With rising temperatures, longer summers, and natural calamities hitting multiple places globally, the world is privy to the concept of global warming and climate change. Sustainable development and energy efficiency are terms that have been gaining a lot of regard in the past couple of decades. LEED, GRIHA, and an array of other rating systems were established in the 1990s and are widely used across the globe to ensure that the building and its systems are green and minimum harm is inflicted to the environment by its existence. 

But in a quest to think ‘out of the box’, we may have overseen one of the most straightforward ways to avoid causing harm to the earth, refraining from building new structures. As unthinkable as it may sound, there is a chance to reduce the demolition and construction activities occurring in the country. The three Rs of sustainabilityReduce, Reuse and recycleare widely applied for individual components but are not applied for the building. 

Adaptive reuse is a viable concept that could be considered to tackle the situation. Reusing and recycling a building as a whole would pave the way to a multitude of opportunities to conserve the environment, culture, and heritage. 

“To provide meaningful architecture is not to parody history but to articulate it.” – Daniel Libeskind.

Adaptive reuse – A benison

Adaptive reuse, as the name suggests, is using an old building for a new function. When one follows adaptive reuse, the lifespan of an old building is increased, and the construction of a new building is avoided. Heritage buildings are a doorway to the past, and by reusing these buildings, the tangible built heritage of the country is conserved. 

When a building is being reused, only minimal changes are made to the original structure, and allied services required for the new function are incorporated to serve the current needs. This concept has been prevalent in the west for decades and is slowly making its way to India. 

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The dilapidated condition of Gokhale Halls, Chennai_©httpssriramv.wordpress.com20160727gokhale-halls-glorious-past

Indian sub-continent is home to some of the oldest civilisations in the country. The ancient temples and palaces are testimonies of the grand culture, and mammoth efforts are taken to conserve the buildings from wasting away with time. But it is unviable to conserve all the buildings constructed over the centuries. Ancient history is given precedence, whereas contemporary history is widely getting neglected. 

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The neglected basubati mansion at Kolkatta._©httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwikiFileBasu_Bati_in_North_Kolkata_11.jpg

As a result, the buildings built in the 20th century are becoming derelict structures. They are ultimately razed to the ground to make way for development. Be it the textile mills of Bombay, cantonment buildings in Delhi and Bangalore, or the old port buildings of Calcutta and Madras. These warehouses have outlived their functions and were abandoned due to lack of use. Many such structures have been torn down in the past and take away a piece of history unknowingly. 

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The Indu Mills buildings in South Bombay._©httpswww.hindustantimes.commumbai-newsshapoorji-pallonji-group-will-build-ambedkar-memorial-at-mumbai-s-indu-millsstory-bO8WwyXa5tO4naNblglvDN.html

Though the extent of buildings being adapted and reused in India is far and few, there are examples of ingenious work in various cities across the country. One such initiative that marks a step towards a sustainable future is the work done in South Bombay.

Envisaging a greener future for the city of dreams

Bombay that has now been named Mumbai is the commercial capital of India, contributing the highest GDP amongst the cities. Fondly known as the ‘city of dreams’, it is a perfect example of juxtaposition. Mumbai being a port city, was the seat for colonial rule’s textile mills. The British raj established a number of textile mills around the city by taking advantage of its geographical position. 

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South Bombay map indicating the heritage buildings._©httpwww.mapaplan.comtravel-mapmumbai-city-top-tourist-attractions-download-printable-street-guidehigh-resolutionmumbai-top-tourist-attractions-map-01-mu
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Map showing the assortment of the historical buildings in South Bombay._©Art Deco Mumbai trust

Post-independence, Mumbai grew in size and influence, emerging as India’s one of the most important cities. Most of the colonial buildings call South Mumbai their home. At every turn one could come across history and heritage painted across the streets. Be it the Chatrapati Shivaji railways station, the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, the famous Regal Theatre, Bombay high court, or the quintessential New India Assurance building, they all transport the viewer in time.

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Close-up of the map showing the Victorian,Indo-Sarcenic and Neo-classical buildings in South Bombay._©Art Deco Mumbai trust
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Legend for the close-up of the top half of the map._©Art Deco Mumbai trust

Home to two UNESCO world heritage sites, South Bombay, is the home to several Victorian, Gothic, and Art deco buildings. Most of these buildings are conserved, restored, and protected. Adaptive reuse is generally misinterpreted as an approach to conserve/ recycle a structure. There are copious examples of adaptive reuse of heritage buildings across the city, like the Vikhroli Social. 

But adaptive reuse is not a concept limited to application on a single or stand-alone building. When approached with proper planning, it could transform an urban area or a neighbourhood into a bustling space that balances heritage and development. One such example of rejuvenation in South Bombay, which is not monument-centric, is the Heritage mile and Kala Ghoda art district around the Oval Maidan. 

