Jer Villa


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Jer Villa

  1. 1. R ESTORING J ER V ILLA A century old Colonial Bungalowconverted to a corporate Guest HouseANJALI & KIRAN KALAMDANI 1
  2. 2. THE CONTEXT The beauteous confluence banks of rivers Mula-Mutha, set amidst gentlyrising hills, Pune was cunningly usurped by the British. The gift of nature isfurther complimented by pleasing weather which rarely goes un-noticed by anyvisitor. After vanquishing the mighty Marathas, the British added ‘Poona’ to theBombay Presidency and gradually established their presence in two canton-ments. After AD1818, the two cantonments located to the east and the north ofthe city marked the beginnings of colonial settlements. Today these are knownfor their military presence, large open and wooded expanses with occasionalstone buildings and bungalows. Here the traditional courtyard house model ofthe natives was rejected in favour of the outward looking bungalow with veran-dahs and spacious gardens. A cultural aspiration point was generated. Indianswanting to catch up with the rulers or gain their favours tried to imitate theEnglish ways of life. An elite class of society was generated that mediated be-tween the indigenous peoples and the Sahibs. Their architecture predictablyleaned towards the preferences of the white man. ….Even today a drive through the cantonment conjures up the promiseof a different experience for the average Puneite. Connoisseurs of such experi-ences often cherish a taste of the exotic things East Street or Main Street haveto offer! With the passage of time these streets began a process of change. Sev-eral familiar landmarks like the West End Cinema and several others gave wayto the ubiquitous concrete tower block. New blocks like the ‘Wonderland’ werecreated that have now become landmarks in themselves, though they lack theold world charm of what they replaced. Within this potpourri of tastes someheritage buildings are able to hold their own amidst the splendour of dense ver-dure. One of the prime sites along the east street which marks the egde of theEuropean Officer’s quarter is the ‘Jer Villa’. 2
  3. 3. JER VILLA THE CENTURION Located in the centre of the spacious acre and a quarter plot of tree lineddriveways, Jer Villa asserts the enduring charm of a century old dream. Built byDr. Sohrab Modi’s grandfather in 1907, the bungalow was home to a large jointfamily. The octogenarian is lost in misty-eyed remembrance as he reminisceshis childhood. The graceful buggy, he recalls, would drive in splendour into theporch that is now home to Japanese and American cars. The wide verandahswith their easy chairs and delicate stained glass work is as welcoming today asit was on the first day it was built. The view of the gracious lawns and the foun-tain from the verandah is soothing and relaxing. The cast iron railings on theverandah are almost lacelike as they wrap around the entire building. As onesteps into the building the central hall with its lofty ceiling, gold-leaf and plas-terwork lifts the gaze into wonderous awe. The hall leads into a low ceilingeddining hall with plenty of coloured glass panes. It is connected to the kitchenwhich is in the outhouse by a covered link. Several rooms for the servants andthe stores are a part of this outhouse, so that the mess is discretely away fromthe ceremonious central house. An elaborate system of stairs and passageskeeps the toilets and bedrooms serviced away from the eye of the outsider andvisitor. Far away in the rear corner of the plot are stables for horses, garagesand also a room for the deer that were a part of the idyllic landscape. On either side of the central hall are three bedrooms of generous sizewith a dressing room and a toilet towards the rear. The choicest quarry tiles andceramic mosaics are used to complete the sense of loving care and restraint thatis showered on the family home. Plenty of doors, ventilators and windows al-low easy choices of air, light and people from anywhere to everywhere. Multi-ple choices of connecting rooms or maintaining privacy are generated that areuseful to suit today’s ideas of privacy or intimacy. All bedrooms have teakwoodlined cupboards recessed in the thick brick and lime mortar walls. Belgian glassmirrors and crystalline handles speak of a muted elegance that pervades the en-tire premises. Dr.Modi’s aunt the late Dr. Banoo Coyaji stayed here for a whilewith her husband. As the family grew the two sets of bedrooms on either sideof the hall were added to. Another bedroom on either was added with the floor-ing being in mosaic tile. Later another addition to a side was conceived over thetwo bedrooms to the north. As the roofs leaked another hall was added over thetwo bedrooms. 3
