Project: The Elphinstone College

Standing across Jehangir Art Gallery in the heart ofMumbai’s cultural hub, is a magnificent Victorian edifice that dominates the urban node of Kala Ghoda. 1 The Elphinstone College, designed in the Gothic Revival style with its pointed arches, towering spires, trefoils, cinquefoils, and crockets may well look misplaced in modern India, perhaps more contextual in Victorian London with the likes of St Pancras Station and the Houses of Parliament. But, this architectural typology seems to have found its way into 19th-century Bombay, Urbs Prima in Indis or the first city of British India, along with the baggage of homesick sailors. This was an architecture that reminded them of Victorian London and what was in vogue during the period, thanks to the unstinting advocacy of thinkers such as Ruskin and Pugin who fashioned Victorian thought and aesthetics, quite unlike anyone before or after them.

From the year 2000 however, the engineers of the Public Works Department (PWD), in consultation with Opus Magna Group conservation specialists brought in by the Kala Ghoda Association, began to correct some of these maintenance practices, and the terrace waterproofing slopes were corrected and re -laid along with some urgently needed repairs to the distressed ceiling joists on the top floor of the building.

A roof turret before cleaning

The turret after cleaning.

The main facade of the building facing Mahatma Gandhi Road however, was the most vulnerable. The stone surface was badly stained and exhibited extensive deterioration of the limestone friezes and ornamental details. This was caused by the action of acid rain that resulted in sulphate encrustations on the soft limestone, eventually causing a severe d eterioration and “peeling off’ of the fine carvings. Fi cus growth was visible along many places on the facade, threatening the structural fabric of the ashlar stone work. There was visible staining of the stone along the balconies and parapets, with severe deterioration of the mortar joints of the stone masonry. The front porch with deep separation cracks and distressed timber joists, was in need of urgent structural stabilization as well as removal of sulphate deposits along its finely carved limestone panels.