The city of Mumbai in the present time embraces a diverse social setting and provides a context for everyone in the city to coexist. While one observes the architecture that the city consists of, it is evident how it cannot be characterized into a single style, rather, the architecture reflects the heterogeneity of its society and is an affirmation to it’s rich and liberal past, it is a manifestation of what the city has undergone, absorbed and given rise to
Aerial view of Mumbai city ©www.pinterest.com
A ‘culture’ means ‘the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular person or society’.
Thus, in simpler terms, what characterizes a culture of the place are the people themselves. Therefore, when we address the ‘cultural diversity’ of the city of Mumbai, we take into account the diversity of the people that stimulates, inspires, and leads to the existence of a contrasting palette of architectural styles.
One of the major contributors to the dynamic culture of the city has been the existence of various communities and religious groups over the years, whose discrete styles of architecture are explicitly seen throughout the city. Inhabited by the fishermen communities ‘Kolis’ for more than 500 years, the city comprises their villages ‘koliwadas’ along the coastal area such as Juhu, Mahim, Sion, Worli, Colaba, and Madh. Following the fishing community was the dominance of the Portuguese empire whose legacy could be marked in the city even today, through Khotachi wadi, a village in which exhibits the Portuguese style of architecture.
The city witnessed a huge influence in the style with the onset of the colonial rule who introduced a distinctive approach not only towards the housing typology but also towards the public buildings and urban planning. The city provided them with an opportunity to experiment with their native styles and the ones which were arising in the modern world. The reflection of their native style could be recognized through the Indo-Gothic and Neo-Classical style incorporated in the public structures of the Fort area of the city such as the CSMT station, David Sassoon Library, Crawford market, Flora fountain, BMC building, Asiatic library and many more, on the contrary, the Marine Drive celebrates and explores the Art Deco style of architecture which emerged during the 1920s. Churches and educational institutes were built across the prime region of the city exhibiting the gothic, baroque, and Indo-Saracenic style of architecture.
Parallelly, until then, the development of the city, trade, and businesses had led to the emergence of several job opportunities and therefore, migration. People belonging to distinct communities had entered the city intending to earn and need a place to stay. The colonials, therefore, introduced planning schemes for the population to disintegrate and hence led to the formation of colonies. These colonies belonged to certain communities and manifested a typical style associated with those communities. For instance, the Dadar-Parsi colony gives an insight into the Parsi and art deco residential area with gardens and educational institutes in its vicinity, while the Hindu colony was a house to the Maharashtrians, Gujaratis, and Catholics. The coexistence of these multiple communities also governs the need for their distinct religious spaces, which over the years have been built all across the city and have constantly brought about a new style of architecture into the region.
For the relatively poor migrants, ‘chawls’ were built as an alternative, which provided them with single-room residential units to live, shared sanitation facilities per floor of the structure, and a single corridor along one side of the structure providing a space to socialize.
These major interventions into the city layout during the pre-independence period have had a significant contribution into shaping the city what it is today, leading the city’s rudiments to be established on the liberality, inclusiveness, adaptability, and acceptance and had set the possibilities for far more striking reforms and explorations in the future.
Since then, the city has marked a major shift of architectural styles that have been employed, expanding it’s limited to the global level, and catering to a highly diverse population that is associated with the city. With the outbreak of globalization and Mumbai becoming a cosmopolitan city, it prompted a change in the social norms and the emergence of varied public and mobility spaces into the city which created a wide scope for the architecture to be explored. The exchange of technology, material, and ideologies throughout the world, sparked a new wave of practicing, with architects not only advocating the existing approach of designing but combining the global with the traditional, striving to create a language which is both intimate and contemporary.
The urban context of the city makes the need for gathering, socializing and interaction spaces imperative, and hence leads to the construction of massive plazas, stadiums, theatres, and significantly the waterfronts. Another dominant character of the city becomes its transportation system, which in the present time is robustly governing the pattern of the disposition of structures and itself becoming an architectural phenomenon in the city, with the upcoming airports, docks, and stations.
The city has evolved to provide a living for all classes, whether rich or poor, right amidst the city, but with great contrast in the standard of living and facilities which are availed. With the intent of providing housing facilities to the constantly increasing population, the city now has high rise structures devised throughout the extent catering to various sectors of the population.
What makes the city of Mumbai so remarkable is the fact that instead of moving forward with the constant reforms, the city strives to maintain an equilibrium between the past and the present by giving significance to them both, and also creating possibilities for other unconventional interventions in the future. Instead of generating a typical style of its own, the city has adopted and preserved a process where the architecture is a constant reflection of its inhabitants and the social values which have been existing over the years. Hence with every evolution in the society and thus the culture, the architecture too mutates.