After UNESCO honour, Art Deco buildings to gain signages

Updated: Aug 25, 2019, 07:24 IST | Arita Sarkar |

The 94 heritage buildings in the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai are all set to get explanatory plaques, maps, way-finder arrows and QR Codes

While individual clusters of Victorian Gothic or Art Deco may be seen across the world, collectively, Mumbai's ensemble is unparalleled. Pic/Shadab Khan
While individual clusters of Victorian Gothic or Art Deco may be seen across the world, collectively, Mumbai's ensemble is unparalleled. Pic/Shadab Khan

After successfully getting the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai inscribed as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in June 2018, members of the Federation of Residents Trust (FORT) have now started working on the next step—a signage plan. Following the guidelines laid out by UNESCO, the plan will involve putting up different kinds of signage at 94 heritage buildings that are part of the ensemble and will, hopefully, cultivate a sense of public responsibility towards the heritage sites.

On August 6, members of FORT presented a model of the plan to the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) and received an informal nod from the committee members. Rajiv Mishra, an MHCC member and principal of JJ College of Architecture, said, "The idea was good and an in-principle approval has been given. After the presentation, they were given feedback based on the position, height and colour scheme that should gel with the character of the ensemble. They have been asked to present again and the final approval will be subject to feedback." The presentation will be at the next MHCC meeting this month.

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Among the members of FORT who worked on the signage plan are conservation architect and executive director of Urban Design Research Institute, Pankaj Joshi. FORT also appointed conservation architect Apoorva Iyengar to design the plan over three months. Based on suggestions that came from other members of the association such as Joshi, the plan went through several drafts. Joshi said that the signage and interpretation plan is a mandatory part of the commitment that the government made to UNESCO at the time of the proposal. "The signage plan has been designed as per the set of operational guidelines published by UNESCO in December last year. Since members of FORT were the ones to prepare the dossier, the same group is following up with the implementation of the signage plan."

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The proposed signage size will be 45 cm in length
The proposed signage size will be 45 cm in length

The inclusive signage plan will help enhance tourism, improve mobility and offer historical information about a particular heritage site. Joshi says that when tourists come to a heritage site they expect some kind of interpretation. If there isn't any available, the tourists are unlikely to spread the word or visit the site again. Signages can help draw in tourists and also organise and improve pedestrian movement. The ensemble includes 94 heritage buildings: the entire Art Deco stretch on Queen's Necklace and Oval Maidan; the Victorian Gothic structures of Bombay High Court, Mumbai University and City Civil Court; an Indo-Saracenic example such as CSMVS; and NGMA, a neo-classical building. Joshi said that after consulting the guidelines, different kinds of signage have been proposed in the plan, based on the type of building including information plaques, way-finder maps, way-finder arrows, emblems, and World Heritage Site tiles, among others. "There are nine kinds of signage that will be mounted or fixed in four different ways, depending on the available area and design," he said.

The signages can either be mounted on the building or the compound wall, on the railing board, can be free standing or fixed on the ground. Apart from English, the information plaques will also be translated in Marathi, and include Braille in a few important areas. One of the elements of the signage plan will be concrete stamped or fixed as tiles at a few locations where there's elevation of the Art Deco buildings. The elevation refers to the outline of the Art Deco buildings, which will be in-built into the pathway like the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It's a process called stucco concrete plaster that is cast on tiles and fitted in the pavement. In order to help tourists navigate independently, QR Codes may be added to the signboards at landmark buildings as well. This will include an audio guide and offer suggestions for other places to visit within the heritage precinct along with a historical analysis and trivia of the important buildings.

For better visibility, the plan proposes setting up maps at areas with high footfalls, such as the Churchgate Railway Station, Kala Ghoda, Regal Cinema, CSMVS, NGMA, among others. Joshi added that once they have written approval from the MHCC, members of FORT will send a formal request to the A Ward office to initiate the execution of this plan and will also approach the state government. Conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah said, "We also need to focus on the stations that lead to these areas [Charni Road or Marine Lines]. We can have area maps for visitors or even commuters to understand that they are entering a World Heritage Site. The next step is illumination of all the buildings in the heritage precinct." When contacted, Nitin Kareer, principal secretary of the Urban Development Department, said, "If the MHCC has cleared the proposal, then there is no problem in implementing it."

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While discussing the costs involved, Joshi said that the project will be carried out in phases and the project can only be ascertained once all the stakeholders are onboard. He is confident that if all goes as planned, the project shouldn't take longer than one year to implement. "There are various agencies involved like the Railways, the sports authority (managing Oval Maidan), the city collector and the state government. The project won't cost much and the funding can come from different authorities or even through public-private partnership."

Another FORT member, Nayana Kathpalia, who is also a trustee of NGO Alliance for Governance and Renewal, said that the signage plan can help create awareness about the entire heritage precinct. "Once we have the nomination, we can't sit back and do nothing. We formed a loose coalition between six associations, who had worked on the dossier and the plan." She added that unlike a monument or a building where one or two plaques can be put up, this plan is for an entire precinct, which includes residential and public buildings. "It had to be a proper well-designed plan. For instance, a way-finder map will be set up at Churchgate station. So many people coming out of the station have no clue that they are stepping into a World Heritage Site."

The number of types of signage that will be mounted

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