Rebirth of a landmark
After years of
colossal neglect, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study has
been given a fresh lease of life as the Government of India has
approved a master plan to restore the Viceregal Lodge heritage
complex, which houses the institute, reports Rakesh
was a dream of our philosopher President, Prof S.
Radhakrishnan to establish a centre for higher learning where
philosophers, thinkers and scientists from all over the world
could come together, engage in intellectual discourse so as to
contribute for the betterment of mankind. The ultimate objective
was to establish its identity as an international centre
comparable with the best in the world.
grand dream requires an equally grand home to flourish. The
prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Study was, hence, set
up in a beautiful building called the Viceregal Lodge,
originally built as a home for Lord Dufferin, (Viceroy from
But as is the
wont with the dreams, unless nurtured carefully, they tend to
wilt away. The historical building, housing the institute, has
been on the decline due to lack of proper maintenance as little
thought was given to the upkeep of the sprawling property spread
over 90 acres.
In fact, the
sheer splendour of this architectural marvel became its greatest
enemy with successive governments at the Centre and the state
reportedly eyeing the valuable property to exploit its charm
commercially. Every effort was made to close it down altogether
or shift it to some other place so as to pave the way for
converting the heritage building into a five star hotel, which,
it was pleaded, would ensure its proper preservation.
But there is
much more to it than merely preserving an important monument,
says Peter Ronald d’Souza, the new director of the institution
that has been engaged in a protracted battle for its
continuation in these hallowed premises.
The neglect of
the imposing edifice was as striking as its architectural
magnificence and he felt an urgent need to reverse its physical
fought a passionate battle for the proper restoration of the
largest and finest institutional estate in the world. He took up
the matter with the Government of India and persuaded it for
undertaking a major restoration work to preserve this important
130-year-old Viceregal Lodge is now all geared to regain its
past imperial glory and ambience with the government giving its
nod for the complete restoration of the magnificent heritage
the main building, a fine specimen of colonial architecture, has
been a matter of concern for past quite sometime. Crumbling
stone masonry, heavy leakage from its roof and seepage has, over
the years, left the monument in bad shape.
piecemeal measures to plug the leakage, repair crumbling walls
and rectify other problems were carried out without taking into
consideration the conservation aspect. Obviously these did no
good to the heritage complex.
The use of
different building materials down the decades, not in sync with
the original ones, only undermined the original character and
architectural ambience of the building. The thoughtless repair
work did not help in enhancing the life of the structure or even
solving the problems. It only hastened the degeneration of the
grand heritage building.
been an accumulation of materials and forms not coherent with
the stature and overall ambience of the building," points
out d’Souza, the man behind the restoration plan.
Having got the
government approval, a master plan is now being prepared keeping
in view the adaptive use of the complex. It will give a fresh
lease of life to the structure and ensure that it needs minimal
routine maintenance after the restoration.
highly technical and specialised nature of the restoration work
involved, the task of preparing the plan has been assigned to
Abha Narain Lambah Associates, a Mumbai-based conservation
architects and historic building consultants.
a historical complex is not only a challenge but also a great
learning experience. The job will have to be taken up layer by
layer so as to cover all aspects involving a wide variety of
technical expertise, observes Abha Lambah.
building with its magnificent stone masonry structure, the
exquisite woodwork in Burma teak, glass work, elegant furniture,
sprawling lawns and gardens, the water-harvesting system and the
attic spaces designed to house the water pumps, needs special
care. The variety in the interiors and ceilings of different
rooms, ranging from stretched fabric to woodwork in Burma teak
and walnut is nothing short of an encyclopaedia of finishes,
The lodge had
extensive facilities, including kitchens, separate rooms for
storing table linen, plates, china and glass crockery, laundry,
an enormous wine cellar, a room for empty wine cases, boilers
for central heating, running hot and cold water for bathrooms.
All these facilities were accommodated in a five-storey
mechanical wing, situated on the site of a natural slope below
the main lodge’s building. It had state-of-the-art technology,
including its own steam generator, making it the first building
in Shimla to have complete electric lighting. It also had
running hot and cold water, together with a sophisticated system
for collecting and storing bath and rainwater, including two
huge underground watertanks in the front lawn.
There was an
elaborate fire-fighting system with glass casing around sensors
that would shatter in case of a fire to allow jet sprays of
water to douse the flames. Special water tanks were also placed
above the Viceroy and Vicerene’s rooms. All these features
will be restored.
company has requisitioned the services of various experts to
prepare the master plan on the basis of original drawings
available with the Central Public Works Department, which has
been maintaining the complex all these years. They include
Elizabeth White, Director of the Attingham School and a
specialist on historical British interiors and furniture, Dr
Michael O. Connor, stone conservation expert, Dr Priyaleen
Singh, landscape and architecture, Vijay K. Patil, structural
engineering, Arup Sarbadhikary, historical structure rehab
advisor, Vikas Joshi, services consultant for historical
buildings, Swati Chandgadkar, glass conservator and Asavari
Honavar, graphics and signage consultant. The work will start in
Without the large contingent of
Viceregal attendants and the resources, the ambience of this
large estate is quite different from what it used to be in the
days of the Raj. Hopefully after the restoration the institute
may get back its the perfect setting which acts like a stimulant
for lively intellectual debates and discussions.
The interiors of the 130-year-old Viceregal Lodge have some exquisite woodwork in Burma teak
majestically atop the Observatory Hill, the
imposing Victorian edifice of the Viceregal Lodge is among
British India’s most monumental constructions, built in
a mock Elizabethan style. The hill derives its name from
Observatory House built in 1840 by Captain J. T. Boileau
which later became the residence of the Viceroy’s
Private Secretary. It was Lord Lytton (1876-80), who chose
the Observatory Hill for constructing the building that
was to be the final Viceregal address in town.
man who took personal interest in the Rs 38-lakh project
and persuaded Secretary of State for India Lord Randolph
Churchill to sanction it, was Lord Dufferin. The annual
upkeep of the complex was estimated to cost Rs 1.5 lakh.
The main architect Henry Irwin designed the lodge, while
the overall plan was suggested by Dufferin. Actual work on
the project started in 1886 and the Dufferins moved into
the new premises in July 1988, though work continued till
It was the
venue for many important decisions, which changed the fate
of the sub-continent. The momentous tripartite conference
involving the Congress, the Muslim League and the British
at which the blueprint for India’s Partition was
finalised was held here from May 5 to 12, 1946.
Independence the estate passed on to the President of
India and was renamed as Rashtrapati Niwas. It was used by
the President as a retreat just for a few days in a year.
But Dr S. Radhakrishnan felt that keeping the huge complex
vacant for the President, who merely spent a fortnight in
it, for the entire year was a colossal waste. So he
conceived the idea of setting up a unique centre of higher
estate extended to 331 acres . The main Viceregal Lodge
building and the appurtenant 25 acres of land is to be
preserved as a heritage zone and that no alteration or new
construction which could effect its architectural ambience
should be undertaken. The total built up area is about
3.25 lakh square feet. Apart from the main building there
are 45 other structures on the campus. Its library is one
the richest in the country with over two lakh books and
60,000 research journals. The institute has also been
publishing books and to date it has brought out about 470