500 sign a petition on change.org against ‘fumbled’ restoration at CSMT

Diana Robertson, the great, great granddaughter of CSMT’s architect Frederick William Stevens raised concerns against the restoration of the World Heritage Site.

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An online petition by change.org kickstarted after photographs emerged of renovations of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) showing faces of classical sculptures reconstructed in a “cartoonish” manner has garnered over 500 signatures. Diana Robertson, the great, great granddaughter of CSMT’s architect Frederick William Stevens urged in the petition to Central Railways to acknowledge this error and employ well-qualified architects.

She visited Mumbai in 2017 and was greeted with much fanfare including a special lighting scheme at the terminus.

CSMT being an epitome of English Gothic Style and a World Heritage Site, the railways need to be mindful of the fact that they are custodians of an architectural marvel and their proprietorial attitude towards the building and their unwillingness to take under consideration an independent expert advice could do irreparable damage to the edifice.

CSMT, which was formerly known as Victoria Terminus completed in 1888, was listed under UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in 2004.

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The realism normally seen in sculptures of this type is just not there and the replacements seem very naïve and flattened-out versions of the originals. The architectural style needs to be understood and they should find someone who can actually sculpt in that style.

Other criticisms include the fact that original Minton tiles are being replaced without attempting to preserve the originals and the replacements don’t match the originals; the stained glass replacement is in copper foil whereas it should be in lead; no research was done to find out what the coloured glass in the concourse originally looked like before creating a replacement; and the original circular wooden windows were much thicker than the replacements, and so withstood the westerly rains for 130 years.

Conservation architect Vikas Dilawari who has recently been co-opted on to the city heritage conservation commission said that authenticity plays a major role in the conservation of World Heritage Sites and this aspect seems missing though the intent is good. Responding to the criticism, Central Railway’s (CR) senior public relations officer Anil Kumar Jain said that restoration work is still in progress and shall be done with highest standards and all concerns shall be duly taken care of. The contractor and architects involved in the work have vast experience of restoration and have done similar work for CSMT in the past.

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However, this isn’t the first time that CSMT’s ₹51-crore restoration project has received flak. In January this year, the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee raised concerns about the painting of the external Porbandar stone. This charge was denied by CR, which insisted that only a jet of potable water was used to clean the façade. It claimed the work has been undertaken by a renowned heritage contractor under the supervision of senior railway engineers based on a heritage consultant report. 

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