pro­file

One of the big­gest and bright­est stars of con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tec­ture, ar­chi­tect Abha Narain Lam­bah is restor­ing the coun­try’s past glory one build­ing at a time. She shares her jour­ney, vi­sion and de­sign phi­los­o­phy.

India Today - - CONTENTS - By ADITI PAI

THE RE­STORER

Con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tect Abha Narain Lam­bah shares her de­sign jour­ney

Mum­bai’s grand Royal Opera House bears tes­ti­mony to how ef­fort­lessly 48-year-old Abha Narain Lam­bah, breathes new life into age­ing crum­bling spa­ces. She led a sixyear-long project to re­store the cen­tury-old baroque struc­ture to its orig­i­nal grandeur which opened to the city in 2016 af­ter two decades of ly­ing in de­spair. Among the first few con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tects in the coun­try, Lam­bah trans­forms struc­tures with a metaphor­i­cal magic wand. From restor­ing a 15th cen­tury Maitreya Bud­dha tem­ple in Ladakh’s Basgo Vil­lage to me­dieval mosques and car­a­van sarais in Ra­jasthan and Pun­jab and pitch­ing to get a UN­ESCO World Her­itage Site tag for Mum­bai’s Art Deco ar­chi­tec­ture, Lam­bah has pi­o­neered the con­ser­va­tion and restora­tion move­ment of ur­ban ar­chi­tec­tural spa­ces across In­dia. Her firm, Abha Narain Lam­bah As­so­ci­ates, head quar­tered at Mum­bai’s Carter Road, has won nine UN­ESCO awards for con­ser­va­tion in­clud­ing the Award of Dis­tinc­tion for Mum­bai Univer­sity’s Con­vo­ca­tion Hall

in 2007 and the Award of Ex­cel­lence for the Maitreya Bud­dha Tem­ple. A post grad­u­ate in ar­chi­tec­tural con­ser­va­tion from the School of Plan­ning and Ar­chi­tec­ture, New Delhi, Lam­bah, who has been con­serv­ing ar­chi­tec­tural spa­ces for over two decades now, has been awarded the San­skriti Award, Eisen­hower Fel­low­ship, the At­ting­ham Trust Fel­low­ship and Charles Wal­lace Fel­low­ship and has been nom­i­nated by Arc Vi­sion (In­ter­na­tional so­cial award for fe­male de­sign­ers) as one among the top 20 women ar­chi­tects glob­ally in 2016.

LEAD­ING THE CON­SER­VA­TION MOVE­MENT IN IN­DIA

When I started my prac­tice in 1995, it was the year in which the Her­itage Reg­u­la­tions for Bom­bay came into ef­fect and I was one among two qual­i­fied con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tects in the city. At that time, there was no fund­ing sup­port­ing con­ser­va­tion; and there­fore my early ca­reer was en­tirely driven by ci­ti­zen in­volve­ment and civic ini­tia­tives. I cre­ated tem­plates for con­ser­va­tion such as the first ur­ban con­ser­va­tion guide­lines for Dad­ab­hai Naoroji Road and Kho­tachi­wadi and pi­lot projects based on non gov­ern­men­tal fund­ing for El­phin­stone Col­lege, JJ School of Art and Horn­i­man Cir­cle. I be­came a founder-mem­ber of the Kala­ga­hoda As­so­ci­a­tion and the Her­itage Mile As­so­ci­a­tion. We cre­ated the first ci­ti­zen-driven art fes­ti­val that cel­e­brates art in ev­ery form. In 1998, the Mum­bai Met­ro­pol­i­tan Re­gion Her­itage Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety ap­proached me for a project for cre­at­ing streetscap­ing guide­lines for Dad­ab­hai Naoroji Road. I cre­ated the first such ur­ban con­ser­va­tion con­trol hand­book which de­tailed the her­itage streetscap­e and guide­lines for sig­nage and street fur­ni­ture. This led to the ur­ban sig­nage scheme. Over the last 23 years I have worked on some of the most his­toric mu­se­ums such as the Chowma­halla Palace Hy­der­abad, Jaivi­las Palace Gwalior, Mani Bha­van Gandhi San­gra­ha­laya Mum­bai, Anand Bha­van Al­la­habad, Nehru Me­mo­rial Delhi and Ch­ha­tra­p­ati Shivaji Ma­haraj Vastu San­gra­ha­laya Mum­bai, Bharat­pur Mu­seum in Ra­jasthan and the new Mu­seum of New Delhi at Gole Mar­ket.

