Mumbai: David Sassoon Library Clinches UNESCO Merit Award For Remarkable Restoration Work

Mumbai: David Sassoon Library Clinches UNESCO Merit Award For Remarkable Restoration Work

The library is among 12 projects in the Asia-Pacific region, including five in India, which won awards in different categories.

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Friday, December 22, 2023, 09:36 PM IST
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Mumbai: David Sassoon Library Clinches UNESCO Merit Award For Remarkable Restoration Work |

Mumbai’s David Sassoon Library and Reading Room, Kala Ghoda, recently restored to its old glory, has won the United States Education Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)’s 2023 Merit Award.

The library is among 12 projects in the Asia-Pacific region, including five in India, which won awards in different categories. The awards recognise work done by private individuals and organisations to restore, conserve, and transform structures and buildings of heritage value.

David Sassoon Library's history

 The library, built in 19th century Gothic style, completed 150 years in 2017, and is listed as a Grade I structure in Mumbai’s heritage list. The building is also the oldest structure in the UNESCO-listed Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensemble of south Mumbai.

The award citation said that the structure faced water leakages and timber deterioration. ‘The careful restoration of the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room has revived the Victorian aesthetic of a nineteenth-century gem in the heritage heart of Mumbai’ said the citation. UNESCO said that the restoration project used historical documents to 'confidently’ reverse past inappropriate interventions, recreating the visual, structural, and spatial integrity of the stately building.

Conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, who did the restoration work on the building, said that the original high-pitched roof had been demolished during earlier restoration attempts, and replaced with a concrete one. “Structurally it was a challenge, before that the funding was a challenge,” said Lambah.

The restoration project

The Rs 3.5 crore restoration project, which was completed in May this year, received funding from several benefactors, including the ICICI Foundation, the Israeli Consulate, and the Kala Ghoda Association. “It is a public library and had very little funds (for the restoration),” said Lambah, adding that philanthropists like Sangita Jindal of JSW Foundation helped. “Sangita Jindal and I worked together on the Kala Ghoda synagogue (Knesset Eliyahoo) project and now the David Sassoon Library is the second Jewish heritage site that we have restored. It is heart-warming to know that UNESCO has recognised this effort.”     

Apart from being an architectural and cultural landmark, the library is also historically significant because Babasaheb Ambedkar is reported to have written the final draft of the Indian Constitution there. The library has a garden in its backyard, providing a space for cultural and literary events, and also a quiet reading space in the middle of the city. The library has a rare collection of over 70,000 books.

It has over 3,000 members and provides access to students at concessional rates. Hemant Bhalekar, president of the library said, “It is marvellous to receive the award. It is all thanks to the efforts of Abha Lambah who carried out the restoration work. The old pictures of Esplanade Road (now Mahatma Gandhi Road) show the library with a sloping roof. That was replaced with a concrete roof. Now the building looks like it does in the old photographs.”

The library was built with funds from David Sassoon, a Jewish businessman and entrepreneur from Baghdad whose family settled in Mumbai. Sassoon, who died in 1864 in Pune, has left his legacy in several public projects that he sponsored, like the Sassoon General Hospital, Pune, and Mumbai’s Sassoon Dock, built by his son Albert.

Other restoration winners from India

Other buildings and structures from India, the Karnikara Mandapam at Kunnamangalam Bhagawati Temple in Kerala, Pipal Haveli in Punjab, Church of Epiphany in Haryana, and Bikaner House in Delhi, apart from David Sassoon Library, were among the 12 winners worldwide.    

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