CSMVS restoration project: the renovated building is expected to be unveiled next month
CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), which is under restoration, is ready to get rid of most of its scaffolding and unveil its newly renovated building next month.
In January, CSMVS will begin its centenary year, and the restoration of the Category I heritage structure has been scheduled for this milestone. While previous restorations focused on parts of the museum, the current project, the largest since the museum opened in 1922, involves the entire grounds.
Designed by Scottish architect George Wittet, the building was called the Prince of Wales Museum of West India until it was renamed in 1995.
The complex, comprising the main building, an annex, a visitor center, a children’s museum and a lawn, is called the Crescent Site, due to its shape. CSMVS director Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who lives on campus, described the museum building as “the jewel in the crescent”. “The museum is more than just a building. It is also a symbol of cultural unity, ”he said.
The museum, an independent, non-profit organization, commissioned award-winning curatorial architect Vikas Dilawari to undertake the restoration. Dilawari, who started in 2018 with a one-year audit, devised a four-part plan, starting with the exterior repairs to the main building and annex, then the interiors, the dome and ending with the premises of the Museum. Sponsored by Tata Consultancy Services, the cost of the project is Rs 21 crore.
Restoration work was due to be completed before the centenary year, but the pandemic, closures and unusual rains delayed it. “Despite everything, we took advantage of the confinement. Since the museum was closed, we started doing the interiors very early on, ”said Dilawari.
The museum has 70,000 objects in its collection, 2,000 of which were exhibited during the restoration phase. By January, restoration will be complete in critical areas such as the Key Galleries, Grand Staircase, Sculpture Gallery, European Art Storage, and Curatorial Office. The museum will also bring back its old exhibition of around 10,000 objects.
The museum’s glittering dome placed on a lotus pedestal is one of its main features. Dilawari said the original dome was lime plaster and carried the weight of algae and moss over time. In the late 1960s, lightning struck the dome and it had to undergo extensive repairs, undertaken by engineer JG Bodhe, who would later become the town’s sheriff. As part of the repairs, Bodhe added a layer of bluish Chinese mosaic to the dome, to prevent water infiltration and moss. Dilawari will repair the dome and redo the mosaic in the process.
Equally important is the interior of the dome, for which Dilawari provided a new color scheme. He also redesigned his lighting with the help of Pune-based lighting consultant Suresh Koke. Earlier spotlights have been replaced with ambient lights that will deflect from the dome. “The original idea for the dome was to make the light fall in the gallery below,” Koke said.
Over the years, the museum has added modern amenities. “A building must evolve over time. If we don’t change, the present will reject us. What is important is the conversation between the past and the present, ”said Mukherjee.
With restoration work carried out during a pandemic, Mukherjee and Dilawari believe it is closely linked to the building’s origins. Wittet completed it in 1914, but it didn’t open as a museum until eight years later. In the meantime, it served as a military hospital during World War I and then as a hospital during the Spanish Flu in 1918-20.