June, 2017

Heritage buildings in downtown Mumbai are increasingly sinking into the grey façade of concrete the city has become. These buildings that once stood as a proud example of Indian architecture, are now nothing more than stone and wall around the city. ZARA, the international fashion brand, undertook the task of restoring the Ismail building at the famous Flora Fountain area near Churchgate in Mumbai. This is the brand’s 20th store in India. It is also the largest at 51,300 sq ft with a record annual rent of Rs. 30 crore.

A team of international designers, architects and restorers led by Kirtida Unwalla and Mona Sanghvi, worked together to reinstate the splendour of this structure in the Edwardian neo-classical style. Kirtida is the conservation architect while Mona lends her expertise as a consultant for the Ismail building restoration. The Ismail building is now hard to miss with its cleaned up columns and restored stone murals. The exceptional efforts put in by the team have made the store a head-turner.

The choice of using a heritage building was a first for ZARA in India. The idea was to revive the architecture of the building, maintain and preserve its historical elements and make it stand out from rest of the brands. A task that took almost a year, seemed effortless when it was unveiled complete with its flawless finishes and detailing. The interior lighting accentuates the textures of the décor materials used to bolster the feeling of strength and create a sensuous and evocative atmosphere. Furniture made of steel and glass are also used within the space. The materials and colour scheme adopted for the furniture is characteristic of the brand and helps maintain unity among their various global stores.

The doors and windows of the building follow a scheme of different designs and typology. To reinstate the original features of these elements, the wood typology was identified and sourced to produce the same original texture and grains. Missing elements were re-crafted to stay true to the original design. The joinery of the transom and the mullion were also carried out as in the original joinery. The internal façade of the building received a major facelift. Random raw materials of ply, ceramics and cement oddly clad parts of the internal complex. The composite masonry on each floor include a variety of bricks and limestones of architrave and keystone. The removal of the materials from the walls to reveal these design elements were an uphill task.The seasoned Burmese teakwood used for the internal flooring and the old Milton tiles were sourced from various local vendors.

Beside the reconstruction, the cleaning process of the building was challenging, especially to uncover the balustrades of limestone that were covered in tar and grime. The vegetation and plants growing on the structure were pruned followed by the removal of grime. To ensure that plastered surfaces were covered, a final coat of lime punning provided a smooth finish to the balustrades along with a breathable coat of water repellent to prevent the growth of vegetation. Significant restorations are currently on for a ZARA store in Barcelona (Plaça de Catalunya) in a 1930s property as well as at a store opening in the Shinjuku district in Tokyo. ZARA’s architectural philosophy of beauty, clarity, functionality and sustainability are the four principles that are cornerstones of this new store in the Ismail Building. The restored building reflects the ZARA is vision and its aim to impact the Indian fashion industry

“The idea was to revive the architecture of the building, maintain and preserve its historical elements and make it stand out from rest of the brands.” – KIRTIDA UNWALLA