Modernity brought about a post enlightenment world that introduced us to new ideas of education, health, governance, and different forms of leisure and living. These gave rise to new institutions to organize everyday lives. Modern architecture produced the spatial imaginations for these institutions. It developed new ideas of space and form, seen in new typologies, new materials, new structural systems and new visual vocabularies. Much of these ideas were developed in the West - in Europe and America during the Renaissance and later the industrial revolution. However through a global flow of knowledge and material; through colonialism, trade, and circuits of individual travels, many of these ideas moved and manifested in different parts of the world attaining unique trajectories.

Bombay/Mumbai Modern is a snapshot of twenty-two architectural projects in Mumbai, which expand the rubric of Modern architecture and what it is to be Modern in the city. The projects chosen here are so enmeshed in the city’s everyday that we often miss them. They are not monumental examples that make it to the city’s tourist circuits nor are they centres of political power. They are however important constituents of the city’s collective memory - a memory that in turn shapes who we are as “modern” citizens. Through the project one sees a range of ways in which architects interpreted ideas they absorbed from their own national or international exposure, bringing new ideas of inhabiting. On the other hand, the project also considers the way in which the State imagined modern infrastructure for the city. Lastly, it is also our intent to create a map that serves as an index of notable modern projects that enable new meanderings through the city of Mumbai while also becoming an instrument for pedagogy and further scholarship in Mumbai’s modern landscape.

Mumbai Modern
Mumbai Modern: “Mumbai Modern” is a poster reasserting the place of 20 buildings in the history of the Modern built landscape of the city. The A0 poster is put together by third year SEA students as a part of their History-Theory programme. © SEA Press, School of Environment & Architecture

Buildings Listed:

Watson Hotel: The Watson hotel was the first prefabricated building in India, made of cast iron. The hotel was named after the owner John Hudson Watson. The civil engineer who designed it, Rowland Mason Ordish, also designed the Crystal Palace and St Pancras station in London. The Lumiere brothers showed their moving picture in India for the first time in this building. The contradictions between the colonial frameworks and modern  were evident in the workings of the hotel. It was a ‘whites only’ place with ‘native pankhawalas’ ventilating the spaces. Jamshetji Tata, who was famously denied entry to the Watson hotel, set up the Taj Mahal hotel just a few blocks away.    

The Bombay Development Department (BDD) chawls: The BDD chawls were developed in the areas of Worli, Naigaum, Delise Road and Sewri. The land was purchased from Bombay Improvement Trust in 1921. Subsequently 50,000 tenements were built on it. These are three storied, one-room tenement houses. Each floor had ten room on either sides. Each building houses 80 rooms, varying in areas from 120 to150 square feet. During the freedom movement the tenements were used as a jail to detain the satyagrahis. Recently the Mumbai Municipal Corporation has taken up to redevelop the property. Many residents have expressed their fears of losing their much coveted open spaces with the redevelopment. Others welcome the move, as their houses currently are very tiny and family sizes large.   

The New India Assurance Building: The New India Assurance Building built in 1936 by Master, Sathe and Bhuta, was one of the first Art Deco buildings in the city. The use of reinforced cement concrete (RCC) enabled them to have open plan office spaces with large gathering halls. The building incorporated modern plumbing, electrical and air conditioning systems tucked away cleverly, separating the ‘served’ and ‘servant’ spaces. This building heralded a modern spirit with its robust columns and motifs of everyday lives of farmers and workers going about their daily chores, building a Modern India.

Jawahar Bal Bhavan: Jawahar Bal Bhavan, was inaugurated in 1950 by the then President Rajendra Prasad. It later became a nodal Bal Bhavan for all the other centres across the country.  Bal Bhavans were established as part of Modern India’s ambitions of training children with requisite skill sets outside their regular education. Several Bal Melas and Bal Utsavs were conducted at the centre to provide a platform for social and cultural exchanges amongst children.

The building is a low double story structure with large windows that bring in adequate light and ventilation. Two staircases one in the end of the building and another from the garden facilitate circulation. The ground floor has an amphitheatre for performing arts. The centre stands witness to Modern India’s goals of creating modern culturally active children of tomorrow.

