The 91-year-old monument conceived by Lord Curzon and designed by Sir William Emerson has been in crying need of overhaul with exterior marble walls stained by pollution and seepage damaging interior walls. Though it has invaluable art and artifacts, the cluttered display in outdated galleries and lack of proper air conditioning leaves visitors exasperated.
Victoria Memorial authorities hope to change all that over the next three to four years, conserving the marble exterior, repairing the interior brickwork, redesigning and upgrading galleries, installing environment, fire and surveillance control systems, adding galleries by shifting offices to an abandoned building and making space for research scholars.
A team of experts from Scotland has already carried out a detailed fabric inspection. After the team submits its report to executing agency sometime next month, the latter will make a presentation to an expert panel appointed by Victoria Memorial. Once the latter makes a presentation, work will get underway. “It is an ambitious project to preserve the heritage structure of Victoria Memorial while transforming it into a contemporary state-of-the-art museum. The project for renovating the interior that had been prepared by National Institute of Design (NID) will be executed by National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC), a central government undertaking under the Union urban development ministry. It will first make a presentation that will be vetted by an expert panel. Thereafter, work will begin in phases,” Victoria Memorial Hall curator Swapan Chakraborty said. NBCC appointed Dulal Mukherjee & Associates as consulting architect, which in turn called upon the services of Scottish conservation expert James Simpson to do a thorough survey of the building. Curatorial and illumination experts will next be appointed for doing up the galleries. The consulting architect said Simpson, along with another conservation architect and a fracture expert, had surveyed Victoria Memorial over 10 days and would submit the report in August. “Since it is an iconic structure, we have to be extremely careful and ensure that no damage is caused in the attempt to conserve and upgrade the facility,” said Mukherjee.
While visitors will find it difficult to spot the difference in exterior conservation work (other than facilities like ticket room, cloak room, waiting lounge and toilets planned at the north gate), the job within will be plainly visible as it involves modernizing galleries and stores. The plan is to redesign the galleries thematically. The number of galleries will also increase from nine at present to 12. One of the new galleries will tell the story of East India Company’s arrival and rule in India. The existing galleries, including Portrait gallery, Royal gallery, Kolkata gallery, National Leaders’ gallery and Indian Schools of Art gallery will be completely modernized with climate control that regulates light, temperature and humidity. Modern heating, ventilation and airconditioning (HVAC) system apart, state-of-the-art smoke detection, fire fighting and security systems will be installed in galleries. All objects will be barcoded so that the central alarm system can immediately detect any theft attempt. That will enable Victoria Memorial authorities to invite exhibitions from abroad.