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Project Profile

 

2009 Honourable Mention

YWCA Lady Willingdon Hostel

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Project TitleYWCA Lady Willingdon Hostel

Location18 Madam Cama Road, Mumbai, India

Size1,950 square metres

CostUS$ 156,000

Responsible PartyYWCA of Bombay

Heritage ArchitectVikas Dilawari

ContractorM/s Safe Construction

Date of CompletionAugust 2008


Project Synopsis

YWCA Lady Willingdon Hostel is located on Madam Cama Road in the old Fort area of Mumbai, a precinct with many listed historic properties. While the buildings along this road are remarkably consistent in height, width and scale, they display a wide diversity of architectural styles, contributing to the distinctive character of the Fort area.

Lady Willingdon Hostel was the initiative of Lord Sandhurst who in 1900 contributed funds for the construction of a residential facility for single women living in the city. The building was named after the wife of the then governor of Bombay (Mumbai).

A classic rendition of a late Victorian building, the design followed the Neoclassical tradition, incorporating some Renaissance Revival elements. The historic residential block is architecturally notable for its intricate limestone ornamentation, including Corinthian columns, garlanded lintels, dentil mouldings and projecting cornices, and for its distinctive teakwood ornamental chajjas (watersheds over windows and doorways).

Lady Willingdon Hostel is one of the oldest buildings in India belonging to the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). It is not only of architectural distinction but also speaks to the history of the Young Christian movement in India and throughout the world.

Overall, the building is in good condition but over the years parts of the building had decayed, with the structure of the balconies and supporting brackets deteriorating and the metal reinforcements on the second floor terrace corroding. Extensive vegetative growth had damaged the masonry fabric, causing water seepage and some settlement had occurred around the bay windows in the façade and east elevation. Various repairs had been undertaken on the building, but were carried out using incompatible materials and techniques. The external façade had experienced numerous repairs. Some of these had helped prolong the life of the building; others had altered important features beyond recognition. For instance, the original lime plaster render and decorative stone details had been replaced with cement plaster, and ornamental woodwork that had rotted had been replaced with poor quality copies. Moreover, the building had been painted the YMCA blue and grey, which was not in keeping with its authentic colour scheme or era.

The renovation of this building has become an outstanding example not only for future renovations of other historic YWCA buildings, but also for other buildings in the Fort precinct, some of which are in need of attention. The renovation project also demonstrated the continuing value of heritage buildings for use in the present.

Conservation Approach

The YWCA management was committed to preserving the structure and saw it as both a beautiful and useful part of their real estate holdings and worthy of both renovation and preservation. The requirements for listed structures under the Mumbai Heritage Regulations meant that the building was protected both for its unique features and its contribution to its overall setting.

In 2001, the YWCA management commissioned a report that issued a number of recommendations on repairing the building in accordance with recognized conservation standards in lieu of undertaking repairs using standard contractors, as had been done in the past. The new conservation philosophy adopted was one of minimal intervention and change and the retention of all historically significant elements. This ensured that the building would be sensitively restored.

Divided into several manageable components, the work began with the appointment of a conservation architect and team in February 2006. A detailed survey, comprised of a complete set of measured drawings and careful investigation of conditions, followed the selection of the architectural team. Drawings were necessary as there were no extant drawings of the original design. The survey report highlighted the areas of high cultural significance, which were to be restored. At the same time, all unsympathetic additions were scheduled for removal. The project faced a number of challenges, however, including the requirement that the facility remain in service throughout the rehabilitation process. On site work was initiated in 2007 and completed in August 2008. During the restoration process, the team discovered major defects in the dining room, which necessitated closing this part of the building while repairs took place. Another discovery was that the original façade had featured exposed red bricks, which had been covered over in a cement render. Investigations proved that it was impossible to remove this stucco layer without damaging the bricks. The conservation team conducted a detailed study into Victorian colour schemes, focusing on buildings of a similar age and style, then chose a colour scheme that complemented the building’s surfaces, as a compromise to restoring the original facade. The conservation team worked first on the rear façade, which served as a trial surface. Once the team had found the most effective solution they then applied this to the front of the building. The repair of the broken pediment and the balustrade on the terrace parapet significantly restored the overall character of the building, helping to reveal the structure’s long-lost character.

While the brick walls had received a layer of stucco, many other details still retained their original appearance. The process to restore these involved the removal of dirt and paint from all the original stone surfaces through the application of a mist spray. 

On the softer stone surfaces care was taken to ensure that the spray did not damage the surface. Throughout the project, the construction crew avoided the use of heavy tools; workers used hand tools to gently scrape away the paint layers. The removal of paint from the Corinthian capitals in the porch alone required a full two weeks. The surfaces of these and other decorative components were then treated with a lime-wash coating. The building exhibited numerous examples of distinctive chajja, which had originally been fitted over all of the external openings for weather protection. Some of the teakwood tongue-and-groove boarding comprising the chajja had rotted away. Still, much of the framing was in good condition and could be reused. The construction crew replaced missing or damaged parts following the principle of “like to like”.

Work on the interior included the replacement of missing or damaged stained-glass panels, upgrading of bathrooms and lavatories and redecoration of the entryway and interior passages. The restoration team chose a deep red and white colour scheme used to highlight the mouldings, brackets and other decorative features. The project’s conservation team emphasized the importance of the original design, with the result that new facilities were inserted in a way that caused minimal disruption to original features and materials. Although significant progress was made on the interior, the restoration of the main hall on the ground floor was scheduled for a future time.

Conservation and the Community

The YWCA has been a presence in Mumbai since 1875. The organization was a pioneer in raising the status of women and in creating international awareness of issues affecting women, and has contributed importantly to the social fabric of the city.

The repairs and restoration of YWCA Lady Willingdon Hostel helped ensure that the building can continue to provide social benefits to the communities it serves. The project also generated a significant new interest within the YWCA community about the value of heritage properties. It also demonstrated the ways in which a historic building can be renovated to upgrade facilities while maintaining the integrity of the building. The YWCA is now considering a similar approach in the renovation of their other historically significant properties.

Quote from the Project Team

“The restoration of the hostel building has created awareness in the neighbourhood regarding the conservation process. The newly restored Lady Willingdon Hostel is an inspiration to members of the community to commit towards the cause of conservation, which is the need of the day.”