Don Bosco’s Madonna: The Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) was set up in 1898 after the plague in Bombay. The Dadar-Matunga-Wadala-Sion scheme, with its neighbourhood gardens, was planned by the BIT. Along with residential buildings educational and religious institutes started coming up in the 1920s. ‘The Shrine of Don Bosco’s Madonna’ designed by Patki and Dadarkar was opened to the public on 5th August 1957. The façade is marked by a large doorway with a mosaic depicting Don Bosco with Madonna. The plan of the church is in the form of a traditional Latin cross with two bell towers on either side. A large dome sits over the sanctuary and two smaller domes adorn the bell towers. The structure is a partially load-bearing and partially framed construction, with Malad stone. Fourteen rectangular mosaic panels intricately designed were put above the window and below the arched stained glass panels. The nave of the church is free standing with waffle slabs above. The main church has a raised plinth with a crypt below, which is used for public functions like marriages and feasts.

Udayachal Pre Primary School: The Udayachal Primary School was one of the first schools built by Godrej Industries for its Employees’ children. The School started on 15th August 1955. It is located in Vikhroli, on the Eastern Express Highway, surrounded by Mangroves. The east side is the most open and faces Vikhroli creek. The south façade is covered with a jali, controlling light and heat. The building is designed such that the children’s movements within the space are free and unrestricted, in keeping with the ideology of the school and its pedagogical approach.

Bombay Stock Exchange: The Bombay Stock Exchange is the oldest exchange in Asia. Its history dates back to 1855, when stock-brokers would meet informally in front of Mumbai’s Town Hall. The group eventually consolidated into an official organization known as “The Native Share & Stock Brokers Association” in 1875. On August 31, 1957, the BSE became the first stock exchange to be recognized by the Indian Government under the Securities Contracts Regulation Act. In 1980, the exchange moved to the Phiroze Jeejeebhoy Towers at Dalal Street, Fort. Prior to 1928, the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) operated out of a building near the Town Hall. The present site near Horniman Circle was acquired by the exchange in 1928. The building was designed on it by Chandrakant Patel, and constructed and occupied in 1930. The building has alternating glass and steel bands accentuating the curved façade. The particular use of modern materials like glass, steel and concrete in the construction of BSE, and its open floor plans makes it a prominent example of modern architecture and the International Style.

IIT Bombay Guest House – Jal Vihar: Post independence, the Nehruvian vision gave rise to the idea of setting up five institutes of technology with the status of ‘Institutes of National importance’. Pandit Nehru, in a reference to the ‘IIT Project’, says, ‘I suppose that among the many things that are being done in India today, the establishment of the great institutes of technical training and knowledge is perhaps the most important.’ ‘it is relatively easy to put up a factory or a plant, it is much more difficult and it takes much more time to train the human beings that will run a factory or put up another factory or plant.’ The institute was founded in 1958 and was first set up in a rented residential place at SASMIRA (Silk and Art Silk Mills Research Association), Worli. The first batch of 100 students was admitted in this year. In July 1960 the institute moved to the campus at Powai, extending over 550 hectares.

The Guest House (Jalvihar): The IIT Bombay Guest Houses Jalvihar and the Vanvihar, designed in the 1960s by Khareghat remains a restful space for the Institute’s guests. A short distance from the main Gate, lawns, walkways, and a pond flank these residences. Great vistas and breathtaking sunsets on the Powai Lake are a common feature of the Jalvihar Guest House. The building is made in exposed concrete with a high level of transparency, allowing a glimpse of the vistas around. 

Islam Gymkhana: Islam Gymkhana, built in 1963 by I M Kadri, in Marine lines, is a gymkhana for sports and social activties. Art Deco in Mumbai evolved into a unique language, which was a combination of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles known as Deco-Saracenic. This can be observed in the design of Islam Gymkhana with its wavy chajja, imitating the sea waves from the adjacent Arabian Sea. The large playground in front of it provides a foreground that frames the building. The fins on the facade not only moderate the temperature of the space inside and provide shade, but also break down the scale of the structure, making it appear light. The Jabir hall on the first floor is designed with fine detailing, at the junctions of columns and beam, the coffered ceiling and the windows. The parapet wall is converted into a bench, creating a place for interaction and socializing along the sea.

