Abha Narain Lambah

A Royal Affair

When the Maharaja summons you, you know it’s for a worthy cause. Abha Narain Lambah was invited by Maharaja and Maharani Saab of Gondal to take on the project of restoring the Royal Opera House in Mumbai.
As Jan Morris puts it, ‘while the opera waited for Signor Puccini, movies landed instead.’ From an era of opera singers to the last surviving opera house in the country, this western art was fading away over time. In an attempt to save the last standing opera Rs 12 crore was sanctioned for its restoration and conservation. The project spread over 24,953 sq ft took 7 odd years to salvage.

Spread over 22,000 sq ft, the Prakruthi Windflower is one of the best work by SpaceMatrix Architects.The architects refurbished the first block of the resort, which was a previously existing structure. The newly added entry portal and lightweight walkway both wrap themselves around the existent building. The second building, that housed the spa and treatment centre was given a pitched roof held by double height volume and pilotis. Attached to the spa are the villas of the property. All the villas open up to the central courtyard. Filled with cascading water bodies and a walled central area, this green paradise in the courtyard became the focal points of the villas.

The building that opened in 1916 was inaugurated by King George V in the year 1911. Shut down after financial struggles in the early 1990s, the building was reopened to the public after 23 years in 2016. The interiors that alone took more than five years to restore were given a new lease of life. Various sources of information were pieced together, from old photographs to documents, oral histories and investigative diagnostics, to proudly put together an authentic attempt to restore the original characteristics of the Baroque design. Lambah described the process of the initial stages by saying, “Our biggest challenge and first priority was obviously the structural restoration of the building with roof repairs and water-proofing since the building was closed for two decades and had lost its structural integrity.” The Corinthian capitals, pediment, decorative architraves and ornate statuaries are some of the many features on the external design that were painstakingly restored. Stained glass paintings, Italian balustrades, Milton tiles, crystal chandeliers and a custom painted ceiling with the faces of famous writers, make for some of the elements restored internally. Some of the major updates by Lambah were the technology integrations of lighting designs, HVAC and acoustic systems. Meeting the latest standards of security protocols, a water collection tank system was designed in the original location to reduce the length of the fire fighting systems. The creative use of LED fixtures and dimmable lights added to the royal ambience of this space.Thoroughly studying archival images of the project, Lambah recreated bits and pieces that were covered during many failed upgradations of the past. From the collapsing balconies, inaccessible stairs to the decaying basement area, many of the crumbling columns were repaired just in time to save the structural integrity. After a lull that spanned over two decades, the opera is back on the map.