Rajabai Clock Tower: Time for repair

For the first time after 135 years, the Mumbai University library building, along with the 86-metre-high Rajabai Clock Tower, is being restored. According to principal architect Brinda Somaya, of Somaya and Kalappa Consultants, if all goes according to plan, Mumbai will soon see its iconic clock tower restored to its former glory.

The restoration work of the tower began in June, this year. Pics/Shadab Khan

She says, “The problems with the clock tower are that of any building of its age. There are many issues. With excess pollution, the stones are affected and they will have to go through a cleaning process. The doors and windows need repairing. The tower has many statues that need to be restored. Waterproofing, plumbing, strengthening of the roof and the structure are some of the things that have to be looked at. The building has never been renovated, except once when the building’s stained glass was restored.

The University library building along with the clock tower are currently being restored

” While restoring any heritage structure one could face many hurdles, but restoring a heritage structure which is also functioning, requires great planning and organizing. To this Somaya says, “The clock tower and the University library are not only iconic, but they are also functioning buildings.

In order for the restoration to take place, we had to vacate the library building. We are hoping that the restoration is completed by monsoon 2014, as the University would like to use the library soon. Also, when it comes to a tower like Rajabai, its height definitely is a challenge. We have to keep in mind that the structure of the tower is narrow and tall, and think about the safety of the workers working up there. And since the clock is functioning well, we don’t want the work to disturb it. Hence, extra care is taken.”

Seeking permission for restoration was cumbersome. She says, “We got permission from the Municipality Heritage Conservation Committee and it was very difficult. We went through a series of meetings and site inspections before they were satisfied and accepted our proposal.” Mentioning a few changes Somaya hopes to achieve, she says, “We are trying to make the ground floor disabled-friendly.

But considering the fact that it is a heritage structure, any changes to its original design will be difficult. I hope after the restoration is complete, the tower is open to the public. The view from there is amazing and each Mumbaikar should have an opportunity to witness it. Only then will they have a sense of ownership and maintain it.” The restoration is being carried out by Mumbai University, Somaya and Kalappa Consultants (architects), Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), who have provided funds of R 4.2 crore, and the Indian Heritage Society.

History of Rajabai Clock Tower
Completed in 1878, the Rajabai Clock Tower was designed by English architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, and was based on the UK’s Big Ben. Construction of the tower totally cost R 2 lakh in those days. Indian businessman Premchand Roychand, popularly known as the ‘cotton king’, donated the amount on the condition that the tower be named after his mother, Rajabai. Rajabai was a staunch Jain, and the evening bell of the clock assisted her to have her dinner on time, without help from anyone. 

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