Mumbai: We can't lose the UNESCO tag, say Churchgate-Fort inhabitants

Jul 01, 2018, 07:26 IST | Benita Fernando

Inhabitants of the buildings, now part of world heritage, explain why being part of a grand, architectural collective is great responsibility

Mumbai: We can't lose the UNESCO tag, say Churchgate-Fort inhabitants
The stairwell at Court View. Pic/Art Deco Mumbai

It was around 13 years ago, when Rajan Jayakar moved to Court View — the first building on the Art Deco row next to Eros Theatre — so that he could be closer to his workplace. Jayakar, who is also convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), says the decision to shift to this building, has today brought him immense pride.

But, while he is elated with the tag, he maintains that "it is not the individual buildings that are important, but the precinct". He suggests that societies, public sector undertakings and private bodies that own these buildings recognise that they are part of a grand, architectural collective. If this means that buildings need to be re-painted according to an aesthetic scheme, then so be it. He wishes specially that the buildings that are run by public sector undertakings be more "heritage-minded". "It is now important that people take note of the precinct, and not lose the UNESCO tag," he says.

Rajan Jayakar, resident of Court View
Rajan Jayakar, resident of Court View

Speaking about Court View, Jayakar says that it has a unique stairwell, one that is a prominent interior feature of Art Deco buildings. "Some of the residents, unlike me, have also retained their Art Deco furniture. My taste is more Victorian," says the solicitor, who set up a museum for the Bombay High Court, which is also part of the precinct. He adds that many of these houses boast of tiles that are peculiar to the Art Deco style.

"The tiles themselves are not circular in design, but are arranged in such a way to reflect the aesthetic of Art Deco," he says. A little further down from Court View is Motabhoy Mansion, where, on its fifth floor, is the office of Dr Jehanbux Chichgar.

When we ask him about the World Heritage Site status that the precinct has been awarded with, he cheerily says, "Well, you are damned if you do, damned if you don't." He then says that the pros naturally outweigh the cons in this case. "This will be a greater push for residents and societies, especially the ones who cannot come to a decisive conclusion, to take better care of the buildings," he says. The cons, he says, are that, given the existing heritage tag that these buildings have from the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee, "even driving a nail into the wall means you have to get permissions."

Both Chichgar and Jayakar say that one of the biggest concerns that these buildings have is the facade. Split AC units, that too arranged haphazardly, are a common reason for the defacement of these structures. The new award, they hope, will push residents and societies for more stringent rules regarding ACs. "Let's face it. We are in Mumbai. So, AC units can be put on the side of the building, rather than on the front," says Jayakar.

Both are aware of the architecturally rich locations that they occupy. Jayakar says that he sees many a group of passers-by pointing at Court View and discussing it. "I find out if they are architecture students, tourists, heritage walks or Art Deco experts. Because I live on the ground floor, I sometimes invite them to have a look inside," he says.

Chichgar was born in Motabhoy Mansion where his office is now located. He recalls the time his grandfather first came to the area, which was reclaimed land, and the number of "To Let" signs that dotted the area. "There was nothing great in Churchgate then. Today, when I think about this office that faces the Oval Maidan and the high court, my parents left behind something great," he says.

mid-day's campaign
In July 2013, mid-day joined hands with Abha Narain Lambah and Urban Design Research Institute to support Mumbai's nomination of its Victorian Gothic and Art Deco ensemble for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The campaign involved coverage in print, radio spots and an online signature drive backed by its readers that were submitted as part of the dossier. This was presented to the then Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan as the city's official entry in August 2013. The campaign had covered citizen's views as well visits by heritage experts like Filipino urban planner Augusto Villalon and former UNESCO Regional Advisor for Culture in Asia and the Pacific Dr Richard A Engelhardt

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DISCLAIMER: mid-day and its affiliates shall have no liability for any views, thoughts and comments expressed on this article.

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