LO­CAL PAR­TIC­I­PA­TION IN DE­SIGN

The big­gest chal­lenge is when one has to deal with many stake­hold­ers. There is con­stant par­tic­i­pa­tion and a lot of back and forth, deal­ing with govern­ment, cit­i­zens and stake­hold­ers at var­i­ous lev­els. When I worked on the tem­ples in Ladakh or Jhark­hand, we needed to work with the lo­cal vil­lagers. Sim­i­larly, when we did the il­lu­mi­na­tion of Jaipur’s mar­kets for the night her­itage walk we had to closely work with the hun­dreds of shop­keep­ers in Jo­hari, Kis­han­pol and Tripo­lia bazaars. In Craw­ford Mar­ket, there are more than 800 shop­keep­ers and we had to get each one in­volved in the de­sign process.

FROM UR­BAN CON­SER­VA­TION TO RE­GIONAL RESTORA­TION OF SPA­CES

In the past two decades, I have worked on a range of struc­tures and projects from ur­ban con­ser­va­tion to con­ven­tional con­ser­va­tion of build­ings for cor­po­rate clients such as the Deutsche Bank and HSBC in Mum­bai, Chen­nai and Kolkata. The projects have spanned nu­mer­ous time­lines, geo­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tions, ar­chi­tec­tural gen­res and ma­te­ri­als. There has been im­mense di­ver­sity. I have worked on an­cient sites such as Ajanta Caves and Ma­ha­bodhi Tem­ples, me­dieval palaces and car­a­van serais in Pun­jab and Ra­jasthan, ter­ra­cotta tem­ples in Jhark­hand to 19th cen­tury colo­nial her­itage in Delhi, Pune, Mum­bai and Shimla, as well as 20th cen­tury build­ings in Mum­bai and Cor­bus­ier’s build­ings in Chandigarh which rep­re­sent the apex of modernism. The geo­graph­i­cal di­ver­sity of my work has taken me from Ladakh to Kanchipu­ram and from Ajanta to an ob­scure site in a vil­lage in Jhark­hand with spec­tac­u­lar ter­ra­cotta tem­ples.

THE BIG PIC­TURE

We should see the en­tire set­ting of the mon­u­ment. When I made the man­age­ment plan for Ajanta, we looked be­yond the 100 and 200 me­tre buf­fer as pre­scribed in the An­cient Mon­u­ments and Sites Act but no­ti­fied the first buf­fer to a Na­tional Mon­u­ment based on the lines of vi­sion—en­cap­su­lat­ing the en­tire vis­ual land­scape and set­ting of the his­toric site— the cone of vi­sion.

HOW HAS CON­SER­VA­TION AR­CHI­TEC­TURE CHANGED OVER TIME?

When I be­gan 23 years ago my ca­reer peo­ple didn’t know what ar­chi­tec­tural con­ser­va­tion meant. Even now it is a niche spe­cial­i­sa­tion. Al­though there are more funds avail­able, it takes a lot of grit to work on a pub­lic or his­toric build­ing be­cause it’s a long haul and it takes much longer to get to the end of a project. The band­width re­quired is a lot more and comes with many chal­lenges, rang­ing from get­ting per­mis­sions to find­ing fund­ing.

THE WAY FOR­WARD

Ar­chi­tec­ture needs to be more peo­ple ori­ented be­cause a com­mu­nity must feel own­er­ship else they get dis­con­nected. It is more ac­tive in Mum­bai be­cause more of these his­toric and her­itage build­ings are liv­ing build­ings that peo­ple use reg­u­larly and there­fore feel an in­ti­mate con­nec­tion with, be it the Ban­dra or CST sta­tions, hospi­tals or courts. There is a sense of be­long­ing and peo­ple get in­volved. When they see a threat to it, they are ac­tive in con­serv­ing it. The gen­eral per­cep­tion about a mon­u­ment is that is a dead site, it’s a govern­ment prob­lem. Peo­ple see it as a mu­seum ob­ject and that cre­ates a break. It is im­por­tant for the com­mu­nity to feel con­nected.

Pho­to­graph by MAN­DAR DEODHAR

Pho­to­graph by MAN­DAR DEODHAR

STAND­ING TALL Con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tect Abha Narain Lam­bah at the Asi­atic So­ci­ety, Mum­bai

GRAND DE­SIGNS Clock­wise from above: Bharat­pur Mu­seum, Ra­jasthan; Asi­atic Li­brary, Mum­bai; BMC head of­fice, Mum­bai

Tala­yar Bun­ga­low (top); Moor­ish Mosque, Ka­purthala (above)

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