Built-in 1833, this first-class heritage building is one of Mumbai’s earliest public buildings, which served as a town hall, court and university hall before the construction of Victorian structures to house them. Today, it is home to the Library of Asia and the Central Library, a deposit of rare books and artefacts.
High with its white columns and majestic high ceilings, the town hall has finally been restored to repair the damage done over time. The main hall has been opened to the public.
Laxmi Hericon is the company that carried out the renovation project. Shrinivas G Saluje, the company’s managing director, told the media that work at City Hall began eight years ago in 2009, in stages. The first stage involved the restoration of the library and the Durbar room. The central hall is part of Phase II of the project.
This phase focused on restoring the inside of the Central Hall occupied by the Central Library. Construction started in February 2015 and was completed in January 2017. The purpose was to restore the false ceiling using original techniques like –
- Restoration of hardwood floors.
- Remove paint layers and layers from cast iron columns that were imported from England in 1833.
- Restore the Corinthian marquees and bring them back to their original ivory and gold palette.
The Town Hall, which measures 200 feet long and 100 feet deep, has an entrance decorated with Ion columns. The whole structure was constructed in the neoclassical style.
Restoration of the central hall of the building began in February/March 2015. Everything from the different statues of former governors and philanthropists, which decorate the other corners of the library has been restored.
The sculptures, decorative pillars and capitals surrounding the room have all been restored. Efforts were made to ensure that their unique appearance was not lost. This included scraping paint on structures and repainting them with a protective coating. Lime mortar grew out of quarries in Rajasthan. The wood for the roof has already been imported from Myanmar and is in the process of seasoning. The basalt stones, which correspond to the existing pattern, are obtained from Kolhapur.
The structural wood used, Burma Teak, to produce the furniture in the room as well as the frames for the doors and windows were imported from Myanmar. The library’s books, which have been relegated for years to aesthetically unattractive stainless-steel cabinets, have now been moved to hand-carved wooden libraries.
For the grand staircase, grout injection is made to fill the cracks along and other repairs are also made. The entire room is illuminated with chandeliers, amongst other ornamental fixtures. Earlier, the pigeons were flying and messing with the area. To prevent this, the ceilings were lined with pigeon nets to prevent birds from perching everywhere.
The shelves were replaced by a series of benches and cane chairs. Cast-iron columns with gilded scaffolds at the top delineate the hearth. The lighting is perfect for a Jane Austen party. Without the shelves, it’s possible to see the size of the hall.
Keeping original drawings and materials as close as possible to the original, the central room is delightful and straight from a classic novel. With its elevated chandeliers and steel cabinets that have been replaced by hand-carved wooden bookcases and reading displays, the room looks like a new one.
Even the finer details have been worked out. For instance, the lion’s mouth found on the cabinets and columns was reproduced in the T–keeping its authenticity intact. The ionic columns were repainted and freshly coated to give a smooth appearance, with the statues which were coated with protective paint and restored.
Every corner of the central room of the Asian Society Library has been given a new and authentic lease of life which should last at least another 100 years. The best thing is that readers can now take advantage of good lighting, thanks to the skill and art of the designer. Regular visitors are delighted with the newly restored look that transports readers into a lavish era of chandeliers, dark wooden furniture and shiny floors.