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Close-up of the map showing the art deco buildings in South Bombay._©Art Deco Mumbai trust
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Legend for the art deco buildings in the map._©Art Deco Mumbai trust
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Close-up of the map showing the art deco buildings along the marine drive._©Art Deco Mumbai trust
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Legend for the map showing the art deco buildings along the marine drive._©Art Deco Mumbai trust

Kala Ghoda is a treasure trove for historical buildings. The entire zone around the Oval Maidan has either been conserved or reused, making it a perfect example of historical rejuvenation in an urban area. The heritage zone has the awe-inspiring Chatrapati Shivaji terminal on one corner and the Marine drive on the other. The ‘Heritage Mile’ and Kala Ghoda art district connected by the Flora fountain create a skyline filled with colonial buildings. 

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Map showing the rich architectural heritage of the Kala Ghoda region._©httpwww.mapaplan.comtravel-mapmumbai-city-top-tourist-attractions-download-printable-street-guidehigh-resolutionmumbai-top-tourist-at

N.M.Wadia building was a civic building once upon a time and now has been transformed into a multi-use commercial building housing retail shops, restaurants, and office spaces. Built by the Wadia trust, the Neo-classical building is being reused, thus extending its lifetime. While walking around the fort area, one can notice about 15-20 LIC buildings. These historical colonial buildings have been acquired by the LIC and reused as their office space. 

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N.M.Wadia building is perfectly preserved and in use._©httpscityseeker.commumbai673028-ripon-club
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View of a historic building refurbished to serve as LIC office._©httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwikiFileD.N.Road,_Mumbai_-_panoramio_(7).jpg

Ismail Building near the Flora fountain was the property of the Ismail Family trust and served as their office building. Over the years, it saw various uses and was left to dilapidate. The 20th-century Neo-Classical building is now a five-storey Zara apparel store. Similar is the story of the Army and Navy building. The Neo-classical building is now home to retail stores, making it a shopping hub. The National Gallery of modern art was once famous Sir Cowasji Jehangir Public Hall, and after 12 years of renovation, it was refurbished into an art gallery. 

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Ismail building housing the Zara flagship store._©httpswww.outlookindia.comoutlooktravellerphotosthe-zara-flagship-store-in-the-ismail-building-in-mumbai25199
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The army and navy building is converted into a retail hub._©httpsi.pinimg.comoriginals0307750307759958b53c2ddae89e9f66dc3119.jpg

Formally known as Prince Wales Museum, the Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya building was intended as a Memorial for Prince Wales’s visit in the 1900s. Completed in 1914, the museum was used as a hospital for Children’s Welfare Exhibitions by the military until 1922. 

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Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj vastu Sangrahalaya museum_©httpswww.lonelyplanet.comindiamumbai-bombayattractionschhatrapati-shivaji-maharaj-vastu-sangrahalayaapoi-sig1148428356405

The British Raj originally constructed the David Sassoon Library to serve as Mechanics Institute that educated the employees in the dock area. The 1870s Venetian Gothic building has been transformed into a library and reading room. The Rampart row building houses multiple cafes, restaurants, and stores inside an imperial civic building. Apart from this, numerous cafes and restaurants line inside the old buildings along the Kala Ghoda circle and around the Jahangir art gallery. 

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The famous David Sassoon Library in Kala Ghoda._©httpswww.townmumbai.comdavid-sassoon-library
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The Rampart row restaurants are lined inside a heritage building._©httpswww.travelindiadestinations.comkala-ghoda-history-art-architecture-food-shopping-destinations
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The Rampart row shopping center._©httpsvenkatarangan.comblog200602msn-ndtv-party

“Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness” – Frank O Gehry.

With globalisation and the influx of people, Mumbai is growing in size and population every day. The reclaimed land could only offset a little during the time, and the growth of the city demands proportional services and infrastructure development. But the land is a limited commodity that is available. The need for land has been eased a little due to the vertical growth of the buildings. But adaptive reuse could serve as a solution to the ever-growing requirement for land. 

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Multiple old buildings were converted to multi tenant retail space in the Fort region._©httpswww.tripadvisor.inRestaurant_Review-g304554-d3599568-Reviews-Starbucks-Mumbai_Maharashtra.html

From an economic perspective, the cost involved in the conservation of heritage buildings is slashed. And the demolition of old buildings and construction of new buildings is also avoided. Based on a study done in the USA, the construction industry uses about 40% of raw materials, with 85% of embodied energy going into materials. 25% of waste is generated each year by construction activities. 

By embracing adaptive reuse, one could look at cutting down these figures to a great extent, protecting the environment. On a cultural and social sustainability level, the old buildings which are a part of our pasts can be passed on to the future, preserving our identities and heritage.


Srinidhi Sriraman is a climate responsive architect who believes in giving back to the environment. A travel enthusiast who strongly believes “what is life worth if there are no stories to tell.” She took to writing to share, learn and also grow in the process.