The largest natural port in India and a place that has been embracing a diverse range of population for more than a century, the city of Mumbai has transformed and developed into a land instituted on the fundamentals of multiplicity, it’s acceptance, and integration. Along with an evolution of its population and communities over the years, the city has also witnessed a shift in its character, functioning, and culture.

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( Source: Karan Malkan + Rukaiya Lokhandwala – © )

These changes are supplemented by the reforming styles of art and architecture instilled in the city and one of the most salient paradigms of that is the evolution of the housing patterns that the city has encountered.

Though being one of the metropolitan cities of India and a densely populated urban area of the world today, the city has traces of the earliest human settlements from the 10th century, the Kanheri caves in Borivali, exhibiting the rock-cut architecture and a pattern of community settlement of that era. 

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Kanheri caves, Borivali ( Source: © )

The earliest built settlements of the city were the fishing villages and gaothans developed along the coast and the creeks, comprising small single or double storied houses recognized by their sloping roofs, a huge living space supplemented by smaller bedrooms, kitchen, and a verandah. 

However, with the onset of the Portuguese colonization, the architectural styles marked a shift, and there was an amalgam of the Portuguese and the native styles incorporated into the emerging villages, one of which is the Khotachi Wadi in Girgaon. 

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Girgaon back road, 1905 ( Source: © )
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Present-day view of Worli Koliwada ( Source: © )
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Khotachi wadi, Girgaon ( Source:© )

From Portuguese, the city’s control was then succeeded by the British colonials, and simultaneously, with the expansion in trade and business, Mumbai developed to be one of the then port cities of India. This led to the increase in the number of settlements alongside the fort built by the Britishers in south Bombay, forming a town which comprised of ‘wadis’ – with two to three-storeyed structures with one room housing units, market places, and migrants, traders, and businessmen attempting to befit into the evolving culture and economy of the city.

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Present-day wadi in Mumbai ( Source: © )

With a constantly rising population and uneven settlement patterns growing along a single zone of the city, the Britishers introduced a planned area into the city to initiate decongestion and provided a pertinent settlement pattern to the varying communities in the city. These included the two to three-storeyed apartment housing with balconies overlooking the tranquil streets, in the Dadar – Matunga area, where the Parsi colony and the Hindu colony were established along with a seemly neighborhood. 

Though the typologies remained unvaried, the adopted architectural styles profoundly differed, as per the communities or as an attempt by the British to experiment, such as the Art Deco strip along the Marine lines.

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A structure in Dadar Parsi Colony ( Source: © )
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A house in Hindu Colony ( Source: © )

The constantly increasing population in the city due to rising migrants, however, couldn’t be fitted into such colonies due to the lack of land and their inability to afford such a lifestyle in the city. Hence led to the establishment of chawls, which provided single-room housing units to these tenants, with shared sanitation facilities per floor and a common corridor to create an interactive environment for them. 

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A chawl in Mumbai ( Source: © )

Post-independence, the city witnessed a substantial change in the housing typologies provided by the State following the distinctive income groups in the city and an effort to yield an adequate standard of lifestyle. The basic facilities were provided to all irrespective of the income while other amenities varied, with differences in carpet areas, balconies, apartments and row houses, and social spaces.

Simultaneously, co-operative housing societies and Employee housing also steadily grew in the city which not only incorporated housing apartments with different carpet areas but also other facilities such as halls, schools, temples, and hospitals into their boundaries. 

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LIC Colony, Borivali by Architect Charles Correa ( Source: ©Charles Correa Foundation )

On the contrary, due to the rising cost of the houses and people’s inability to pay led to the increased number of slums, which people built out of bamboos, tin sheets, and asbestos sheets, with a need to have shelter in the city. Though the government later devised several schemes for slum rehabilitation projects, intending to provide better living conditions, the city still has a substantial amount of slums dispersed throughout its land, the Dharavi slums being the largest slum of Asia.

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Aerial view of Dharavi Slums alongside the high rise apartment buildings ( Source: © )

The onset of globalization, however, brought with itself several new townships into the city, having high rise housing projects with huge carpet areas and several other facilities such as plazas, gardens, clubs, and more. The city now beholds housing projects of 60 to 80 stories in height, including modern construction techniques as well as styles. The buildings, unlike earlier, do not comply with the architectural style of the neighborhood, instead of trying to seek a contemporary and distinctive style of its own.

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Aerial view of Mumbai city ( Source: © )

The development of the city today has not been limited to the boundaries that it catered to earlier, rather there has been an extensive urban sprawl, with an intense transportation nexus being developed throughout these settlement patterns. These urban sprawls not only provided additional space of habitation but rather created an opportunity or experiment housing typologies and comprehend their functioning, such as Belapur incremental housing by Charles Correa or the CIDCO Low-Cost Housing by Raj Rewal.

What makes the city of Mumbai distinctive is not only the fact that it has witnessed such a diverse housing transformation but how the city, over the year, has managed to let these housing typologies to co-exist within its periphery, to have found a balance between the past and the present while continuing to aim for future interventions.


Manasi prefers writing over talking to express herself. Being an architecture student, she believes that designs and their resulting comprehensions are a mirror to look within oneself. She is an optimist who is considerate towards her surroundings and more so people. Structures, their stories and photographs fascinate her.

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