'Individually, the architecture of the two precincts is outstanding'
In our final installment to give Mumbai's Victorian Gothic and Art Deco precincts a fitting platform for UNESCO World Heritage Site status, MiD DAY caught up with Richard A Engelhardt. The former UNESCO Regional Advisor for Culture in Asia and the Pacific was in the city earlier this month as a mentor to advise on the proposed nomination
How did you get associated with this proposal?
I was requested to advise on the proposed nomination by Abha Narain Lambah, the consultant preparing the proposal, in my capacity as UNESCO World Heritage Mentor and in consideration of my familiarity with the historic precincts of Mumbai and their conservation.
What were your initial observations of this unique architectural mix?
I have long been an advocate of the nomination to the World Heritage List of both the Victorian and Art Deco precincts of Mumbai. Individually, the architecture of the two precincts is outstanding, each in its own right. However, it is the dialogue of the two architectural ensembles across the Oval Maidan that make them collectively of outstanding universal value -- and hence suitable for nomination to the World Heritage List -- as emblematic of the emergence and development of Mumbai as one of the world’s great modern commercial cities.
Based on your visit to the site, what are Mumbai’s chances in comparison with global competition?
There is no “global competition” for inscription on the World Heritage List. Each nominated property is considered on it’s own merits. The only limiting factor is that of timing, as the World Heritage Committee considers a maximum of 35 nominations per year.
What will be some of the challenges that Mumbai’s dossier is up against -- considering that this site represents living heritage in an urban centre of the city?
Inscribed World Heritage properties, in addition to possessing “outstanding universal value”, are expected to exhibit exemplary conservation and management -- so as to ensure that the outstanding universal value(s) for which they are inscribed can be maintained in the long run. Any living World Heritage site (and there are many city centers already inscribed on the World Heritage List) faces challenges of maintaining the authentic character and intact condition of its heritage in the face of development pressures -- such as road building, redevelopment of buildings, or incompatible new constructions -- which may threaten to dismember the heritage precinct or disguise the physical and non-physical attributes which constitute its heritage value.
It is for this reason that the World Heritage Committee insists that legal safeguards are in-place and implemented before inscribing any site on the World Heritage List. Mumbai is not alone in facing these challenges -- the city center of Paris, for example, is also inscribed on the World Heritage List and it too faces intense development pressures.
One of the advantages of inscription on the World Heritage List is that site managers are linked together in a network where information and experiences can be exchanged. This is the purpose of the World Heritage Convention -- to share global expertise in best practices in the conservation and management of our world’s most valuable heritage properties.