Lessons from the Field: The Repair and Restoration of Swastik Court, Oval Maidan

This essay is an abridged version of “The Swastik Court Handbook – Repair & Restoration: Lessons from the Field”, a publication by Art Deco Mumbai Trust. You can order your copy of the handbook here.

Figure 1: The façade of Swastik Court before repainting, as seen from the street level. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Figure 2: The façade of Swastik Court after repainting. The new coat of paint maintains the original two-toned scheme. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Swastik Court is a well-known apartment-style building within the historic core of ‘The Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai’, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the 76 Art Deco buildings that are part of the listed property. It was designed by the architectural firm Sykes, Patkar & Divecha and built on land leased from the Collector of Mumbai. Varjiwandas Motilal Saraiya, the original owner, named the building after ‘Swastika’, the Sanskrit name for a symbol widely revered in several South Asian cultures. The building name also represents a change observed in the 20th century, pivoting from English names to a more apparent Indian identity.[1]

In 2019, residents of Swastik Court came together to implement an elaborate repair and maintenance plan — 83 years after its construction. Recognising the architectural integrity of the building, they invited Art Deco Mumbai to offer its expertise and advise them on safeguarding the aesthetic and cultural significance of the building, through the upgradation project.

“The flats are spacious. It is relatively quiet, it is open, it has got gardens. I think all together, I feel very lucky and very, very blessed.”

Nayana Kathpalia

Civic Activist and lifelong resident of Swastik Court

The Swastik Court Handbook – Repair & Restoration: Lessons from the Field’, a one-of-a-kind resource for 20th-century heritage, chronicles the team’s process, experiences, and observations while repairing and restoring a residential Art Deco building. It is a valuable resource that showcases the possibility of successful outcomes, highlights the nuances associated with rehabilitating a historic property, and presents the benefits a sensitive intervention can offer its stakeholders. It is also a fine example of what can be done with limited financial resources and demonstrates highly cost-effective ways to protect and care for such historic buildings.

In the 19th century, Bombay was a bustling commercial centre and a thriving port for trade relations with various countries worldwide – a gateway into India.[2] This economic boom generated numerous opportunities that attracted people from different communities and walks of life to migrate to the city. By the end of this century, migration also brought to light the need for space and urban infrastructure. The city officials took this need as an opportunity to introduce new architectural styles within the existing city fabric.
One such response was the Backbay Reclamation Scheme, conceived to meet a pressing demand for housing in the early 20th century. This reclamation project was unprecedented in scale, opening up vast tracts of land for development on the western edge of the island city. It resulted in the emergence of the city’s first Art Deco precinct – 18 buildings identical in height constructed along the west of Oval Maidan, with Eros Cinema as the only non-residential building on this stretch. [3]
These Deco buildings, including Swastik Court, are the earliest expressions of modernity in the city and are notable for the UNESCO recognition accorded to modern living heritage.[4]
Figure 3: AR Haseler’s 1937 view of buildings constructed along the Oval Maidan. Image Courtesy: Dwivedi and Mehrotra, Bombay Deco, 94-95).
LEGAL PROTECTION | The UNESCO Inscription, Facts & Figures
The UNESCO inscription ensures that all heritage properties identified in the nomination dossier of ‘The Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai’ enjoy national and international protection as a collective.[5] The overall urban form of the ensemble is protected. The inscription also ensures the maintenance and management of the ensemble is regulated. However, only some individual buildings and smaller districts within the World Heritage Site enjoy site-specific protection.[6] The remaining buildings, especially the Art Deco-style structures, are unprotected, making them vulnerable to misinformed interventions over time.

These threats could be structural or visual, especially the loss of character-defining features caused by lack of awareness and access to knowledge partners or skilled contractors, and property mismanagement over time. These challenges make the case study of Swastik Court’s repair and restoration a unique opportunity to closely engage with the structure and understand how citizens and residents can tackle potential threats faced by Art Deco residential buildings, especially within the ensemble.

Figure 4: An illustrated map of the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai, identified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Figure 5: Map highlighting the location of Swastik Court (in maroon) within the Oval precinct. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Constructed in the 1930s, over a span of one and a half years, with a total cost of Rs 1,80,000, Swastik Court is a ground plus five storeys (G+5) multi-owner building, with occupants including landlords, tenants and self-owned flats.[7] 

Over many decades, this Art Deco jewel has remained untouched, barring a few coats of paint. This means most building features, inside and out, are original and minimally altered. This has primarily determined its high degree of authenticity and integrity, especially in terms of its material value, compared to other buildings in its surroundings.


To a large extent, the credit for this feat goes to the residents of this historic building, many of whom are original occupants, or family members of original residents, and have close familial ties with the building. Collectively, they are strong advocates for conservation and broadly understand the nuances associated with conservation projects, especially in terms of their role in maintaining the socio-cultural and opportunity values present in their property.

