JSW Foundation’s Restoration & Conservation efforts revive Mumbai's iconic library to its former glory reports Surfaces Reporter (SR).
The built environment of Mumbai is home to buildings which keep the nostalgia of Bombay alive. One such example is the David Sassoon Library located in the fort area which was recently restored. Conservation Architect Abha Narain Lambah who was involved in the project notes “The institute was one of the first buildings in the group of buildings to the south of Flora Fountain which included the Mumbai University Complex, Watson’s Hotel, Elphinstone College and later, the neo-classical army and navy building. The arcade covering the street runs as a unifying element between these buildings, all built in different architectural styles.”The library had undergone renovations in 1997, which involved replacing the original sloping roof with a reinforced cement concrete slab. However, over time, issues with leakage began to plague the building, prompting the library to seek professional advice. Abha Narain Lambah was roped in and she concluded a comprehensive restoration was desired. The restoration was carried out by JSW Foundation’s Restoration & Conservation and it included rehousing of the library’s collection of books, rebuilding its original sloping roof, restoration of the façade & interior spaces and conservation of its historic furniture & interior finishes.
Rehousing of 30,000 books
The David Sassoon Library collection includes some of the oldest books on architecture and design in five languages: English, Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi & Kannada. These books have now been accommodated in large bookshelves on the first floor of the reading room. These are period bookshelves and among the first pieces of furniture commissioned for the building in 1870. They have been restored and reconstructed as per the library’s original bookshelf design while ensuring the structural stability and integrity of the 156 years old Grade I Heritage building. The original massive solid teak wood reading tables have also been restored. The interior design and lighting in the library has been revisited to be conducive for long hours of reading.
Restoration of the original sloping roof
This was one of the critical aspects of this restoration project. During the library’s renovation in 1997, its original sloping roof was replaced with reinforced cement concrete slab. The concrete slab had, over time, developed water leakage in the building. During the restoration effort, this concrete slab had to be strategically demolished and a new MS framed portal roof was erected with multiple layers of waterproofing and protection. The architectural and structural ingenuity during the reconstruction of the original roof has been achieved by employing a combination of modern and traditional construction techniques. The design of the polychromatic gable walls and other intricate details of the original roof like the cresting and finials were derived through deep and exhaustive study of the archival research on the building to achieve the Original Sloping Roof in its novel form including restoration of the Burma teak wood ceilings and rafters.
Restoration of the exteriors and interiors
The David Sassoon Library’s exterior façade and stunning interiors have been restored through extensive and gentle process of stone-cleaning, pointing and protection with a sensitive façade coating material. This includes iconic building's stunning interiors, library, reading hall, offices, foyers have been recreated to provide better spatial arrangements.Recreation of the original Minton tile flooring
The David Sassoon Library’s restoration includes recreating the intricate Minton tile flooring. The newly restored library has retained a significant amount of its original Minton Tile flooring starting from the entrance foyer extending to the first floor covering the reading room and the veranda. The various patterns of the Minton flooring varying in each room have been carefully restored. These tiles were originally imported from England during the 19th century. The reconstructed Minton flooring is made of small ceramic tiles used as a mosaic of brightly coloured elements.
Restoration of historic furniture
The David Sassoon Library’s Restoration Project included careful rebuilding & restoration of its historic furniture.Recreation of original lighting design
The library originally used gas lighting in the building before electricity was introduced. A lamp on the main staircase from the pre-electricity era has been recreated and placed in its original place.
Extensive waterproofing of the heritage building
Over the years, the David Sassoon library building underwent heavy distress due to ingress of water from all the rooks and walls. The restoration process included a thorough waterproofing and sealing process to ensure the building was made watertight.
The next phase of the restoration project of David Sassoon Library Building will focus on restoring the library’s landscape and gardens. This will allow Mumbaikars to enjoy a quiet breather from a busy day in the city.