Important Heritage structure in Mumbai in need of urgent repairs

Though not located in the UK the Watson Hotel or the Esplanade Mansion has important links to our own historic past and is a building which we should be helping to protect.

Designed by Rowland Mason Ordish who had previously been the engineer for St Pancras Station this remarkable building was engineered to carry all of its loads including the walls and floors on a prefabricated cast and wrought iron frame. Being built in the 1860s it was one of the most innovative buildings of its day being the first multi-storey habitable building in the world to carry all loads upon the frame. Though not the first skyscraper the building is one which is fundamentally important in the evolution of skyscraper design.

Ordish’s skill in engineering and design enabled all of the frame to be manufactured for assembly at the Mumbai site with the frame being cast at the Phoenix foundry in Derby. When completed the hotel offered 130 guest rooms with a restaurant and bar on the ground floor and large atrium for use as a ballroom. The once grand hotel had many famous guests including Mark Twain and many more including Rudyard Kipling who mentioned it in their novels. After closing in the 1960s the hotel was divided to provide residential and commercial spaces and this is how it remains with about 130 tenants.

In 1999 the building was surveyed by the Mumbai based Urban Design Institute and was found to suffering from severe structural distress, but no repairs were actioned and in 2005 a small section of the building collapsed. During this year it was listed by the Worlds Monuments Fund as one of the world’s most endangered monuments but despite subsequent attempts to instigate repairs the building still remains in immediate danger of being lost.


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