“It was built in the late 1930s, I think 1936, by my grand-uncle Varjivandas Saraiya. He built this building and the one behind it called Lily Court. I believe ‘Swastik’ was because they used to live in a building called Swastik Mansion or Swastik Chambers, somewhere in town [south Mumbai], so when they built this, they decided to call it Swastik Court.”

Nayana Kathpalia

For this project, the residents of Swastik Court signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Art Deco Mumbai, enabling the Conservation Team to conduct preliminary investigations, share their insights, and ensure appropriate conservation of the original design features and building elements. Through a building survey, the Conservation Team also facilitated access to archival resources for material research and identified key design elements inside the building and on its façade.

Figure 6: Photograph from a meeting between the Conservation Team and residents of Swastik Court. (From left: Nityaa Lakshmi Iyer (standing), Renu Malhotra, Saroj Rupani, Nayana Kathpalia, Adil Gandhy, and Atul Kumar). Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Figure 7: A closer look at the bas-relief above the entrance canopy, which was plastered white during previous repairs, hiding all the layers of vibrant colours underneath. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Figure 8: The colourful original terrazzo tile flooring in the entrance lobby laid in a geometric pattern. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Figure 9: A close-up of the balcony with the original Deco grille design. The geometric chevron detail in the centre is in clear view from the street level. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
METHODOLOGY | The Approach We Took

The team regularly visited Swastik Court to identify, document and develop an intimate understanding of its different architectural elements and spatial features. This meticulous recording ensured that the conservation recommendations addressed the resident’s upgradation needs while safeguarding the building’s architectural integrity.

The initial building survey confirmed that Swastik Court is a reinforced concrete (RCC) frame structure with masonry walls and a flat terrace roof founded on precast concrete piles. Through the survey, the Conservation Team also catalogued all the character-defining features of this Art Deco building.

This list includes the overall symmetry in its building form, central staircase, original Stigler lift, teak wood windows, eyebrows, curvilinear balconies with metal grilles and wooden handrails, architectural lettering, name boards, lobby finishes, terrazzo flooring, and tropical relief work above the curvilinear entrance canopy. During the project, the team also discovered finer nuances associated with the building’s architectural elements, some of which even the residents were learning of for the first time. These included the original geometric-inspired mosaic flooring on the terrace, stepped profiles on the piers of the compound wall and the original Colourcrete finish of the bas-relief panel above the building entrance. These discoveries improved the team’s spatial and structural understanding of the building and the more extensive Art Deco residential typology. As the next steps, the Conservation Team defined the level of significance, current state, and necessary intervention degree per element.

“In the biggest monuments, the first thing they say is “do as little as possible, and the least you do is the best you can”. I think that is an approach we followed carefully in this project. If we felt we did not need any intervention, we did not do any.”

Nityaa Lakshmi Iyer

Conservation Architect and Project Head


Furthermore, detailed colour scheme options were prepared in consultation with the building residents. These options were created keeping in mind façade features like balconies, windows, eyebrows (chajjas), decorative relief work, grillwork, motifs, and features at the entrance, such as the canopy, architectural lettering, entrance gates and compound wall. A Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA)-appointed contractor carried out the project. Through a guidance note that ensured all the repair work was executed in an informed manner, the team also advised and sensitised this contractor about the character-defining features that make Swastik Court unique.

Figure 10: Terrace layout highlighting the patterns in the original flooring. Source: Art Deco Mumbai

To make certain the building’s values were preserved over time, only reversible conservation treatments and interventions were recommended and implemented. In instances where there was a need for more information due to a lack of archival data or if no evidence could be gathered during site investigation or through oral histories, much care was taken to understand the material on-site and document its condition, followed by recommendations for interventions that were the least invasive and highly reversible.

As part of its capacity-building efforts, the team actively engaged with the stakeholders throughout the project, educating them about the character-defining features and drawing their attention to the significant features of the building, hidden in plain sight.

Figure 11: A section of the bas-relief panel before restoration. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Figure 12: A section of the bas-relief panel in the final stage of restoration. A protective water-based clear coat was applied once all the cleaning steps were completed. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Figure 13: The balcony and grille before restoration work. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Figure 14: The balconies get a face lift with a fresh coat of paint and new treatment for the grilles. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Figure 15: The compound wall and grille prior to the restoration work. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
Figure 16: The compound grille straightened and painted after restoration. The compound wall's original profile was also restored. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
CHALLENGES | When We Hit a (Concrete) Wall

Some aspects of the project also highlighted the urgent need to conduct historical and scientific research on building materials and systems that form a significant feature of Mumbai’s Art Deco residences, the Colourcrete surface finish being a noteworthy example.

The project’s research phase also highlighted the need for more technical documents in the public domain that could help stakeholders and professionals repair and restore character-defining features of 20th-century buildings. These include colourcrete relief work, terrazzo tiles, mosaic flooring, and many more such elements. 

In addition, it was also challenging to find any continuously inhabited residential building in India which had been conserved recently, and which could serve as a precedent for this project. The Conservation Team, therefore, relied on prolonged conversations with the residents, in addition to the team’s deliberations and investigations, to make well-rounded recommendations that would benefit Swastik Court in the long run, without compromising the integrity of its architecture.

