'BMC will provide an alternate playground'

Amid protests by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena that the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum will usurp a playground from the area for its new wing, Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte’s assurance of an alternate space comes as good news for all concerned

“A playground will be provided to the local residents as per planning standards,” confirmed Sitaram Kunte, Municipal Commissioner, BMC while speaking to Mid-day. He was commenting after protests had surfaced two weeks back when MNS protestors claimed that a playground adjoining the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum would be usurped as a result of the new wing that would emerge in the north end of the existing building. Kunte is also the Co-Chairman and Trustee of the museum.

The award-winning designs for the new wing. Eight architects were selected from 104 submissions for the competition’s final leg, which included famous architects such as Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid and IM Pei. They were required to have an Indian partner
The award-winning designs for the new wing. Eight architects were selected from 104 submissions for the competition’s final leg, which included famous architects such as Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid and IM Pei. They were required to have an Indian partner

Another BMC official on request of anonymity, said, “There is a holistic plan for zoo extension, which includes the seven-acre plot that we have. There will also be a bird park at Powai. Besides, we are in touch with the State Government for 125 acres of Aarey land, which will be an extension of the zoo in Byculla. With acquisition of this land, we will surely be in the position to give the population of that area another playground.” Speaking on the issue yesterday, city mayor, Snehal Ambekar gave it a go-ahead, “The development plan of the zoo along with the museum was approved by former mayor Sunil Prabhu in the General Body meeting and accordingly, funds have been allotted as well. I have no clue why the opposition has come up with protest now.”


This should put the spotlight back on the approximately 1,20,000 sq ft space that will be at the heart of the award-winning design by New York based Stephen Holl Architects who was declared the winner of North Wing Design Competition, for the museum. Two days later, locals led by MNS corporator Samita Naik protested that the expansion plans would mean the usurping of a playground used by children from BMC and private schools in the neighbourhood. What ensued were protests outside the city’s oldest museum as well as in the house during the ongoing winter session.

Recently, on a visit to museum, and the area, we spotted a handful of children playing football. The far end of the ground from the main Dr Ambedkar Road was in dismal condition. A beggar was snoozing in one corner. Within a few metres, a wall separated it from a dumping ground. Taking us through the proposed expansion, Tasneem Mehta, Trustee and Honorary Director of the Museum, said that the so-called playground was largely a dump. “It was only after the space made headlines now that it was cleaned up, overnight,” she reveals. “This is land owned by the Municipal Corporation. We have a sanction to go ahead with our plans. We have always been transparent about the running of this city museum, and will continue to do so with the new wing as well.”

Bhau Daji Lad
Honorary Director of Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Tasneem Mehta

Excerpts from an interview with Tasneem Mehta:

Your biggest challenge seems to be the current scenario with allegations that the playground will be used to accommodate the new wing. Your comments.
Well, ours is a noisy and vibrant democracy. Protests must be taken in the right spirit. The children of the neighbourhood need a play ground and Mr. Kunte has said that he will allocate land for them in the expanded zoo area itself. This seems to have gotten lost in the noise. The alternate playground will happen – only the modalities of it need to be worked out. The locals will also benefit from the wonderful new facilities that we are going to create. Most of all, our children will benefit.

What kind of role did the authorities play to help sanction and facilitate this project? Please elaborate.
We cleared all plans at our Board meeting chaired by the Mayor and the MC and funds were sanctioned by the MCGM to start the process.

In the larger picture, what will this new wing do for Mumbai’s cultural landscape?
The vision for the new building is to create a multi-cultural hub for Mumbai that will make it a truly special place for the citizen’s of this city. It will be a place where you can come to learn, but also to relax and enjoy yourself. The idea is to have a green and friendly learning and cultural centre in the heart of the city that showcases its many talents and its unique history. Something every Mumbaikar can be proud of.

Turning the clock back, why was there a need to add a new wing to the Dr Bhau Daji Lad City Museum?
The Museum lacks many basic facilities that are now essential for cultural institutions such as an education centre, an auditorium, a conservation centre, storage space for collections, office space and sufficient gallery space.

Whose support was integral in the early phase?
We have had the support of the outgoing mayor Mr Sunil Prabhu all along. Mr. Sitaram Kunte, the Municipal Commissioner (MC) was the Additional Municipal Commissioner when the Dr Bhau Daji Lad City Museum won the UNESCO Award of Excellence for our work so he has been involved with the project since its inception. The Municipal Corporation has been supportive and that is the reason we have been able to achieve so much.

What was the process like – to judge this coveted competition? What set apart Stephen Holl Architects from the rest?
We had an eminent jury chaired by Mr. Kunte. It included people like Martin Roth, director of the V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum), Vishaka Desai, former President of the Asia Society, New York, Anand Mahindra, Homi Bhabha, chair of the Humanities Centre at Harvard, Aroon Tikekar, former President of the Asiatic Society Mumbai, Shyam Benegal and Sen Kapadia. The jury was unanimous in their choice. Holl’s design was not only environmentally sensitive but also unique.

How did the museum work towards this end?
We decided to have an international architectural competition and did an open call for a consultant to manage the process. We selected Malcolm Reading who has worked on several international museum projects including the expansion plan for the V&A, the Guggenheim Museum, New York,etc. We had 104 submissions out of which we selected 8 architects.

Why did the museum decide on having an open competition for the design of this new wing?
An open competition is the most transparent way to do a project and also brings in the best ideas from across the world. Some of the world's most famous architects participated. Like Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid and IM Pei. They were all required to have an Indian partner.

Tell us about the crowd funding initiative that you intend to introduce for the new wing.
Mumbai has always been known for its benevolent spirit. In the old times, most of its prominent landmarks were built using public money and donations. People felt a sense of pride when this happened. Now, we intend to introduce the same for the north wing project where people will be invited to contribute for this out for choice, and thus feel proud to be a part of the city’s museum. It will be a one-of-a-kind initiative for a city museum.
(With inputs from Chetna Yerunkar)

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