Santok Bungalow: B.G. Bhatt drew up the master plan for Juhu, as a part of the JVPD Scheme. Set in a grid with thirteen roads running in the north-south direction, Juhu is a town-planning scheme. B.G. Bhatt’s own bungalow, Santok, is located on the North-South road no. 5. This house is a prime example of the architecture of a single family dwelling in the T.P. scheme. In the bungalow, voids are connected, some visually others spatially. The RCC structural frame supports one large sloping roof, and two smaller ones. Walls, plastered from the inside, are exposed wire-cut brick walls on the outside that play with light and shadows. B.G. Bhatt like many modern architects was influenced by Japanese art and architecture.  This reflected in his design of the garden area.

Shiv Sagar Estate: The Shiv Sagar Estate, located on Annie Besant road in Worli is designed by I. M. Kadri. The need for a commercial complex in a trapezoidal plot gave rise to five identical towers anchored on a podium. The building facade divided by horizontal chajjas contrast with the vertical two-inch fins used as sun shields. Here, taking the base of an equilateral triangle the architect cut off the unused corner space thus arriving at an unequal hexagonal form. The back of building, which faces the west and gets the most heat, houses the services. A four-foot corridor separates the circulatory core consisting of a main staircase, two lifts and a narrow emergency staircase from the office space. The office is a small hexagon consisting of eighteen circular mushroom columns placed in a grid, eliminating the need for beams. The partition walls are flexible and are placed as per individual office needs.

Express Towers: The Express Towers, designed by Joseph Allen Stein, one of the first skyscrapers to be built in the country, is located on reclaimed land in Nariman Point, the city’s Central Business district. This was the first building in the country to use a central air conditioning. The tower is 23 stories with 10 elevators, out of which 4 were high speed. The building has an external grid of 36m x 36m with a 9m x 9m central core. The central core encases lifts, staircases, AHU rooms, toilet blocks and service shafts making it the heart of the building. The core made of shear walls, enables openings on all four sides of the tower and a largely column free space. The flooring in the entire building is made of composite ribbed floor construction. The exterior facade of the tower is made with brushed aggregates and black-pigmented cement, used as long term protective coating from weathering. Horizontal projections over the windows (chajjas) were not only designed as a protection from atmospheric changes but also used as platforms for external maintenance of glass windows.

Ambassador Hotel: The Ambassador Hotel, built in 1973 by Prem Nath, was the first revolving restaurant in India. In 1969 when the firm agreed to build it, the challenge was how to build a revolving restaurant on an existing building. A ‘revolving restaurant’ conjures up images of large machinery & complicated technologies but essentially works on a simple turntable principle employed by railways at their termination points.

In order to build a structural frame to hold the revolving restaurant, the architect had to build an additional three floors with the revolving restaurant on the top. The central core holds the lifts, ducts, dumbwaiter, service shafts, washrooms, staircase & the lobby. The core also holds the supporting beams for the mechanism of the floor plate. There are two circular tracks beneath the floor plate, with a set of wheels on which the floor plate stands. It takes 45-50 minutes to complete a 360º rotation. Only the floor plate of the restaurant revolves, nothing else. Above the hotel is an observatory deck.

LIC Jeevan Bima Nagar: The Jeevan Bima Nagar Township was built by Charles Correa between1969-72 on a 60-acre site, to house 16,000 people. A cul-de-sac arrangement leads you to a 20-acre land of mango plantations, which forms the heart of the project. All the buildings have a direct access to this land. The Dahisar River that originates from Sanjay Gandhi National Park flows close to the complex. Every building is oriented in such a way that the breeze from the river would ventilate the house. The use of load bearing brick walls reduces the use of concrete or steel. The houses are built into the landscape. At some places you are met by an alley, which leads you directly to the first floor of the complex. Each building of the complex is four storied. Here the ground, first, second and third floors have four flats each. The fourth floor has two flats. Two apartments in a building have double terraces. Every building has two wings, which are joined by a single flight staircase in the middle. Charles Correa increases the space in the house by creating niches and recesses to occupy cupboards, shelves, etc. The idea of privacy is not very well defined inside the house. In contrast, the corridor and the balcony become interactive spaces.   The complex still stands as one of the few exemplary cases of good housing in the city.

