Art Dekko in the city

Aug 12, 2012, 10:59 IST | Moeena Halim

Did you know that Mumbai houses the second largest number of Art Deco buildings in the world after Miami? The city's newly appointed 10-member heritage committee � Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) � hopes to allot heritage status to the city's Art Deco structures to protect and conserve them. MOEENA HALIM and photographer SHADAB KHAN take a tour

The persistence of Abha Narain Lambah, conservation architect and member of the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC), and late historian Sharada Dwivedi, finally placed Marine Drive and the Oval Maidan Art Deco precint on India’s tentative list of entries to the UNESCO World Heritage List, on June 2012. “Making it to the tentative list was a big achievement. But every year, the country can only make one entry to the cultural heritage list. So we have to fight to make it to the final one,” says Lambah.

Mumbai (then Bombay) was the first city in India to adopt the style, which originated in France in the 1920s, reveals Lambah. “Bombay was always tuned to international trends. This was probably thanks to the city’s strong mercantile community,” she explains.

Vikas Dilawari, conservation architect, speaks about the economic crisis that took over Europe after the First World War. “

Instead of using stone, they began using concrete, which was far cheaper,” says Dilawari. By the 1930s, the nationalist movement had begun and Indian architects were enthusiastic about experimenting with new styles. “This is when architects in Bombay began building apartments with concrete, fixed with elevators,” adds Lambah. Most of the residential buildings opposite the Oval Maidan as well as at Marine Drive were built around this time.

Dilawari believes that the most remarkable thing about the art deco style was that it is a “comprehensive style” — it isn’t limited to the townscape, but is found in the design of furniture, grilles, cutlery, flooring, lettering, handles, lights and so on. Another wonderful thing is that it even spread to the rural areas surrounding Mumbai. “If you go to the hinterlands, you will find that a lot of their theatres are built in the Art Deco style,” he reveals.

Although the style originated in France in the 1920s, the term Art Deco was first used by art historian Bevis Hiller in her 1968 book Art Deco of the ’20s and ’30s. The term was inspired by a 1925 Parisian exhibtion titled International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Art. Art Deco designs are usually mathematical and include geometric, zigzag or jumbled shapes.  

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