The Army and Navy Building, located on Esplanade road, opposite the Jehangir art gallery in Mumbai served as a departmental store in colonial India. It was originally established in London by the Army & Navy Co-operative Society on 15 September 1871, to provide articles of domestic consumption to its members at reduced prices. 

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The Night View_©Asmita Talukdar

It grew to become very popular amidst the British colonials who could by virtue of this get access to the things they missed the most from their lives back at home. As it steadily gained popularity the store began to branch out in various locations and soon after was opened the first Indian Army and Navy store in Mumbai in 1891.

History of the Building

The Army and Navy Building was designed by the prolific Bombay architect Frederick William Stevens together with his then partner David Gostling as a Grade II heritage structure, with the identifiable style being Italianate with neo-classical features. 

The structure was rebuilt after a fire in 1896, and since then it has been hard to identify what it originally featured. Whether it was the neo-Gothic or the Indo-Saracenic style is hard to determine but it presently stands as a derivative of the neo-classical- a hybrid more suitably termed as the Bombay Gothic.

Importance of the Building

The Army and Navy building stood for much more than it provided for. It was an indispensable cog in the wheel of the empirical society titled The Army & Navy Co-operative Society. It not only dealt in the supply of consumer goods but also in services such as the providers of travel agents, insurance brokers, bankers, caterers, funeral arrangements and the purveyor of all the other multitude of things as listed in the company catalogue.

The Building as an example of Adaptive Reuse

The structure currently functions as an office building and comes under the jurisdiction of the central business district. It houses the various offices of the Tata group of companies and other businesses on the upper floors with the ground floor dedicated solely to the Tata Group’s lifestyle department store ‘Westside.’ 

The Army and Navy building is the perfect example of Adaptive Reuse, wherein an old building is reused for a purpose other than what it was designed for. In this case, it is also an example of historic preservation.

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The Day View_© https://www.tripadvisor.in/Attraction_Review-g304554-d19792606-Reviews-Army_Navy_Building-Mumbai_Maharashtra.html 

The Architecture of the Building

Admittedly the building looks quite deceiving with respect to the activities taking place inside of it. The historic essence remains well preserved with the outer façade exhibiting trademark columns of the Greek and Roman eras arranged in twos along the edges of the vertical panel divides with balusters neatly lined up forming units of balustrades adorning the upper floors of the building, with arches near the entrance and a pointedly grand pediment right at the top of the structure.   

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MG road_©https://mumbai-magic.blogspot.com/2012/12/jehangir-art-galllery-kala-ghoda-icon.html 
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Kala Ghoda Festival_©https://travelpedia.holiday/blog/kala-ghoda-festival-mumbai/ 
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Kala Ghoda Festival_©https://www.architecturaldigest.in/content/ad-goes-kala-ghoda-arts-festival-mumbai/ 
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Kala Ghoda Festival_©https://sudhagee.com/2016/02/16/the-kala-ghoda-arts-festival-2016/kala-ghoda-arts-festival-2016-kgaf-17/ 

The Building as a center of cultural significance

The historic building is also a very important landmark for the ‘Kala Ghoda Arts Festival’ (KGAF) organised by the Kala Ghoda Association as it directly overlooks the street on which the festival is held- Mahatma Gandhi (MG) road to be specific. 

The KGAF is India’s largest multi-cultural street art festival that celebrates music, films, theatre, comedy, art, cinema, literature, urban design and architecture, culinary arts, dance, storytelling, and so much more. It is a nine-day long cultural extravaganza that is aimed at maintaining and preserving the heritage and art district of South Mumbai. 

It is mostly centred around the Fort area of Mumbai, of which the Army and Navy building is one of the most important historical featureswith the KGAF now making it culturally significant, adding to its historical importance only having transcended through time to give way to new identities and a continually evolving stature of importance and significance.

The Impact of the Building on the urban fabric of the city

The Army and Navy building undoubtedly marks itself as a historically important monument as it showcases the architecture of the era gone by, that we only read about in textbooks or in literature form but also stands proof as a living example of what colonialism results in. It stands tall as a well-preserved artefact relaying its past and serving the present all at once! 

It was once a symbol of nostalgia and now a critical element of the urban fabric serving a completely different purpose, yet combining the two different timelines in ways that only increase the architectural and socio-cultural value of the building. It has an impact far greater than simply that of a historic building or a commercially viable structure of economic propriety alone as it does those two together. 

At the same time, it also marks itself as a cultural landmark in the country’s biggest art festival juxtaposing and calibrating the likes of all its three distinct identities in a manner so effortless that can never be created by possible human intervention.

Meghna Sanyal
Author

Meghna Sanyal is a final year student of architecture. She is an absolute conversationalist and finds happiness in the process of translating that into written verse. She aims to demystify the subject of architecture by making it more accessible to everyone through her writing.

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