Salvacao Church: Salvacao Church, also known as the Portuguese Church situated amidst the bustling streets of Dadar is one of the oldest Churches in Mumbai, founded around 1595 A.D. by the Franciscans. The church underwent constant transformation and expansion to accommodate the increasing parish size. The current structure was built by Charles Correa from 1974-1977.

The building is made of a series of square halls covered by roofs of varying heights that resemble truncated pyramids. Each of these spaces opens out to a courtyard allowing the activities within to spill over in fair weather. Slender elongated columns a shell roof makes the building appear lighter and allow for large column free spaces. Stained glass at the apex of the truncated pyramidal shell roof brings in filtered  light and openings on the top allow hot hair to escape. The church is enclosed within high stone masonry walls that isolate the church from the outside and provide the silence and meditative atmosphere needed. With this building Charles Correa paves a way for a modern interpretation of religious spaces.

Nehru Science Centre: Nehru Science Center (NSC) in Mumbai, started in 1977 with a ‘Light and Sight’ exhibition and a science park in 1979. The present building was built in 1985 by Achyut Kanvinde. The Nehru Science Centre offers a participative role to the visitor in scientific experiments. The architect used the natural sloping site to create a building with split-levels. The ventilation shafts in the building accentuate its  character. The structural system is made of hollow concrete tubes, which conceal the services. Large unobstructed spans were essential for the exhibition halls, made possible with the use of waffle slabs. The exterior surface of the structure is finished with local grey stone grit plaster with grey cement panels created by making grooves on the grit plaster at certain intervals. The building creates a sense of curiosity and mystery in the minds of the visitors.

Prithvi Theatre: Prithvi Raj Kapoor started a traveling theatre company in 1944, which did many shows all around India. After Prithvi Raj Kapoor’s death, Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer started the Prithvi Theatre in Juhu. Ved Segan who was appointed as architect, decided to build a theatre not only for performances but also for rehearsals, discussions and meetings. He traveled all over England and Europe to study theatre architecture. The landing at the entrance is used to perform street plays. The theatre also has an outdoor café, which is an active public space.  The roof is supported by five portal frames, which house the stage lighting. The rest of the walls are load bearing. The theatre emulates the idea of street performances wherein there is an arrangement for the audience on three sides with the stage in the center. The seating becomes steep and the distance from the stage in no more than 30 feet, with a seating capacity of 200. Such an arrangement helps in a active actor-audience interaction.

Madh Island House: “Organic architecture” - a term coined by Frank Lloyd Wright, is about an integral relationship between the built and its natural surroundings. Nari Gandhi had worked in close association with Wright for five years in Taliesin after graduating from Sir J. J. College of Architecture in Mumbai. Gandhi was an erudite Parsi, who never believed in material possessions and . He traveled widely and met different artisans and masons, whom he trained personally. With an education in pottery from Kent University, Nari Gandhi, developed sensitivity towards earth and its elements. The construction of his houses took much longer than that taken by other architects.  Nari Gandhi paid special attention to every detail that went in the realization of every project. One such house, designed by the pioneer of organic architecture in India, is the Madh Island House. The house was originally designed for his client and close friend S.H. Daya, from whom he did not accept any fees. The building is made of three mud vaults with a garden over its surface. Light penetrates through openings in the vaults sometimes capped with glass chip domes. The cave-like interiors defy binaries of open closed, outside inside, and public private, thus redefining the idea of a house.

