A highly regarded appreciation came towards Mumbai’s heritage conservation efforts on October 14, 2019, as UNESCO awarded three of the city’s prestigious landmarks for their cultural heritage conservation. The three structures from Mumbai - Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue at Kala Ghoda, Our Lady of Glory Church in Byculla, and Flora Fountain in Fort area – were conferred with this year’s UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation at a ceremony in Malaysia.
The fourth and most prestigious honour, the Award of Distinction, was bestowed upon a city-based conservationist who has restored the Vikram Sarabhai Library at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
The Award of Merit – for the church and synagogue - respect and celebrate India’s composite culture. The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, which is owned and maintained by a Jewish trust, was restored by conservation architect Abha Lambah between February 2018-2019.
Lambah mentioned that the award acts as a validation for all the efforts made to save a cultural icon of Mumbai’s Jewish community. She also appreciated the collaborative effort by the JSW Foundation, Kala Ghoda Association, and World Monuments Fund, for the team put its sweat and tears into its restoration.
Our Lady of Glory Church was restored by David Cardoz and Ainsley Lewis between 2013 and 2019. The Flora Fountain, restored by conservation architect Vikas Dilawari and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) heritage department, won the award under the category ‘Honourable Mention’.
The Victorian-era inspired water fountain, owned by BMC, won the recognition not only for its artistic beauty but also for playing an important role in the urban fabric of Mumbai.
"The careful restoration of the fountain completes the series of conservation interventions to revive the city's many Victorian-era fountains, a collection of ornate civic monuments unique in India," Bangkok-based UNESCO Asia-Pacific had tweeted after announcing the winners.
The Award of Distinction for Vikram Sarabhai Library is a first for a 20th century modern heritage building in India. The library was originally designed by Louis I Kahn, and restored by Mumbai-based restoration architect Brinda Somaya who undertook the project.
Expressing her excitement at the win, architect Somaya said that this was very important because it is the UNESCO Award for Distinction, and the library is the first 20th century modern heritage building in India to win this award. Somaya attended the presentation ceremony along with Lambah and Dilawari in Penang, Malaysia.
Over the years, UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation have recognised the efforts of private individuals and organisations that have successfully restored and conserved structures of heritage value in the respective region.
Dilawari is hopeful that these awards will create more awareness and further spread the word to the general public to take pride in and protect our heritage and that he was happy to see Mumbai score so well on an international platform. He is hopeful that the transformation, will help create more awareness and develop a sense of pride in what the city has inherited since the Flora Fountain project was one of the projects very close to his heart. He thanked the Intach Mumbai Chapter and the Intach Conservation Institutes team, besides the BMC heritage cell.
In August 2018, Mumbai city’s Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles; heritage precincts of Fort and Marine Drive were declared a World Heritage Site. Mumbai then became the second city in India after Ahmedabad to receive this status.
Cardoz, who worked on the restoration of Our Lady of Glory Church, expressed immense pride on the fact that out of 16 winners, all four of the awards to India went to architects from the beleaguered but much beloved city of Mumbai. He believes that these awards send out the message that amid the turmoil of urbanisation, we must take a closer look at the iconic structures that have stood fast as our city grew, and pause and ponder the direction of our new development.
The top Award of Excellence went to the renewal of the historic Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, Hong Kong. An international jury of conservation experts reviewed 57 entries from 14 countries across the Asia-Pacific region, filtering 16 projects from five countries - Australia, Bhutan, China, India and New Zealand.