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Conservation Methodology and Materials

The Original

At the original

The initial restoration work of the catacombs was a mammoth task. The initial excavations began in 1996 with the opening of the catacombs. The catacombs had three parallel aisles and the inner two aisles were completely dark, badly damaged, filled with debris and full of bats. It was found that the innermost western wall in the last aisle was completely damp with profuse water seepage from the Palace grounds.The restoration work started in 1998 with the initial challenge being the application of efficient waterproofing techniques on the western wall and roof to stop the severe seepage from the palace grounds. Since the seepage problem was very crucial, hence the waterproofing experts had to resort to the usage of newer materials and techniques such as cement grouting that additionally provided structural enhancement. This was further topped by stone cladding of locally available grey coloured Kota stone (with high waterproofing quality).

The stonework further reinforced the waterproofing of the western walls. This work was carried by local stonemasons from Udaipur. The entire plaza on top that are the Palace grounds was repaved with new waterproofing using the existing traditional stones. After waterproofing was completed, the catacombs were ready for the transformation. The eastern façade of the catacombs was restored with traditional lime plaster, which was prepared and plastered by the traditional masons in Udaipur.

Additional elements on the eastern façade that includes the turrets used for air-cooling and the entrance platforms, were made in new materials i.e. brick and cement to accentuate the difference between the new and the old.The stone railings on the platform utilised the traditional building craft of stone carving in Udaipur to retain the aesthetic ambiance of the façade.

In the Interiors, to utilise the multilevel bays as library spaces, steps were introduced at the cross passages. These steps were laboriously chased onto the existing rock by local stonemasons. In some cases, where it was not possible to use original materials, alternative materials such as cement were used.

The new partition walls needed to define library spaces were made in bricks and cement. Besides the spatial layout, two significant challenges in the adaptive reuse of these catacombs were lighting and ventilation of these dark, dungeon like spaces. Some alterations were required since the interior spaces allowed no natural light to enter.

Openings were strategically inserted in the Media room and widened on the eastern façade in line with the cross passages thus allowing filtered light to reach the interiors. Further interior spaces were lit by artificial lighting. The new brick partition walls also allowed for chasing for fixing the electrical conduits in the walls.

The problem of ventilation and humidity control is also sensitively adapted in this difficult conversion. Modern means of cooling such as air-conditioning were avoided. Instead, stone ducts were concealed under the floor that remove the stale air from the interiors and fresh air is brought in through specially designed ducts (turrets on the eastern facade) near the doorways.

The system regulates four air changes per hour and the heat generated by the lighting absorbs any extra humidity. As far as the décor of the library is concerned, the overwhelming geometrical parallel bays set the tone for the interior design.

To set off the predominantly angular architectural elements that dominate the library interior, the reception and the book issue counter are marked by a curvilinear structure with a gentle wave in it. The contrasting new materials used further emphasise the traditional spatial characteristics of the structure.

The ceiling and arches that provide the exclusive spatial quality are further enhanced by wall finishes with a special formulation giving a smooth textural effect that retains the monolithic nature of the structure. The new elements that now populate space such as the furniture, the control counter, the light fixtures and the catalogue islands were specially fabricated from light materials so that the character of the monolithic spaces remains the predominant experience for the visitor.

This conservation initiative has proved that even utilitarian service areas in historic architecture can be beautifully restored and integrated to enhance the associative, historic and architectural significance of a historic site. The new Library exemplifies creative conservation of a historic structure for public usage.

The adaptive reuse of the catacombs as a Special Library on Mewari history and culture has given a new meaning to this historic space in Udaipur. It sets a benchmark for charitable conservation works by a non government organisation to serve the local community as well as national and international researchers