Mumbai Architecture – A Travellers’ Walk Into History
Mumbai, India’s commercial capital is famous for the Indian film industry, a fabled fast paced life and of course an architectural mix adorning the long coast line. The architecture ranges from pre-independence colonial buildings and age old temples to modern skyscrapers designed by the best architects in Mumbai.
The city is a contemporary architecture enthusiast’s heaven with blends of Gothic, Victorian, Art Deco and Indo-Saracenic. In fact, Mumbai has the second largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world after Miami.
The 18th and 19th century Gothic style of architecture in Mumbai can be attributed to the early British rule. Although it began as a neo-Classical style of architecture, it later transformed into the classic European fashion. The buildings of this era are expressive and disjoint. Unlike the earlier style which was predominantly monochromatic, this style came to be full of colours with beautifully carved elements. Flying buttresses and lancet windows with stained glass are a very prominent feature of architectures from this period.
The famous ‘Gateway of India’ is an example of Gothic Architecture and was built in the time of Governor Sir Bartle Frere who demolished the old town to raise new structures. Another example is the town hall, built in Bombay, as it was known then, by Colonel Thomas Cowper sometime during 1820 to 1835. Other prominent buildings from the same time include The Mumbai University Library, The Secretariat, St. Xavier’s College, Telegraph Office, and the Victoria Terminus (now known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus).
An interesting fact which is not known by many is that Rajabhai Tower, located within the fort campus of the University of Mumbai was designed by English architect Sir George Gilbert Scott who modelled it on the Big Ben, the clock tower of the United Kingdom’s houses of Parliament in London. Built from the local Kurla stone and decorated with stained glass, the Rajabhai Tower is a fusion of Venetian and Gothic architecture.
The Gothic style then developed into something entirely new and native to the city. The best architects in Mumbai at that time combined it with the contemporary styles and made them friendly to the regional climate and society. This new blend of Gothic and contemporary styles gave rise to what we call the Bombay Gothic.
The historical monuments belonging to various eras have been conserved thanks to the Heritage Committee which was formed in 1995 through endeavours made by historians, citizens and some of the best architects in Mumbai. The committee lists the heritage buildings according to a grading system which categorises important historical landmarks as Heritage Grade 1. These buildings are of national significance. The second grade includes buildings which are of regional importance, while those which are important to the city are categorised as Grade 3.
The second decade of 20th century saw the arrival of the Deco style of architecture. This new style had more symmetry which drew inspiration from artefacts that originated in Egypt, Greece, Africa and eastern Asia. Not unlike the Bombay-Gothic architecture, Art Deco in Mumbai grew to be something unique. The best architects in Mumbai together were able to create a new style which came to be known as Deco-Saracenic that combined Deco with traditional Hindu and Islamic structures which had domes, arches spires and minarets.
Besides Gothic and deco, Mumbai Architecture shows clear evidences of Victorian eclecticism and all the related effrontery. Although the British influence is quite obviously from the colonial era, there is also a hint of influence from difference European cultures of that time, like German gables and Dutch roofs. Peculiarly there are even evidences of Swiss timbering, Romanesque arches and Tudor casements. These varied designs have been fused in traditional Indian styles with such brilliance that the mixture seems like it was brewed by the magical skills of an alchemist.