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Heritage monument gets a makeover

Azaan Javaid, Nov 19, 2014, DHNS: 19:57 IST
Chausath Khamba known for its 64 pillars was a challenging restoration project for the architects.

After the recently renovated 16th century mausoleum, Chausath Khamba, opened to public on Sunday, Neetipal Brar, the 37-year-old Project Architect of Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), looked in awe at the heritage monument, which four years ago was in complete ruins.

In 2010, the AKTC and the Archaeological Survey of India collaborated with the German Embassy for the restoration of Chausath Khamba known for its 64 pillars.

Describing it as the “most challenging restoration project”, architects and engineers of AKTC believe that every second spent on the mausoleum, given its cultural significance, was worth it.

“Working on the conservation of this monument was once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. The mausoleum was constructed in a unique and complex manner. It was a huge challenge to renovate it as we put a lot of emphasis on retaining the authenticity of such historical places,” Brar told Metrolife.

According to Brar the most difficult phase of the restoration was when every marble block had to be taken down during conservation.

Other than the 64 pillars that form the core of the structure, Chausath Khamba has within itself 25 reverse domes which are joined to one another by marble blocks and embedded in a 10 inch thick brick masonry with iron dowels.

The marble blocks themselves weigh anywhere between 150-300 kilograms.

It was in these blocks that the deterioration was at its highest levels. “Due to the inaccessibility of the roof, rainwater used to collect leading to rapid deterioration of the roof and large-scale water ingress leading to corrosion, rusting and expansion of the iron dowels. We replaced the dowels with stainless steel to avoid any rusting and thus saving the structure from a possible collapse,” Brar elaborated.

He also said that around 80 per cent of the marble blocks had cracks in them.

“We had to tear the whole roof, one marble block at a time and then reconstruct it. The thought of a collapse gave us several sleepless nights but with the talent we had employed to conserve the structure, the project was completed smoothly,” he said.

The AKTC, says Brar, is very particular about maintaining the originality of the historical structures, as the threat of losing the true essence of a historical monument defeats the purpose of conserving it.

“Our ultimate aim is to convert the monument into a cultural tool which could lead the way for urban development,” Brar said.

Archana Saad Akhtar, head of the AKTC’s Design & Outreach programme, told Metrolife that one of the reasons behind conservation of historical monuments in the Capital, is to improve the life of those living around such structures.

“Take for instance the Nizamuddin Basti which surrounds the Chausath Khamba. It still has a ghetto image and it is this stereotype we intend to break by improving the life standards of the residents of the basti,” Akhtar said.

By presenting the already rich heritage of India in a better way, we can open underrated monuments, such as Chausath Khamba, to a whole new audience, she added.

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