Mumbai: City's Art Deco Buildings, World's 2nd Largest Collection, Gets Help In Conservation From Experts

Mumbai: City's Art Deco Buildings, World's 2nd Largest Collection, Gets Help In Conservation From Experts

Art Deco Mumbai Trust, a group that chronicles and advocates the conservation of the structures, has asked owners and residents of such buildings to enlist them in the repair plans for the structures so that special architectural features are not lost during the work.

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Sunday, December 31, 2023, 09:45 PM IST
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Mumbai: City's Art Deco Buildings, World's 2nd Largest Collection, Gets Help In conservation From Experts | Vijay Gohil

Aficionados of Mumbai’s Art Deco heritage are offering their expertise and advice to save and preserve the world's second-largest collection of buildings built in the mid-twentieth century architectural style.

The Art Deco Mumbai Trust

Art Deco Mumbai Trust, a group that chronicles and advocates the conservation of the structures, has asked owners and residents of such buildings to enlist them in the repair plans for the structures so that special architectural features are not lost during the work. Apart from offering technical expertise in the restoration of the buildings, the group sensitises owners and residents about the defining features that make them historic, said Atul Kumar, founder trustee of Art Deco Mumbai.

Vijay Gohil

One of the first structures to be restored under this partnership is Swastik Court, part of the UNESCO-listed Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai. Other buildings on the road are also being restored, including Court View, Green Field, Empress Court, and Sneh Sadan. Swastik Court, built in the late 1930s, finished restoration in 2023. The residents of the building had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Art Deco Mumbai to share archival insights and ensure the conservation of the original design features. Residents are raving at the outcome.

Vijay Gohil

 “It is looking stunning,” said Nayana Kathpalia, a member of The Oval Trust and a resident of Swastik Court. “When we began repairs, Kumar said ‘Why don’t we come and help’ and they came in and helped. Some of the special features in the building had been obliterated. Our contractor was also helpful.” 

Vijay Gohil

The restoration work at Swastik Court has been documented in ‘The Swastik Court Handbook – Repair and Restoration: Lessons from the field’. "Swastik Court is an outstanding example of restoration. Residents are happy that the building has transformed from being shabby to the best building on the street," said Kumar. 

Mumbai has second largest collection of such buildings in the world

The Art Deco architectural style emerged at the Paris Industrial Exposition in 1925, and Mumbai is reported to have the second largest collection of such buildings in the world, after Miami in the United States. "The event invited designs from all over the world to contribute to their vision of the future. It focused on decorated art. The style emerged from there. It became very popular across the world because it is a very flexible style," said Kumar. The style fizzled out in the 1950s but left its legacy in cities across the world, including Mumbai. 

Vijay Gohil

The malleability in style meant that buildings could incorporate elements suitable for the local climate, like balconies in tropical and sub-tropical cities like Mumbai and Miami. The buildings along Oval Maidan were built as part of the Backbay Reclamation Scheme, creating the first Art Deco precinct in the city. "It was a vibrant time in the life of the city when these kinds of buildings came up across the city," said Mustansir Dalvi, professor at Sir J J School of Architecture.

Vijay Gohil

Art Deco Mumbai has documented around 1100 buildings built in the architectural style, most of them in South Mumbai, but also many in the suburbs. “It essentially defines Mumbai, as a multi-cultural city where you grow up experiencing different communities, food, and architecture. We are not class conscious; we are egalitarian,” said Kumar.    

 Many specimens of the architecture are under threat from redevelopment, but the style has created a lot of interest in the city, with thousands of fans on the social media accounts of Art Deco Mumbai. Explaining the popular interest in the architectural style, Dalvi said, "Primarily because it is all around them. In fact, many of the people may have been living in Art Deco buildings and they may have realised it later," said Dalvi. "There has been a lot of interest by lay persons who have been contributing to the archives," said Dalvi.

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