KKH: Architectural Visit of Mumbai
February 11-14, 2010
Prepared for students of the The Royal University College of Fine Arts (KKH), Stockholm, Sweden
Map of the Visit:
Thursday Feb 11
Stay at Grand Hotel in Ballard Estate, South Mumbai.
17:00: Visit of Charles Correa’s Kanchanjunga Apartments. Then Drive through Marine Drive and stop at Chowpatty Beach. Walk to Khotachiwadi, an old Portuguese hamlet in the heart of the “Native City” in the presence of leading fashion designer and resident James Ferreira.
19:00: Talk with Mariam Dossal, Professor of history at Mumbai University and author of “Mumbai: Theater of Conflict, City of Hope.”
20:00: Dinner at James Ferreira’s house.
Friday Feb 12
10:00: Visit of Old Bombay starting with a walk to the Gateway of India, followed by quick shopping experience at Colaba Causeway and a visit of the principal architectural icons of British Bombay.
13:00: Lunch at Phoenix Mills, a new super mall popular amongst Mumbai’s middle-class youth.
18:30: Back to the hotel and free night.
Saturday Feb 13
13:00: Lunch at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and Environmental Studies (KRVIA) followed by a presentation on Dharavi by KRVIA Director Anirudh Paul and Rupali Gupte author of a studies on the housing typologies of Mumbai,
20.00: Dinner on the beach.
Sunday Feb 14
9:00: Departure to Navi Mumbai and visit of Charles Correa’s Artists’ Village project built in 1988 and incrementally developed since then. Walk through and discussion with residents. Followed by a visit to the CIDCO Housing project of Raj Rewal Associates at Navi Mumbai.
13:00 Lunch and departure to Pune.
A Brief Architectural History of Mumbai
Mumbai’s history of land-use, architecture, built-forms and infrastructure is chaotic, and contrary – something that is visually expressed quite obviously from the moment you arrive. An afternoon landing at the international airport provides you with a birds-eye view of this narrow stretch of land which seems to have large swathes of low-rise, impossibly high-density settlements at its center. They spread for several kilometers, rising up hillocks, squeezing between towering buildings and spreading over marshy land. These house a significant portion – some statistics say nearly 60% – of the city’s population. Old villages lie at the heart of several of these habitats – villages that leased out lands to poor migrants and slowly got absorbed by the overwhelming growth of the city.
In the sixteenth century, the city grew around the old trading centers in the north (Vasai, Thane) with the Portuguese empire controlling sea-trade and a coastal agrarian economy. That’s when the Koli fishing community and their several villages came into contact with Christianity and a Hindu-Catholic cultural sensibility was formed. One that is still evident in several parts of the urban region. Khotachiwadi (photo)- a small hamlet with an Indo-Portuguese flavour that is going to be the first evening stop is part of this legacy. It actually emerged in the late nineteenth century, when middle-class educated landed families from the northern villages of Gorai, Vasai and Bandra decided to move closer to the source of modern jobs – the port. They built homes in distinct styles combining their earlier forms and individual architectural idiosyncracies. The village reflected all the socio-economic and cultural diversity of the emerging city, with homes for all kinds of people – poor, middle-class and elites all jostling for space within the fabric of this quaint urban-village.
Around the early eighteenth century, the center of urban gravity shifted south wards with the British settling down and creating a massive port to rival local ports such as Surat in Gujarat. The coming of local merchants from Gujarat to the city – especially the Parsees (erstwhile migrants from Persia practicising Zorastrianism) shaped the ethos of the native city. A city that still demonstrates so many vernacular architectural flourishes evoking other parts of India – mainly coastal Gujarat and Maharashtra – regions that were the main sources of migrant populations in the nineteenth century. These neighbourhoods begin from the docklands and move all the way westwards marking the boundaries of colonial Mumbai. They are dotted by Fire-temples – holy structures meant for the Parsees – who define this moment of the city’s history. The community played a stellar role in the infrastructural, economic and cultural growth of the city. Big business families – which had made money in the opium trade channelized funds into bridges, schools and colleges and businesses.
