Designs for a new India

Rahul Mehrotra’s architecture spans eras and cultural divides. From Harvard Magazine:

Many of India’s historic sites are open to the public, but absent official tours and interpretive signs, their stories remain inaccessible. In restoring Hyderabad’s long-closed Chowmahalla Palace, Mehrotra sought not only to bring the public inside, but to create a setting where visitors could step into the story to gain understanding. The palace had long been disconnected from the city around it: first, commoners weren’t allowed inside; later, nobody was, as the royal family fled and the complex fell into disrepair.

The palace belonged to the Asaf Jah dynasty, Muslim rulers of Hyderabad and the surrounding area from 1720 until Indian independence in 1947, and is still privately owned by the royal family. Of India’s many dynasties, this was one of the wealthiest: the region is rich in diamonds and pearls, and in 1937 the nizam, or ruler of Hyderabad, was officially ranked the richest man in the world.

The Chowmahalla, one of six Asaf Jah palace complexes in Hyderabad, was used for ceremonial functions and receiving guests. It was abandoned for three decades, amid a morass of legal issues, until Princess Esra, wife of the current nizam, decided in 2000 to restore the site and reopen it as a museum. She called on Mehrotra to lead the conservation effort.

On his first visit to the sprawling complex, whose staff once numbered 6,000, he found buildings in a state of severe decay. Intricately molded plaster ceilings had caved in; floors of rare wood were rotting. Ultimately, dozens of specialists—woodworkers, upholsterers, and textile restorers; experts on identifying and preserving antique art, ceramics, and photographs; structural engineers, landscape architects, and historians of Urdu and Persian—were needed for the massive conservation project. More:

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