A Conversation with an Icon: Steven Holl Wins the Mumbai City Museum Competition

 

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Winning entry by Steven Holl

The decision to stage an international competition for a “North Wing extension” to the Mumbai City Museum had to be an interesting challenge for the organizers. The present building, also known as the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (photos, left and opposite), was dedicated in 1872 and had a distinct English colonial flavor, with emphasis on the Victorian. It had recently undergone a major restoration, and the interior is certainly one of the major examples of architecture of the pre-modern age in India. With that in mind, the initial question for any structural addition—aside from space requirements—had to be: what should it look like, and how would it relate to the existing museum?

 

The space program asked for an 8,000-10,000 sqm.(approximately 120,000 sf.) extension to include a conservation centre, library and archives, and a new museum shop and cafe. The new structure was to be freestanding, and thus, not simply a background building, but an architectural statement in itself. What kind of statement was somewhat evident in the choice of the short-listed architectural firms. Not one of those selected could be called a traditionalist, and some could obviously be connected to a certain style. In any case, the participating architects did not have to be concerned about a jury panel that might be leaning toward a traditionalist solution.

 

The short-listed firms were:

• AL_A with PK Das, Arup, Turner & Townsend, GROSS. MAX and Superflux
• Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos with Malik Architecture, Arup and Empty
• OMA + S&K with Meinhardt India, Houtman + Sander, GMD Consultants and Langdon Seah
• Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects with Christopher Charles Benninger Architects (CCBA), Leslie E. Robertson Associates International (LERA), Buro Happold, WORKSHOP: Ken Smith Landscape Architect and George Sexton Associates
• Steven Holl Architects with Opolis Architects, Guy Nordenson and Associates, AECOM, Dongre Project Management Consultants, Transsolar and L’Observatoire
• Studio Mumbai Architecture + Edifice Consultants with Sterling Engineering Consultancy Services and Eskayem Consultants
• wHY with Ganti + Associates, Sterling Engineering, Sterling and Wilson, Magnusson Klemencic Associates, Buro Happold, Local Projects and Quantsoft India
•Zaha Hadid Architects with Sameep Padora Associates (sP+a), AKT II, Max Fordham, Dan Pearson Studio and AECOM

 

The competition jury may have been short on architects, but was heavily represented by institutional experts from museums. One interesting choice was museum director Martin Roth, whose Victoria and Albert Museum in London had been the subject of a controversial modern extension in the 1990s by Daniel Libeskind. Initially, the Mumbai Museum was named its London V&A counterpart, but later renamed. The competition was administered by Malcolm Reading Consultants of London, a firm which has gained an international reputation for the organization of such events.

 

The jury panel consisted of:

• Sitaram Kunte – Chair of Jury, the Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai and Co-Chairman,Trustee of the Museum
• Tasneem Mehta – Deputy Chair of Jury, the Managing Trustee & Honorary Director of the Museum
• Minal Bajaj, a Director of Bajaj Auto Ltd. and a Donor Trustee of the Museum
• Shyam Benegal, a Trustee of the Museum and a prolific filmmaker
• Homi Bhabha, Director of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard as well as the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities in the Department of English
• Vishakha Desai, the Special Advisor for Global Affairs and Professor of Professional Practice in the Faculty of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University
• Rajiv Jalota, the Additional Municipal Commissioner, Projects, M.C.G.M., and Trustee of the Museum
• Sen Kapadia, founder of Sen Kapadia Associates
• Anand Mahindra, Chairman and Managing Director of the Mahindra Group
• Martin Roth, the Director of the V&A Museum in London
• Aroon Tikekar, the former President of the Asiatic Society in Mumbai, a prolific author, journalist and authority on Mumbai

 

The jury selection process lasted for three days, during which jurors examined the entries and interviewed the participating firms. In the end, the jury was unanimous in awarding the commission to Steven Holl Architects, with Amanda Levette’s AL_A firm receiving an honorable mention.

 

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