Figure 17: The Swastik Court facade after repair and restoration. Source: Art Deco Mumbai
IN CONCLUSION | Lessons from the Field

This project helped Art Deco Mumbai identify and implement a methodology that facilitates residents of Art Deco buildings to improve their properties in a manner that respects the building’s past, while making way for change in the future. Through this project publication, Art Deco Mumbai also seeks to fulfil the compelling need to disseminate resources that would aid in the conservation, repair, and restoration of 20th-century heritage, especially the ones that use RCC (Reinforced Concrete Cement) as the primary building material. The Trust believes that the availability of this information in the public domain and the ‘lessons from the field’ in the handbook will serve as a shared resource for architects, conservationists, building occupants, contractors, designers, and students alike, to maintain, restore, and preserve modern living heritage. It also hopes the success of this project encourages others to reflect on the conservation of Mumbai’s 20th-century residential heritage and explore the possibility of adding value to heritage properties by implementing sensitive but cost-effective interventions.

Figure 19: A drawing of the colour scheme finally implemented at Swastik Court. Source: Art Deco Mumbai

Presenting the voices of the diverse stakeholders in this unique project  – watch the full video below. 

Here’s what people are saying about The Swastik Court Handbook:

Get a copy of The Swastik Court Handbook to learn how to repair your building in a sensitive, cost-effective and pragmatic manner, without compromising its architectural integrity. The handbook provides detailed insights on how the team restored a bas-relief constructed more than 80 years ago, discovered new information about old building materials like Colourcrete, and presented hitherto forgotten details about the building to its residents. Order your copy here

Nityaa Lakshmi Iyer for Art Deco Mumbai 

Nityaa is a conservation architect with a keen interest in 20th-century architecture. She has an MSc in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania and is an alumnus of the Getty Graduate Internship Program. She believes community-driven initiatives add high value to heritage conservation projects. She has worked on conservation, outreach, and capacity-building projects with numerous non-profit organisations, such as the Center for Architectural Conservation, Art Deco Mumbai Trust and World Monuments Fund. She is also an EP representative of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee for Twentieth Century Heritage and the Asia-Pacific Regional Co-coordinator for the ICOMOS Emerging Professional Working Group. She led the project team working on repairing and restoring Swastik Court.

In April 2023, Atul Kumar, Founder Trustee, Art Deco Mumbai, presented lessons from “The Swastik Court Repair & Restoration Project” at the 16th World Congress on Art Deco, Miami Beach, USA. 

[1] Mustansir Dalvi, “Deco on the Oval,” Art Deco Mumbai, December 14, 2020.

[2] Bombay was renamed Mumbai in 1995. Whenever the text describes events before 1995, the city is referred to by its former name.

[3] ICOMOS report for the World Heritage Committee, Evaluations of Nominations of Cultural and Mixed Properties (Paris, ICOMOS, 2018), Pg 81.

[4] Ibid., 83

[5] Articles 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, which governs the management of UNESCO World Heritage Sites: https://whc.unesco.org/?cid=175

[6] These are the buildings and districts listed as graded heritage sites and precincts under the Heritage Regulations for Greater Bombay 1995; Swastik Court is not part of this list.

[7] “Queen’s Road Blocks, Present and Recent Construction”, The Times of India, February 15, 1937, 17.


Colourcrete: Colourcrete or coloured concrete is an artistic concrete mixture created using rapid hardening cement, white or grey in colour. Along with this cement base, the mixture also contains natural oxides that imbue colour and suitable aggregates that are similar or complementary in colour to the overall mixture. It is widely seen as a rendering material for elaborate motifs and bas-relief on building façades.

MHADA: MHADA, or the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, is a government agency established in 1977 and is a convergence of the Maharashtra Housing Board (MHB) and the Vidarbha Housing Board (VHB). It is a statutory housing authority that works to provide affordable housing in the state of Maharashtra.

RCC or Reinforced Concrete Cement: A composite construction technique where reinforcements such as steel bars, fibres or metal plates are embedded in the concrete and act together in resisting forces on the structure. RCC construction became popular in Bombay in the early 20th century and continues to be used in the city today because of its ease of use and total time for construction.

Stepped Profile: An outline of successively receding levels or steps, often seen on the facade of Art Deco buildings.

Terrazzo: Terrazzo is a type of finishing material consisting of marble chips set in cement or epoxy resin, made smooth when dry after casting on site. Terrazzo flooring is extensively seen in the interior flooring and lobby area of Deco buildings. It is either cast in place or cast into tiles that are typically laid as flooring.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: A UNESCO World Heritage Site is the designation given to places on Earth that have been inscribed on the World Heritage List so they can be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. These designated areas enjoy legal protection under the 1972 World Heritage Convention adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). They are selected on the basis of their value as "cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity".
Research / Conservation efforts