NUSSERWANJEE BUILDING: THE UNIQUE ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY OF SUBCONTINENT

The Nusserwanjee Building Project is distinctive in the architectural history of the subcontinent. It is a hundred year old Kharadar landmark, named after Karachi philanthropist, Jamshed Nusserwanjee. The complex was originally built in the year of 1903 by Jamshed’s father, Nusserwanjee Rustomji Mehta, as warehouse and office of Nusserwanjee and Co., a very prosperous trading and manufacturing enterprise. An extra wing was built in the year of 1919, using R.C.C. for columns, beams and roof, and plastered rubble stone and coursed stone masonry. Today, it has been relocated, stone by stone, to become a part of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) campus.

Background of Nusserwanjee Building

Jamshed Nusserwanji Rustomji Mehta was born in the year of 1886, in a well-off Parsi family in Karachi city. He was the 1st elected Mayor of Karachi and remembered as the “Maker of Modern Karachi“. He was also a prominent personality in the Pakistan Boy Scouts Association. The progress and development of Karachi can be attributed to him never bypassing rules and regulations.

Jamshed Nusserwanjee was educated in the field of commerce and joined his father’s firm as a clerk. Over the years he rose in position to become his father’s partner, instantly taking over the business. With a keen acumen for business, he succeeded in business and channeled his profits to philanthropic causes. He worked to promote import and export of Karachi which caught the attention of the world attracting business, trade, education and culture.

Jamshed Nusserwanjee was also very engaged in public affairs; he initially joined Karachi Municipality as Councillor for six years and was after that elected the first Mayor of Karachi from the time period of 1933-1944. He further represented the Parsi community in the municipality for twelve years, as elected president. During his presidency and mayor-ship, he turned Karachi from a fishing village to a well planned and established city. It was also famous as cleanest city in the East with the streets being washed twice a day. Karachi’s broad streets, lights, sanitation and water system, shady trees, parks, libraries, hospitals, schools, maternity homes, veterinary homes, transport system water troughs for animals, welfare centres for the sick, the delinquent, the Deaf, the abandoned and even facilities for animals spoke of the city’s development.

The extent of Jamshed’s participation with public affairs can be judged from the fact that he was active in as many as 77 institutions, mostly charitable and welfare-oriented. Jamshed steadily moved away from the material world to a spiritual existence and to a strictly spartan life. He was the Founder-President of the Karachi Theosophical Society and was adopted by Mrs. Annie Besant, the founder of the Theosophical Movement, as her spiritual son. He sustained to be deeply committed to her and her ideals till the end. He was also provided knighthood from the British Government which he declined. Jamshed never married and passed away in the year of 1952 after a short illness.

Relocation

The Nusserwanjee Building was set for demolition in the year of 1991 when Shahid Abdulla, one of the founders of the Indus Valley School, recommended to the save the building by relocating to the IVS campus. This was a monumental undertaking to transport 25,000 sq. ft. and 26,000 stones of the building to a new site by the sea. The 4-storey East Wing was completed in the year of 2001 and the 3 storey West Wing became operational at the end of the year 2004. The 2 wings give the School a further 25,000 sq. ft. of space, while additions to the building and interior continue to be made.

There were several recommendations about the several possibilities of dismantling, transportation, conservation etc. Detailed documentation of the building was carried out through measured drawings and photographs. Contractor Haji Mohammed Shah Akram Baloch was opted not only for his lowest bid but for a sound dismantling methodology. The sale of the property took four years to materialize, while in the meantime the new campus of the Indus Valley School was designed and built with a suitable space earmarked for the location of Nusserwanjee Building.

In-depth identification of all the material was done and each stone, piece of timber etc., properly marked prior to the dismantling which commenced in the month of April 1995, stone by stone, piece by piece, and completed within 3 months. Just 50 stones were broken or damaged out of the 26,000 that were retrieved. The procedure involved the careful removal of each piece of timber and stone which was then tagged permanently for identification, carried to the ground floor, stacked temporarily, loaded on the trucks for transportation to the Clifton site, unloaded and re-arranged according to a given layout.

However, the exterior of the Nusserwanjee building and most interior spaces look almost exactly the similar as the original, the construction methodology had to be altered to cater to the current building codes. Vertical and horizontal steel sections had to be introduced to brace the structure.

 

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