"Love for the city is crucial for its heritage to survive"

Jan 18, 2013, 01:04 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Mumbai's ensemble of Art Deco buildings will take centrestage at a workshop to highlight its grandeur, impact and uniqueness. One of the speakers, Professor Mustansir Dalvi of Sir JJ School of Architecture, decodes this architectural style for MiD DAY readers

Why did Art Deco become successful in Mumbai?
Firstly, Indian architects who graduated from the Sir JJ School of Architecture, practised this style. There were exhaustive discussions of its practice in The Journal of The Indian Institute of Architects. Secondly, heavy marketing by concrete and cement companies in the media promoted that these materials were better than stone, and changed opinions. Lastly, this style indicated a strong sense of optimism among the educated students and architects
in Mumbai.

Professor Mustansir Dalvi

Did Indian elements find way in the Bombay style?
Overall, there wasn’t an attempt to Indianise the Art Deco style, here. For one, the plans had to accomodate our humid climate, which was the greatest modification in comparison to the Miami chapter. The use of cantilevers, chhajjars and projections were meant to protect from sun and rain, and act as shade and ventilators. Also, the form of the plans, unlike in the West, were not isolated. Here, rooms open into other rooms. The ornamentation in buildings used elements like Indian motifs — for example, the Laxmi building on Sir PM Road, which has elephants on its façade. Architects viewed it as a localised venture. I must mention here that the 1930s witnessed an explosion of this style in most towns of the Indian subcontinent including Karachi and Hyderabad (Pakistan).  In fact, Art Deco wasn’t even called so, at the time. It was referred to as modern or contemporary architecture. Even its biggest exponent in Mumbai, Claude Batley referred to it in his writings as “this new architecture”. Later, in the 1960s, was when the term got universal acceptance. The style was a rebellion of the existing Gothic and Indo-Saracenic styles. It portrayed immense optimism; its direction was towards the future rather than the past.

Which of Mumbai’s buildings are ideal examples of this style?
This style is all over the city but if one had to index some of its finest examples, the Eros Building, the Laxmi Building and the United India Building, also on Sir PM Road stand out. Besides, we also have the Art Deco precincts facing Oval Maidan and Marine Drive.

Dhanraj Mahal. Pics/Shadab Khan

Are today’s architects doing enough to retain elements from Art Deco design?
As an architect, I believe that architecture must reflect the present. But at the same time, certain universal aspects, like addressing the local conditions of a place, matter. Many aren’t accounting for this key factor at the cost of immense risk to buildings. Today, while Mumbai attempts to reflect a global architectural style, some haven't dealt with this. Importantly, our history, including its Art Deco buildings, are getting depleted, rapidly. Such workshops will help increase awareness. Love for the the city is crucial for its heritage to survive. 

Speakers Mustansir Dalvi, Vikas Dilawari, Piya Shivdasani, Kruti Garg and Sidharth Bhatia.
On January 19, 10 am to 5 pm;
At Studio X, Kitab Mahal, DN Road; COST R 2,000;
Call 9930134152 / 9819731371

Mumbai’s curved balconies

“The idea of curved balconies was a streamlining concept. It was a metaphor for dynamism to represent the speed of cars, aeroplanes and shops. It also provided protection from the sun and rain. It was designed as a breakaway from the right angle plans, prevalent at the time.” 

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