Design in context’ has been her guiding light over the two decades of her practice, as it evolved into one of the country’s foremost guardians of built history. When Delhi-bred and Mumbai-based Abha Narain Lambah founded ANL Associates in 1998, she was driven by the idea of changing the status of conservation from elitist to mainstream. For the DN Road streetscape project, she designed urban conservation and signage guidelines for a commercial street in the historic Fort district of Mumbai, and worked with shopkeepers and commercial establishments to re-organise shop fronts and signage. This was the first ‘heritage main street’ project in India and featured street furniture contributed by local stakeholders.
Since then, Lambah has come a long way, working to prove that heritage need not only be ancient and monumental— even a 19th or early 20th century neighbourhood could be worthy of conservation. Or that conservation need not be funded by the government alone — citizens could create new models for public-private initiative to conserve heritage. Among her early projects were the Heritage Mile (DN Road streetscape), restoration of Elphinstone College in consonance with the Kala Ghoda Association, and of JJ School of Art, again a public-private initiative. Fittingly, all three projects won UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage awards.
As the firm grew, it began to handle corporate restoration for banks such as Tata Palace for Deutsche Bank; private and citizen-funded restoration of 15th century temples in Ladakh and Hampi (supported by Global Heritage Fund and World Monuments Fund); and the conservation of Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalay. Marking a decade of practice, the atelier began working on government buildings such as Convocation Hall, University of Mumbai and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation head office. Lambah feels “truly blessed to have worked on some of the finest sites — from Ajanta Caves, Mahabodhi Temple and Amber Fort to the Royal Opera House.”
Conserving built heritage goes hand-in-hand with sustainability, so her practice is aimed at keeping some of our heritage alive and contextual for both the present and the future. Lambah is looking forward to working on “some amazing historic sites across India and the world,” and exhorts fellow architects and designers to steer away from conjectural restoration that falsifies history and to avoid ‘design overkills’.

 

Looking Back

Every project has impacted her practice, from learning that grassroots approach works best in urban areas (DN Road), the importance of historic research (homes like Mani Bhavan and Anand Bhavan), to understanding the significance of material authenticity in dealing with restoration of palaces (Chowmahalla, Hyderabad).

Looking forward

ANL Associates has been appointed as consultants to the Punjab Government, and advises the state on its cultural and tourism policies. Lambah is excited about the revival plans for the Mughal caravanserais along the old Mughal highway, from Agra to Lahore, as also about the firm’s projects in the historic city of Amritsar.

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