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Mumbai's Art Deco

Saturday, September 22, 2018

By Rajan Goregaoker, Principal Architect and Partner, GA Design

French in origin the Art Deco style represents elements of avant-garde art - Futurism, Expressionism, Cubism, and Constructivism. After the World War 1 when the modernist designers struggled with their utopian ideals, a spin-off of Modernist design took the world by storm.

In contrast to the serious approach of the Modernists, Art Deco affected all forms of design, from the fine and decorative arts to fashion, film, photography, transport and product design. It was modern and it was everywhere.

For me Art Deco takes me back in time. The time when 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.

Bombay being a major port city in the 1930’s when this style took prominence in the country, people travelled a lot between the 2 world wars and brought with them innovative styles from countries afar.

India’s Royal families, entrepreneurs and merchants were widely travelled and well educated. They were eager to adopt the contemporary trends in western culture. This showed in all spheres of life. Be it fashion, furnishings or architecture. Curvilinear structures, pastel colored walls, marble corridors inlaid with teak and sweeping balconies with stern brows. Art Deco may have originated in France in the early 1900s, but it was the architects of what was then Bombay who embraced it with unbridled enthusiasm, starting in the 1930s. They gave it their own unique flavour, often adding elements in the design that gave it a distinctively Indian character, creating a style often referred to as IndoDeco or Bombay Deco.

Mumbai has a legacy of several renowned architects who pursued the Art Deco style like Architect Shorabji Bhedwar. Amongst them Architect G.B Mhatre contributed to a large number of Art Deco edifices to the Mumbai landscape. Before talking about any further about his buildings I would like to mention that G.B. Mhatre is also my grandfather and as a practising architect today I hold his talent and creativity in awe and high esteem.

One of his buildings known as Soona Mahal standing at the junction of Marine drive and Churchgate which has a popular restaurant at the ground floor is one such building designed by him. The building is on the junction of 2 roads and the corner is beautifully emphasised which leads up vertically and the horizontal lines of the balconies hold it together.

Other notable Art Deco buildings of G.B.Mhatre in the city are Marble Arch at Peddar Road, 94 Nepean Sea road, Queen’s Court, Shangrila, Normandie at Carmichael road amongst many many others.

Some of the best Art Deco buildings in Mumbai are the Moti Mahal, Shiv Shanti Bhuvan, Eros Cinema, Kanti Mahal and Malabar Court. Also single screen cinema halls like Eros, Regal and Liberty Cinema. There are offices, residential apartments buildings, hospitals and so much more built in Art Deco style in the city that if you are on a tour, you wouldn’t be able to do justice in a day.

By the 1950s Mumbai’s fixation with the design form wore off and Art Deco’s era came to an end. Two decades is a relatively short time for an architectural style’s advent and death, but it managed to change.

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