Finding new meaning in our buildings: Kaiwan Mehta

Published: Dec 13, 2013, 08:56 IST | Fiona Fernandez |

3 Questions with Author, Theorist and Critic Kaiwan Mehta

1. Are buildings indicative of a relationships within the community and culture in the metropolitan space?
Architecture isn’t just about constructing and designing buildings, but is also about the making and shaping of a building’s life, and then, understanding the life a building lives once it is constructed. Architecture is an accumulation of human knowledge, experience and technology, and it is also the collection of lives, memories and histories that pass by buildings, get lost in them or some times, hang around like ghosts. So, architecture is the site within which, and around which, life and culture play out their roles, scripts, histories and chance encounters.

Oriental Victorian stencil

2. What were the factors that contributed to the Shekhawati style of buildings being considered symbolic to urbanity in the 19th century?
Shekhawati is known for its painted havelis — the towns in this region are like any other small towns in India. But the combination of excessive painting on everyday havelis, even if they were not much used sometimes, and their clustering in a particular region only, makes one wonder about the circumstances that make this specific case possible. My essay on the towns of Shekhawati points out to various characteristics and historical moments of the 19th century to indicate why Shekhawati is a particular case of 19th century urbanity and visual culture, and my argument is that the visual culture is a characteristic
of urbanity.

A Gothic Jain panel

3. In which of Mumbai’s buildings, according to you, is this most visible?
Bhuleshwar, Kalbadevi, Girgaum, Mohammad Ali Road — I studied all these areas for my first book — Alice in Bhuleshwar: Navigating a Mumbai Neighbourhood (Yoda Press. New Delhi; 2009). These are representative of the thesis I developed for Shekhawati. My work on the role that ornaments play as cultural artifacts and as urban motifs, emerged first during my study of ‘colonial Bombay’s native town’ and that helped me study and understand the case of Shekhawati better.

Krishna in Bhuleshwar

On Saturday, December 14, 6.30 pm onwards
At Origins of Mumbai Gallery, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, Dr Ambedkar Road, Byculla. To attend RSVP by email to 

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