Setting our sites on UNESCO

Jul 17, 2013, 09:00 IST | A Correspondent

In a continuation of our Saving Mumbai's Heritage Campaign, Tasneem Mehta, Managing Trustee and Honorary Director of the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum and Convenor of INTACH's Greater Mumbai Chapter, reveals why it is crucial to preserve the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensemble including the Oval Maidan precinct, and outlines how the city has much to gain if it secures its third UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) prepared the original document for the declaration of World Heritage status for the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). At the time, we had recommended that the whole of the Fort area be taken up as a serial nomination.

To think about: Tasneem Mehta

A serial nomination is when an ensemble or cluster of buildings is given world heritage status, as opposed to one building or monument. The group represents a particular architectural typology or historic setting or historic moment, and conforms to similar principles.

Ticket to history: The Art Deco-style Eros building forms part of the heritage precinct

Why this precinct matters
This nomination not only includes the Fort but also the Art Deco precinct. It is of great importance that Mumbai recognizes the uniqueness of this architectural heritage. Few cities in the world have such clearly defined architectural statements. Mumbai or the erstwhile Bombay was built when the idea of cities in the 19th century had just taken root and urbanisation was a response to the social changes and new developments as a consequence of industrialisation. London, Paris, Chicago and New York were all built around the same time.

Gaze phase: Looking out at the Oval and buildings across the maidan. File pic 

They have respected and maintained their architectural heritage. Shanghai and Singapore too had similar heritage but they destroyed parts of it and now, in fact, are rebuilding it as they have realised the value. We must resist the urge to homogenize everything and respect our cultural uniqueness and understand its power. The world values us not because we are exactly like them but because we are different. Our urban architecture uses a global language prevalent at the time but has completely Indianized it with Indian decorative motifs, verandahs, jalis and chajjas. So it is a misunderstanding to think that this is just a European import and not of value, which unfortunately is what many ill-informed people believe.

Mumbai’s chances
UNESCO is keen to have cities from India on the World Heritage list, as we have few cities nominated for such status. Both Mumbai and Delhi have a good chance of winning. INTACH has prepared Delhi’s nomination. Delhi is a very different city from Mumbai so there is no reason one should prejudice the other. In fact, Ahmedabad has also applied.

What UNESCO World Heritage Site status means
The state and local governments will do the funding. World Heritage Site status will mean that we will be able to protect and publicize this important heritage. It will be an important tool to promote tourism. Unfortunately, Mumbai has not valued its cultural heritage. INTACH is very much for development in a sensitive and sustainable way. When you destroy heritage for quick, short gains you are choosing the worst option. It is very costly to bring down buildings, and is regarded the world over as environmentally detrimental. We need to develop transportation systems that are effective and new areas that reflect the new, modern, architectural idiom rather than do piecemeal ad-hoc planning.

Fast Facts
>> What: A campaign to support Mumbai’s bid to get the Oval precinct to be voted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
>> Where: The precinct is in South Mumbai and comprises the Oval Maidan, flanked by buildings with the Victorian Gothic architecture on one side and Art Deco on the other.
>> Why: Experts say that the Oval precinct is probably the only kind in the world boasting of two contrasting styles of architecture, that span two different centuries in such proximity.
>> When: This proposal is slated to be submitted to Maharashtra’s Chief Minister as the official nomination from the city, in mid-August 2013.
>> Who: Experts from the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) are pushing the process forward, backed by the Oval Cooperage Residents Association.
>> How: You can support the bid by voting. More votes mean more support to send this site as India’s official nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Only one site can represent India.

Go online and vote at: 

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