Rash demolition damages world heritage CST

Sep 04, 2013, 05:38 IST | Shashank Rao

Historic gargoyles, finials and precious bits of architecture that once adorned the imposing CST now lie in a rubbish heap, thanks to the hack job authorities did in razing a toilet block

The neo-gothic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus building -- with its Victorian gargoyles, limestone walls, finely-carved entrances, expressive sculptures and towering pillars -- is a matter of pride for the railway authorities that inherited it as their HQ. But their heedlessness of this awe-inspiring world heritage has left it maimed, by mistake.

Razing history: Slipshod demolition activity at a toilet block at the back of the heritage complex has reduced portions of its priceless legacy to debris

Legacy in a shambles
Lion-faced gargoyles, pilasters sculpted like chess pieces, finials and other ornamental parts of this edifice, which recently celebrated 125 years, are now reduced to a pile of debris, lying sullenly in a corner in the back of the building, where a toilet block once was.

Sources in Central Railway (CR) said the block, juxtaposed to the building’s back close to the section for long-distance trains -- was demolished as it wasn’t part of the heritage site. But the sledgehammer move accidentally pulled down the pieces of heritage.

Thousands of commuters entering from the GPO side can see the destroyed portions of the building.

Officials concede it is possible that workers demolishing the toilet might have accidentally damaged these portions of the heritage building. “We will be soon restoring it, although there is no particular deadline for this,” said a CR official.

“We will look into the matter and see what action can be taken to restore these portions. The matter hasn’t been brought to our notice yet,” said CR’s chief public relations officer Atul Rane.

More than a year back, a canteen adjoining the heritage site was gutted in a blaze, exposing how vulnerable the 1888-built CST’s splendour was. Soon after, CR authorities decided to demolish unwanted structures that were too close to the heritage building. The weakening toilet block was one among them.

Now, a temporary pathway on CST’s first floor towards the demolished toilet block is in the process of being torn down. CR alone knows what the accidental detriment from that would be.

Experts say
Conservation architects and historians across the city say construction labourers demolishing the toilet block might not have been careful to avoid damage to these gargoyles and finials.

“There is a need for carefully removing these elements that form part of the heritage structure. It can be restored but it will be a painstaking process,” said a historian and architect, adding, “There is a certain process that needs to be followed during restoration.”

“We will have to make a site visit and inspect the damage. We will have to gauge to what extent the heritage site has been affected and how it can be restored,” said V Ranganathan, chief of Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee.

“They were demolishing relatively new construction and that is not wrong. But the unfortunate part is that people were not careful. CST’s integral structures should not have been pulled apart. It is possible that the demolition workers were ignorant or that the damage was accidental. Now, the damage needs to be fixed with the use of chemicals and stainless steel,” said conservation architect Vikas Dilawari.

Ill-thought plans
Not so long ago, this paper had reported how the railways’ plans to turn the heritage structure into a world-class station ran aground, thanks its own myopia (‘Height barrier gets in way of CST makeover’, July 15).

The railways had proposed a skyscraper, a three-star hotel, lodging facilities for passengers, a 20-storey shopping and commercial complex and eight buildings on the P D’mello side of the CST complex, near Wadi Bunder. But a heritage impact assessment study said that all these needed to be cut to size, since UNESCO guidelines stipulate that no high rise can block a full view of heritage sites

“The height of the buildings proposed to be developed around the CST heritage area should be restricted at 24 metres, as prescribed by the UNESCO,” conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, who made the study, had told MiD DAY.

The study came after the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) -- advisory body to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee — asked the railways to do the assessment.

In other words, no structure can overshadow the dome of CST building. This effectively curtails all plans involving a skyscraper or commercial centre, and allows no more than about seven storeys for any building that may come up.  

About CST
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), formerly known as Victoria Terminus Station, is an outstanding example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture in India. The building, designed by the British architect F W Stevens, became the symbol of Bombay as the ‘Gothic City’, which was the major international mercantile port in India.

The terminal was built over 10 years, starting in 1878, according to a High Victorian Gothic design based on late medieval Italian models. It is an outstanding example of the meeting of two cultures, as British architects worked with Indian craftsmen to include Indian architectural tradition and idioms thus forging a new style unique to the city.

What is a gargoyle?

In architecture, a gargoyle is a carved stone grotesque, usually made of granite, with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building thereby preventing rainwater from running down masonry walls and eroding the mortar between. The term originates from the French gargouille, which in English is likely to mean “throat” or is otherwise known as the “gullet.”

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