This former department store of Calcutta aspired to be a civic landmark on par with Government House and the Victoria Memorial. Occupying one of the city's most prominent intersections, this neo-baroque emporium--with domes, clock tower, and arched recessed windows--exemplified fashionable shopping during the British Raj. The first shopping levels including barrel-vaulted arcades in stained glass; bridges and "floating" gangways accessed upper-level residential apartments arrayed about a large courtyard. Underutilized since nationalization in 1947, the structure has deteriorated dramatically. In a recent landmark victory, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation successfully negotiated with the owner to begin rehabilitation instead of demolishing it and redeveloping the site. Included on Calcutta's recently issued heritage list, the threat is not that the building will be lost, but that its rich potential may not be realized. An appropriate and successful adaptive reuse project could provide a critical model for India, where preservation subsidies do not exist and for Calcutta, whose architecture rebirth has not yet been assured.
Since the Watch
The Metropolitan Building, owned by the Life Insurance Corporation of India, was restored starting in 2003. But progress was slow and concerns were raised about the treatment of the building's interior, including the removal of original materials and water damage sustained during restoration. Despite these setbacks, retail use returned to this former department store in 2008. January 2011