Shah House: Shah House, built in 1982, is situated along the Arabian Sea, in Juhu’s Janki Kutir Complex, surrounded by tall trees and smaller bungalows. The architects of this bungalow were Charles Correa and Jitendra Thanawala. The brief was to provide dwelling units for five members of a large joint family. The bungalow was entirely constructed in concrete. On its front façade as one enters through the cast iron gate, small openings can be seen to maintain privacy, as it is adjacent to the access road. The architects provided for terrace gardens and balconies for every member to enjoy the sea, facilitated with a stepped section. Although the bungalow was designed as five different dwelling units, it was important to link these with one another. This was done through connector bridges that linked the lower floors laterally to one another, thus freeing the ground to form column-less spaces. While designing the terrace garden instead of providing railings, a trench adjacent to the parapet wall was dug where a variety of plants were grown.

Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research: Located amidst the hills of Goregaon, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, built in the year 1987, spreads over 14 acres of land and sits on a steep hill. The architect, Uttam Jain has designed the building considering the climatic conditions and topography of the site.

The campus comprises of the city gate, the administration block, the Sun plaza, seminar rooms, the research blocks, the gardens, recreational blocks, the residential blocks, etc. The double heighted administration block establishes direct contact with the open-to-sky stepped plaza beyond (also known as the Sun plaza). All the academic facilities of the Institute are organized concentrically around this central open space. Beyond the Sun Plaza is a light tower, which is surrounded by four seminar rooms. Jain was one of the curators of the festival of India exhibition, Vistara and was highly inspired by it. The exhibition, with its focus on the representational dimension of India’s architectural history influenced Jain’s design method in this project. This project is highly influenced by the elements in the Elephanta and Jogeshwari caves(vaults), the stepped wells in Gujarat (sun plaza). He also borrows the ideas of the axis mundi for circulation, the enlightened tower (light tower), courtyard space, etc. While building a modern institution, he does not completely break from the past but draws inspiration from traditional elements. The traditional elements however are not imitated but modified and used to achieve contemporary needs.

CIDCO Housing: Raj Rewal was appointed by CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation) for a low cost housing project in Belapur, Navi Mumbai for 1000 tenements. The site adjoining Parsik hill facing the sea, is on the edge of a large planning area in New Mumbai. Rewal designed the project as a high-density low-rise structure. These units ranged from 18, 25, 40 and 70 square meter in size, with a lot of outdoor space in the form of interlocking courtyards. The streets have canopies made by trees on both sides. The buildings have extended spaces such as balconies, bridges, etc. The complex sits on contours, avoiding problems of water logging. However the housing is plagued by several problems. Lack of facilities for shopping, health and education made this housing unfavourable to the public at large.

Kharghar Station: Kharghar station, one of the crucial nodes in Navi Mumbai, is strategically located in the center of the CBD (Central Business District) of Navi Mumbai. The project started in 1995 under the supervision of Ratan Batliboi as the architect and Shirish Patel as the structural consultant, was inaugurated in 2004. Batliboi introduced rooftop parking as an important component of the railway station. With this new facility, people could easily park their vehicles, go to work, and take their cars back in the evening. The parking lot was thus made to encourage people owning vehicles to use the railways. The funds collected from the parking lot are used for covering the capital cost and maintenance of the station. This roof top parking lot has a provision for 450 cars and 750 two-wheelers. Large staircases that lead to the station are built to promote the idea of ‘publicness‘ inside the station.

Sumeru Apartments: Sen Kapadia’s intention as an architect was to create a vertical neighbourhood in Sumeru with living spaces that allowed for privacy, at the same time affording community spaces. Located in Versova, this building, completed in 1997, was one of the first high rises in the area that overlooked the mangroves and the sea. The strategic alignment of the services core to the rooms makes us journey through an apartment that is bathed in a fuzzy glow of natural light. The main features of the building are its many terraces that overlook each other, opening to the residents a communal space, allowing for opportunities of interaction. The larger terrace has a built-in niche, a surface for caterers to serve from and a sink to clean up at the end of the day. As you enter the service floor the eye is drawn to thin black tiles of china mosaic, suggestive of gully games drawn on the road with chalk, reminiscent of an Indian child-hood. Here Sen Kapadia makes you feel like a wanderer, traversing through time, affording portals to unknown parts of your own imagination.