation of water. To ensure as close a match as possible with the original mortar, over fifty batches of pointing were prepared, each with a slightly different mix, for testing on unobtrusive parts of the building. Ultimately two types of mortar mix were selected: one for pointing the limestone, the other for the basalt. The fineness of the stone joints required the repointing to be undertaken very carefully, using fine spatulas and masking tape. 

In some places the stone had deteriorated to the extent that up to two or three inches (five to seven and a half centimetres) had been lost from the surface. In these areas, the original stone profile was rebuilt with a sacrificial layer of lime mortar. In areas where limestone carving had been damaged by the insensitive installation of rainwater downpipes and sunshades, new limestone pieces were carved by local craftspeople and attached using non-corrosive stainless steel pins. The limestone chosen for replacement was sourced from an old site and possessed the same texture, composition and colour as the original limestone.

Cleaning of the limestone decorative carvings and mouldings was undertaken using a poultice technique. The stonework façade was cleaned by gentle water misting, an alternative to abrasive mechanical or chemical treatments commonly used in the city. Ficus plants were uprooted manually and the stumps were treated with a traditional mixture of lime and asafetida. In areas prone to algae and lichen growth, a solution of quaternary ammoniacal solution was applied.

In upgrading the building services to meet modern standards, the toilets were relocated and the plumbing rerouted. Incongruous infill windows along the verandah were replaced with windows conforming to the Neo-Gothic architectural style of the building.

The process required regular reviews by a committee of experts, including the Chief Architect of the Government of Maharashtra, the project conservation architect and Public Works Department engineers. The project provided an opportunity to collaborate closely with the Public Works Department, exposing personnel to conservation processes such as documentation, investigation prior to and during the work, minimal intervention approaches and the notion of authenticity in materials and design.

Conservation and the Community

Prior to the restoration project, there was a risk of decline not only of the building fabric, but also in the confidence of the school community in the quality of education provided at the institution. The project has helped restore pride in the Sir JJ School of Art as an educational institution, with the school community having a sense of ownership through their involvement in the process.  It has also brought the Friends of JJ Trust into the ongoing life of the institution.

Quote from the Project Team

“The project has helped not only restore a Grade IIB historic edifice, but has set the path for sensitizing Public Works Department personnel in restoration techniques and helped restore a sense of pride in an historic educational institution that has fashioned Indian art for over a century and a half.”