August 15th marks our freedom from British rule—since India became an independent nation, raw and problematic but brimming with new opportunities and expectations. All eyes were on the nation’s newly formed leaders as the country began to settle down. The partition resulted in the influx of millions of people, and they had to be re-settled all over Punjab, in Delhi, in West Bengal. This was achieved by numerous Indian engineers and a handful of architects employed by the government.
Just as the minority of Indian architects were beginning to work on the enormous challenges of construction that lay ahead of them, the old debate on what the postcolonial approach to design should be, erupted again – modern, colonial, or Indian? Nationalism, a widespread sentiment at the time, led the people to reject anything that was perceived as foreign and anti-national, including the building styles born from the colonial era. Political authorities wanted to reach back to the past and revive the architectural forms and details that symbolized the golden ages of Indian culture. But modern India required a new design to express its newfound character as a free country.
Mumbai was one of the fast-developing cities post-independence, and its architecture majorly reflected the modern approach. Mumbai, along with Delhi and Baroda, became one of the first centers for Architectural studies in the country and sparked the evolution of modern Indian architecture.
Architecture of Bombay from 1880-1947
The urban development of Bombay as a port city resulted from its distinct location, which proved to be of importance to the western Indian Colony. But the city was only well maintained in parts and ended up being extremely squalid and congested in others. The end of the 19th century, starting from 1880, saw a massive wave of immigrants coming to Bombay. This influx of people from different backgrounds considerably altered not only the physical form but the social and cultural character of the city as well.
The evolution of Bombay from a trading town, transforming into an industrial and manufacturing center, shows us how the British manipulated the city’s abundant resources to their benefit. The Gothic building style was manifested the most by the British architects, for its imposing grandeur, to showcase the power the city held during their time there. The early parts of the 20th century saw the transition from Gothic Architecture to the Renaissance and the Indo- Saracenic styles of architecture, for better adaptability to Indian conditions and culture.
With the increase of the educated upper-middle class coming to settle near the bay, residential and commercial design defaulted to the Art déco Style of Architecture because of the people’s eagerness to incorporate contemporary trends in western culture in their lives. The fusion of Art déco, ‘modernistic’ and traditional elements stayed the norm for facade design in Bombay for many years after independence as well.
Defining Years of Post-Independence Architecture (1950-1980)
The few decades after independence helped shape the physical form of the city of Bombay that we see today. The population was expanding, and the class differentiation was cruelly apparent in day-to-day life. On the one hand, the increase in the number of people of the lower strata of society saw an increase in the formation of slums, a key element in the physical structure of Bombay. Although the slums’ physical form is intensely cramped and its features barely meet the standards required for comfortable living, these kutcha houses contribute a significant amount to the architecture of Bombay.
The city also saw a substantial increase in planned structures and localities. Influenced by the early thinkers of the profession, who shaped the city to what it is today, the buildings of Bombay reflect the outlook and lifestyle of its multicultural people. One of the renowned architects whose work significantly contributed to Bombay’s architectural style is Charles Correa.
In 1964, Correa, along with Shirish Patel and Pravina Mehta, created a proposal for the restructuring of the city of Mumbai, which was eventually accepted by the government, and the city of New Bombay, or Navi Mumbai, was born. Although much of Correa’s work is focused outside Bombay, many of the buildings of Bombay share a lot of strategies with his designs.
Some significant examples of post-independence modern architecture in Bombay are:
1. The Jehangir Art Gallery, Kala Ghoda (1952)
Located in the historic Kala Ghoda neighbourhood of South Mumbai, the Jehangir Art Gallery is one of Mumbai’s oldest and most exclusive art institutions. It was designed by Durga Bajpai and was completed in 1952. At the time of its design, it was one of the few concrete structures in the city, symbolizing modernist design. The egg-shaped plan with diffused daylighting in the interiors contributes to the uniqueness of the building even today.
2. Petroleum House, Churchgate (1954)
Now home to Hindustan Petroleum, the Petroleum house, built in 1954, marked a milestone for office culture and architecture in the city. The building was commissioned to the American architect Chauncey Riley by Standard Vacuum Oil. The building facade design comprises 1180 vertical louvres and 1347 horizontal louvres, designed after deep research and heat gain calculations.
The building was way ahead of its time, and even in the 1950s, it had central air-conditioning, concealed plumbing and wiring, and an automated telephone system.
3. Darshan Apartments (1958-60)
Gita and Gautam Sarabhai designed the Darshan Apartments, which was one of the early modern buildings in the city and the first apartments in the city to be built as duplexes. This was also the first building in Bombay to be raised on stilts – inspired by the buildings of Le Corbusier. The Darshan Apartments manifested some of the key ideas of modernist design. It was the first building in Bombay to have an exposed concrete facade with a minimalistic design.
Darshan apartments set a new trend for apartment design in Bombay, with many other complexes mimicking similar design concepts in the following years.
4. Kanchanjunga Apartments (1974)
Located in a high-end suburban area, this climate-responsive apartment complex comprises 32 luxury apartments. Within a small footprint, Charles Correa achieved large spaces inside each apartment with the efficient use of levels and compact circulation spaces. The ingenious use of levels and the projecting balconies make this project different from the usual designs.
Because of its compact, skillful use of space and interesting facade, the Kanchanjunga Apartments are a landmark design in the post-independence architecture of Mumbai.
5. Bombay Stock Exchange Towers (1980)
The Phiroze Jeejeebhoy Towers is a 29-storey building in downtown Mumbai that was originally called BSE Towers as it was owned and occupied by the Bombay Stock Exchange. It was designed by Mumbai architect Chandrakant Patel and serves as an integral part of the country’s financial center. The building had a curved facade with alternating glass and concrete bands.
Patel, inspired by Aalto, incorporated his organic forms as a seashell-shaped canopy in the design. When it was completed in 1980, it was the tallest building in India.
At the time of Independence, India had less than one architect per 1,000,000 population, and Bombay had over half the country’s architects. Due to the concentration of most Indian architects in Mumbai, the roots of India’s post-independence architecture styles can be traced back to the city, where multiple localities had buildings that were designed in a blend of modernist and art deco styles.
These early years, right after Indian Independence, helped shape the country’s architectural style that we see around us today; and Bombay stands as the key landmark for post-independence architecture in India.
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- Iyer, K. (n.d.). Where we live: the secrets of the Mumbai apartment, revealed by an architect. [online] Scroll.in. Available at: https://scroll.in/article/691963/where-we-live-the-secrets-of-the-mumbai-apartment-revealed-by-an-architect
- Anon, (n.d.). Bombay’s transition to Modernity- The Dawn of Art Deco in Bombay – Art Deco. [online] Available at: https://www.artdecomumbai.com/research/bombays-transition-to-modernity-the-dawn-of-art-deco-in-bombay/
- Burte, H. (1997). Bombay to Mumbai. [online] Mumbai: Marg Publications, pp.278–295. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/255719591_Artless_Objects_Post-Independence_Architecture_in_Bombay.
- The Indian Express. (2019). How the Bombay Stock Exchange building got its distinctive shape. [online] Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/express-sunday-eye/building-blocks-taking-stock-bombay-stock-exchange-5814898/. [Accessed 29 Jul. 2021].