Mumbai; the gateway to India, home of Bollywood cinema, infamous for its slumdogs and shanty towns. But did anyone know the city also has the second largest number of surviving Art Deco buildings in the world after Miami?
While visitors to the Indian capital of entertainment and commerce generally flock to the city’s tourist and world heritage sites, unknown to many, Mumbai has some of the finest examples of original Art Deco edifices anywhere in the world. A visual feast for the design enthusiast, on the South side of the city, entire clusters of art deco office blocks, apartment buildings, hotels and cinemas still remain standing in their timeless elegance, albeit in need of quite a few licks of paint…
The art deco architecture of Mumbai, dubbed ‘Bombay Deco’ by architectural historians began sprouting up in a time of post-First World War optimism. The city was host to a new wave of local businessmen who had found fortune and wanted to flaunt their new wealth in lavish residences and offices alongside the heirs of India’s former princely states and the glitterati of the blossoming Bollywood film industry.
Looking to the West, the flourishing deco design style coming out of Paris at the time represented luxury, glamour and faith in social and technological progress. It was the ideal backdrop for Mumbai’s exuberant spirit of optimism.
Names like Marine Drive and Malabar Hill in the affluent south side of the city became synonymous with the style, which took on a uniqueness in Mumbai in its ability to adapt and blend with traditional Indian motifs and cultural deities.
After World War II, glamorous and exuberant architecture was replaced with functionalism. As streamline modern cinema palaces and pastel coloured residences went into decline around the world, so too did South Mumbai’s world renowned Art Deco fade quietly into the background of the cityscape.
While Miami saw a renaissance in appreciation for the style and became known as the world’s art deco hub thanks to preservation efforts in the 1980s, Mumbai’s art deco legacy has been largely neglected. As if residents decided to just stop looking up altogether, paint peels and weeds sprout from the cracks of these once glamorous buildings, indicating a failure to recognise the city’s status and potential as what is essentially the world’s second largest museum of historical art deco style.
In 2013 however, community groups and members of the community who had grown up in Mumbai’s art deco residences, came together with a goal to preserve the timeless structures and pitched for Unesco’s world heritage status. Unfortunately, the nomination lost out to new Delhi’s Old City last month and has been sidelined as the cultural category’s back-up choice.
If you or a friend are travelling to India, be sure to pass on this travellers tip for the lesser-known capital of Art Deco. Maybe an increased spark of interest from tourism can help Mumbai restore this forgotten Miami of India.