The excitement was palpable. A little over a week ago, we at MiD DAY kicked off an awareness campaign with Abha Narain Lambah and the Urban Design Research Institute to support the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco ensemble that is being promoted as Mumbai’s nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The intent, apart from creating awareness about this space, was to also make people play their part by inviting them to vote online. Once collated, these signatures could be projected as public backing when the proposal is scheduled to be presented to the Maharashtra Chief Minister in mid-August.
The lay reader asked, what’s so special about this area? Why support a few ‘old’ buildings in south Mumbai, a suburbanite threw back? Such obvious queries came in from different quarters since coverage commenced, and even before, during ideation. After all, there’s selective or no information about these buildings’ significance in our history books. Then again, there is scant mention in newsprint of these unique architectural marvels that experts often refer to as ‘living heritage’. Visiting heritage expert and town planner from the Philippines, Augusto Villalón’s put it into perspective. “What is fantastic is that these are living, breathing buildings – either being used for public and civic needs (Bombay High Court, University Buildings, State Public Works Department, City Civil and Sessions Court) or for residential (Art Deco buildings) purpose, and there’s even recreation (Oval Maidan),” he reminded us. We could only nod our heads in agreement. Sometimes, it takes a voice from outside to drive home the reality of what we tend to take for granted.
These architectural styles span the 19th (Victorian Gothic) and 20th (Art Deco) centuries, respectively, and are probably the largest such conglomeration of two styles to face each other in an urban space anywhere in the world. Fascinating, isn’t it? The Oval Maidan in the centre once formed a part of the undivided Esplanade (news to a few Kolkatans’ ears, perhaps?) that was a wide open space, meant to offer a clear firing range and view for troops positioned at the British Fort walls of incoming enemies from the Arabian Sea.
The third element — the Art Deco buildings, was built on reclaimed land in the 20th century. After Miami, Mumbai’s exhibition of this style is believed to be one of the largest, globally. In an earlier interview, Professor Mustansir Dalvi, from the JJ School of Architecture told this journalist an intriguing fact — that this style was a rebellion of the Gothic style at the time. Ironic then that these face each other, and form part of a grand proposal, one that we hope will get its due on the world’s heritage map.
Love for one’s city can be translated into being sensitised and aware of such living heritage. It is crucial that today’s generation, in particular, salutes and works towards keeping this unique urban fabric intact and in safe hands. Casting that vote is one step closer to realising this, and respecting our city, as a whole.
To vote: log on to www.mid-day.com/heritage_support/
— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY