Mumbai– the city of dreams, the city that never sleeps, has been captivating for all – architects, dreamers, travellers, and so on. The city of dreams is divided into seven wards, out of which, most of the development during the 19th century took place in the Fort area, i.e., in South Bombay, as it was a commercial district with colonial-era offices. This culturally rich city, that holds many communities under its name, deﬁnes the evolution of 19th century architecture in India through its diversity of styles: Colonial, Victorian, Gothic, and Modernism. Mumbai keeps on blurring the lines between modernism and urbanistic and traditional approaches with new infrastructures like monorails, multi-lane fast highways, and skylines while still preserving areas like Khotachiwadi and Colaba. Throughout the development, Mumbai has lost few of the heritage charm, including the Tramway which served for almost 90 years, and also the Jewish culture. Mumbai is a city developed through the contributions of architects and engineers like Sir Bartle Frere & James Trubshaw, William Emerson, Thomas Cowper, Sir George Gilbert Scott and many more, to the latest architects like Studio PKA, RMA Architects, SJK Architects, etc. All these personalities have helped improve and inspire the infrastructure we see today around the city.
The Pyaavs or the Drinking Water Fountains of Mumbai | 19th Century Architecture
Starting from the small salient features of architecture in Mumbai, built on the roadside were the Pyaavs or the ‘Drinking Water Fountains of Mumbai’ that helped people around the city fulfil their thirst needs while continuing their daily tasks. These structures symbolise both functionality and a memoir to the deceased. The tradition of erecting these utility structures began in the 18th century. The main components of pyaav is a stone basin with a spout at human level and stone trough at the ground level for animals. These structures were one of the places where caste and status did not matter.
Today, the surviving pyaavs can be found in neglectable status, due to which only a keen observer can ﬁnd them. Dr Varsha Shirgaonakar has been assisting the Mumbai Metropolitan Heritage Conservation Society in exploring and restoring these pyaavs found in areas like Colaba, Parel, Dadar, Kings Circle, Matunga and Bandra.
Today, these Drinking Water Fountains are not only dry but are also in dilapidated condition. Many of these have suffered structural damages due to time, or surrounding conditions, while many can be found surrounded by heaps of garbage.
Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue
Many cultures have left a trace of their existence on Mumbai’s facade, and one of those is the Jewish Culture. The history of Jews in Mumbai dates back to the 18th century, that is when one of the second oldest Synagogues, the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, still standing tall, was considered to be the center of Jewish Cultural and Religious life in Mumbai.
The structure combines Jewish tradition with Indian and English Victorian influences. The structure is made of brick masonry, which sits over a plinth made of stone masonry.
Commonly known as the Blue Synagogue of Mumbai because of its blue colour, the Synagogue was never originally blue. During a restoration carried out by conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah in 2018-19, the colours were restored to white, with bright indigo borders, which were originally used during the 1884 construction. During this restoration, the synagogue repairs included the roofs, recovery of decorative elements, and restoration of the nineteenth-century stained glass windows. This restoration gave the Synagogue an Award of Merit at the 2019 UNESCO Asia-Paciﬁc Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai | 19th Century Architecture
Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai is a marketplace, which is commonly and famously known as Crawford Market, a name earned after the city’s Municipal Commissioner, Arthur Crawford. Crawford Market is known for its architecture, which was constructed with the help of ‘Kurla stone’ and ‘Red stone’ from Bassein, covering a large area of 72,000 square yards. .
The market building was constructed in 1869, designed and conceptualised by William Emerson; the business operations began in 1871. Visitors are amazed by the magniﬁcent frieze at the market’s entrance, which are still the same as seen in the above image. The space is also constructed in such a way that it receives enough natural light throughout the day. The initial design had three entrance doors, each separated by a column, including an area for a carved panel portraying everyday life. Two such panels were designed by John Lockwood Kipling, depicting the life of workers working in ﬁelds.
Today the market houses many stalls, from wholesale fruits, vegetables and poultry to clothes, dress materials, toys, jewellery, and even a pet store. While there have been talks about the restoration and redevelopment of the market space, still there has been no further action taken.
Horniman Circle, once referred to as the city’s most dynamic urban design statement, is located in the centre of the Fort area and is bordered by some of the prime banks of India. The circle encompasses an area of 2½ acres, which includes the four buildings- Bharat Insurance Building, Botawala Building, Town Hall, Horniman building and the central garden- Horniman Circle Garden, where the Native Share and the Stockbrokers Association was established and was further manifested as the Bombay Stock Exchange.
The construction began in 1821 but took more than 12 years to completely ﬁnish. The area was a mere dump yard for coconut shells and debris, from which, Police Commissioner Charles Forjett, with the support of Lord Elphinstone and Sir Bartle Frère, converted it into the place we see today, the Horniman Circle.
Once known as the city’s ﬁnancial centre, Horniman Circle, today has lost its title of ﬁnancial district of the city due to advancement in building technology like escalators, lifts, better infrastructure, spacious floor plans and also due to the damages caused by the surrounding developments.
The Horniman Circle Trust, which also commissioned this research in 1998, renovated the garden in 1995 and restored the cast iron fencing that encloses it. The Horniman Circle Association was founded in 1999 as a result of the study, and it has since developed a thorough conservation design for the restoration of this heritage district, as well as architectural regulations to be observed by all buildings in the area. Today the location hosts the annual Suﬁ festival and musical concerts during the Kala Ghoda Festival. The circle has also been a signiﬁcant attraction for the ﬁlm industry because of its architectural features.
Watson’s Hotel | 19th Century Architecture
Watson’s Esplanade Hotel, today known as the Esplanade Mansion, is India’s oldest surviving cast-iron building, which is located in Kala Ghoda. After the Menier Chocolate Factory in Noisiel, France, Watson Hotel is the world’s oldest multi-level cast-iron structure. The hotel’s cast and wrought iron structure was fabricated in England, and the building was constructed in 1867-69. The hotel was designed by civil engineer Rowland Mason Ordish, who later worked on many more cast and wrought-iron structures like bridges and market halls, including Albert Bridge in London.
As time passed, the Esplanade Mansion changed from owner to owner. Hence, the functions of the buildings also changed from being a 150-room hotel to small commercial spaces acquired by doctors and lawyers who were practising in Bombay High Court or Mumbai City Civil and Sessions Court.
Even though the Watson Hotel holds a treasure chest for architectural enthusiasts, art historians, and conservationists, with its declining condition and zero fundings received, the building has been literally falling apart from the generations of users. The building also received fundings from architects like Renzo Piano, from which Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) prepared an in-depth report about the architectural conditions, and was even able to be listed on the 50 most endangered buildings globally, under the World Monuments Fund; but the restoration process was still not able to start because of the accommodators. Even today, architects and engineers are trying to conserve the building by giving it the ‘World Heritage Site’ tag.
Overall, the city holds many 19th-century elements, whether they are architectural elements, or caves, or the poster art of Mumbai’s ﬁlm city, or documents. Mumbai holds treasures like Taj Hotel, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (formerly known as Victoria Terminus), old Portuguese Churches, and so on; but today these structures have been lost between the concrete jungles of the 21st century and are hard to observe. We are familiar with Mumbai and its impression on the world, but many impressions are vanishing with time.
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- “Pyaavs: The Drinking Water Fountains of Mumbai.” Sahapedia,
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- “Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue.” World Monuments Fund, https:/ www.wmf.org/project/keneseth-eliyahoo-synagogue
- “Knesset Eliyahoo.” Wikipedia, 17 Apr. 2021. Wikipedia,
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- Arthur Crawford Municipal Market (Former Name), Mumbai, by Sir William Emerson. https:/ victorianweb.org/art/architecture/emerson/3.html.
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