  4. 4. TEAM FORMATION With the passage of time it was difficult to maintain the premises. Thefamily grew older and some members moved abroad. Parts of the house fellinto disuse and ultimately in disrepair. Mangalore tiles broke giving way torainwater seeping into false ceilings, some timber columns started decaying atthe ends. Incongruous additions made their presence felt as new age ceramictiles and modern fittings started playing discordant noted in the once harmoni-ous ambience. The owners were quick to realize the need for better care andcaretakers. Appropriate measures were taken to pass on the stewardship of thefamily legacy to those who would value its spirit. The Bhandaris who havebeen a part of the city’s recent history were old friends who suited the descrip-tion. Mr. Jaykumar Bhandari being a lover of antique cars and miniature winebottles was of a keen eye and a suitable temperament that would bestow theloving care on the heirloom. Mr. Bhandari picked his advisors and helpers inthe work with same keen eye and sensibilities he would use while picking hisbottles and cars. All the members of the family were involved in the decision-making process and it increased the bonding and belonging to the place for thelarge business group. Though a new family was taking over the stewardship ofthe house they took a conscious decision to retain marks of the identity of theoriginal owners of the house. The photograph of Dr. Modi’s grandfather andthe family initials painted on the false ceiling were retained. Architects VikasBhandari and Kalpak Bhandari together with Anjali and Kiran Kalamdani com-bined their talents and know-how to provide the necessary professional help. 4
  5. 5. TECHNICAL DETAILS The work of restoration began with an assessment of whether the build-ing could be used for a purpose close to the original use with minimum disrup-tion. A corporate guest house for the large business family was the answer. Theproposed use would make just use of the premises while maintaining the oldworld charm. The Neemrana Group’s Bar Cottage at Matheran was taken as aprototype to follow. Usually the most important challenge faced by architectsand the project management team is ‘how much the work would cost and thetime that might be taken for the work’. Once this was decided a detailed docu-mentation of every feature and detail of the building was undertaken. The docu-mentation revealed several facts and figures that are not obvious to the eye. In-congruities became obvious and solutions presented themselves with ease.While most of the flooring was retained in its original state, the finishes and fit-tings in the toilets needed renewal. Old plumbing and electrical wires andswitches had become redundant. New ceramic tiles that would harmonize withthe place were chosen. The design agenda was about modern convenienceswith regard for the context. Antique or look alike antique furniture, paintings,wall hangings and fittings were sourced from various places. The Mutton Streetmarket off Mohamed Ali Road in Mumbai became a Mecca for such items. Theowners knew the places from where they sourced spare parts for their antiquecars. Within a period of three months the work of restoring floors, plaster, roof-ing tiles, doors and windows, railings and staircases, balconies and stainedglasses was undertaken systematically. Electrical switches and light fittings,toilet finishes and plumbing fittings were handpicked to suit the originals. Aconscious policy of retaining the originals to the extent possible was adopted. 5
  6. 6. THE TECHNICAL TEAM Mr. Ravi Ranade of the Construction Diagnostic Centre conducted a de-tailed ‘Non Destructive Testing’ of all timbers in the walls and roofs. Wherevernecessary they were partially replaced or grouted with epoxy resin. Strengthen-ing using steel plates was done wherever it was possible. Sanjay Dadarkar re-stored most of the stained glasses. Wherever they were missing new glasses tomatch the originals were inserted. In the hall and the most prominent places anew design that incorporated the logotype of the B.U.Bhandari group was in-serted. Non synthetic paints and lime mortar was made compulsory. A banyantree was found to be growing on the northern façade of the house with helpfrom a leaking pipeline. Both the leaking pipe and the tree were removed andthe plaster restored. Praveen Kapadia and Madan Pardeshi who usually usetheir ingenuity and perseverance to help the group while restoring antique cars,This time used it for sourcing furniture and managing the complex work on aday to day basis. Jayant Dharap provided valuable inputs in the landscape de-sign in recognizing the potential inherent in the old and valuable trees, as wellas the aspects related to use of outdoor spaces. Restoration of the fountainpond, the driveway and the drain that passed through the site were undertakento improve the overall tidiness and utilization of the outdoor spaces. 6
  7. 7. ENDPIECE The success and skill of the team was that it finished the work in the esti-mated cost and time. Minimal paperwork and a greater reliance on mutual un-derstanding and trust enabled a harmonious team work. As cities grow old andnew landmarks replace old ones, there will always be some old familiar placesthat some may want to retain. It is important that the agencies that recognizethe importance and know how to retain it converge in time and space. Theselandmarks then become the sources of a collective identity. Though the originaloccupants may move out and the history related to a site may be irrelevant tothe new occupants, the old world charm that is represented by period architec-ture has an ability to create a sense of ‘rootedness’. Dr. Modi feels contentedthat the family values framed in the idea of Jer Villa are being gracefully per-petuated and that he can revisit his past without a tinge of sorrow. The city ofPune that has been the home of the Bhandari family for the last two generationshas now made Pune its base. Restoration of Jer Villa will not only boost theircollective self image but also elevate their collective identity in the eyes of thecitizens of Pune!Anjali & Kiran Kalamdani6 September 2007 7