The port activities provided a lot of money to the city and was responsible for the physical development of colonial south Mumbai – right from the Ballard Estate – where the Grand Hotel is – to the Gate way of India. Gothic, Indo-Sarcenic and several other mish-mash styles emerged with architects from all over the world trying out their fantasies for this city that at one time was as prosperous – as major urban global centers like Shanghai and even some European cities.
One sub-set of the Parsees are the Iranis – a group of Muslim and Zorastrian families who arrived from Iran in the late 19th and 20th centuries – and made a name for themselves specially in the restaurant business – with the Irani cafe as the most visible expression of this. Irani cafes – according to historian Frank Conlon – were the first public sites of inter-community interaction in Mumbai where common citizens found a place of interacting beyond caste and community ties. The Café Britannia restaurant near the Grand Hotel, is one example of this important cultural institution of the city.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the rise of the textile industry and pushed for a second wave of economic dynamism that was rooted in the industrial mills (photo) that dotted the landscape all the way down to the late twentieth century. For several decades, the mills (mostly situated in the central suburbs, considered at one time to be on the outskirts of the colonial city) dominated the city’s economy. It attracted hundreds of thousands of workers all the way from coastal Maharashtra and south India and shaped a middle-class ethos that was architecturally expressed in the famous chawls that lined the mill neighbourhoods. The chawls were barrack like structures ostensibly built for male migrants without families but were soon transformed into community and familial enclaves that became the backbone of the city’s modern sensibilities. A combination of trade-union based politics, `corporate gangsterism and sheer greed for quick money eventually killed the mills as economic centers. After the failure of several years of civic activism on behalf of the leftist groups to stop the process – the ample lands of the mills were eventually sold off to real-estate developers for the creation of malls, offices, boutique shops and nightclubs.
The city’s architectural history is diverse in all possible ways. You have an art-deco legacy thanks to the twenties and thirties modernist ambitions of some patrons. Their work can be seen in some movie theaters, in the residential buildings along Marine Drive and in the more plastic moments of average middle-class structures all along the city, in the form of art-deco flourishes that got incorporated into balconies, facades and the like.
A lot of the colonial architecture survived thanks to old rent act laws which created a divided sense of ownership between tenants and landlords. This made the spaces economically unviable except for providing basic shelter – a move which contributed to the decrepit look of the city but also kept these structures from being pre-maturely demolished.
However – today large swathes of the old city are being rendered ‘unsafe’ by an official gaze – even though they did survive for more than a century in many cases! They are being parceled off to builders in cluster development schemes. Instead of utilizing this for the improvement and strengthening of these buildings, such schemes basically erase them for reconstruction following a model that dominates much of the land use of the city – the SRA or slum Redevelopment Authority model. In which older settlements – designated as slums – make way for real-estate projects after being provided some security of tenure – in most cases tiny blocks of apartments – thus releasing land for the market and allowing the builder to make a killing.
A sophisticated version of this approach overlays the future of Dharavi – a celebrity neighbourhood (thanks to Slumdog Millionaire) in north central Mumbai. It emerged in the thirties and forties – in the shadow of the industrial city – providing space for migrants to create wealth out of very little. Except from a small fisherman village (photo) on what use to be the share of the Mahim Creek, much of Dharavi emerged in a no-land zone – it was literally mud and marsh - and was made layer by layer by waves of migration – mostly economically and culturally marginalized communities from the southern state of Tamil nadu, western state of Gujarat and a few others. Artisanal energy was the main fuel of this dense settlement and it grew like a challenge to the massive mills providing a counterpoint to the economic dynamism of the city. When the mills eventually folded up and when several activities were dispersed all over the city – Dharavi became a catchment for informal production as well – including it into its diverse repertoire that ranged from leather goods, pottery, waste re-cycling and several others. Its mixed -use, home-cum-workshops – what we call the ‘Tool-House‘ – define its architectural landscape.
We end the study through a visit to the Artists village (photo below), Belapur, in New Mumbai – the planned city which was visualized as an alter ego to old Bombay. Where one was chaotic and incremental, the other was drafted on a drawing board to the last detail. The artists village was designed by Charles Correa as an example of organized incrementally growing habitats – a distilled version of the process that shapes the dominant infomal settlements of Mumbai.