Explore the 'Queen's Necklace' Route in Mumbai

Marine Drive, Mumbai's most recognised and powerful image, is defined by its stretch of 35 sea facing Art Deco buildings fronted by the city's most popular promenade

Art Deco buildings along Marine Drive (2019/2019)Original Source: Jehangir Sorabjee Archive

World heritage

Marine Drive (Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Road) precinct is part of the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This spectacular sweep of the bay attracts people from India and the world over.

A central focus of the inscription is the Art Deco buildings, one of the largest, most homogenous assemblages in Asia and the world, which were built along the western boundary of the precinct and represent a particular phase of urban expansion in early 20th century Bombay.

Marine Drive: View of bay from southern boundary (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

The iconic Art Deco line up was built on land reclaimed under Backbay Reclamation Scheme along the city's western sea face. Indian architects designed 35 buildings that create a uniform massing along the promenade that is one of a kind.

Marine Drive: View from northern boundary (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

The land along Marine Drive was ultimately structured into a grid and has one of the densest assemblages of Art Deco in the world.

Sonawala Building: View of street corner facade (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Tropical Deco

Launched in Paris in 1925, Art Deco, or the ‘new architecture’ was not simply transplanted to Bombay, but consciously adapted to its local environment and to contemporary urban Indian tastes. Deep set, often curvilinear balconies and running chajjas or 'eyebrows' provided extra shade along exterior facades. A surface imagery of tropical and nautical motifs such as stylised waves, palm trees or the porthole windows seen in many Deco buildings, resulted in the creation of a unique tropical Deco in Bombay.

The Erstwhile BB&CI (now Western Railway) Head Office BuildingHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Defined by streamlined forms, clean curves and a surface decoration of geometric shapes and motifs, Art Deco deliberately turned away from the ornate, over-the-top stone monumentality of the Gothic and Indo-Saracenic styles of the previous generation, the latter seen here in the headquarters of the Western Railway, completed in 1899.

Street view of Soona Mahal, Mumbai (2017/2017)Art Deco Mumbai

Distinctly deco

Prominently situated on a corner plot on Marine Drive with a commanding view of the Arabian Sea, its dual toned, streamlined form crowned by a circular viewing gallery, Soona Mahal is the gold standard in Mumbai's Art Deco landscape.

Built in 1937 at the junction of Churchgate and Marine Drive, Soona Mahal was designed by Suvernpatki and Vora with consulting architect Gajanan B. Mhatre, 20th century Bombay's most prolific, if under-recognised, Deco architect.

Soona Mahal

Building names along Marine Drive (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Interestingly, as you move north along Marine Drive, Indianised building names such as Sonawala, Keval Mahal, Bharatiya Bhavan, Ganga Vihar and Meghdoot stand in sharp contrast to the aspirational, westernised names of buildings further south - such as Oceana, and St. James' Court.

Sea Green: Sea Green:Art Deco Mumbai

Next door to the curved majesty of Soona Mahal, Mhatre also designed Sea Green Hotel as a lesson in straight line geometry. Note the continuous eyebrows or chhajjas, deep balconies and subtle nautical reference in the porthole windows.

In fact, the porthole windows are the only curved feature in an otherwise geometric and rectilinear building. The unique triangular balconies draw attention to the street corner facade.

Sonawala Building: View of porthole window and balcony (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Distinct tropical Deco features like the porthole window, and deep set, curvilinear balconies are also visible in the Sonawala building, situated on another prominent corner plot on Marine Drive.

Architect P.C. Dastur's buildings: Art Deco buildings along Marine Drive (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Further down the road stand Kapur Mahal, Zaver Mahal and Keval Mahal, three identical buildings, in differing states of upkeep today, which were built by wealthy Gujarati businessmen and brothers Kapurchand, Zaverchand and Kevalchand Mehta.

Oceana: Detail view of terrace (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Rooftops on these buildings were designed as social spaces with viewing galleries.

Oceana's turret draw inspiration from the chhatri in traditional Indian architecture.

Similar split turrets also crown Marine Drive's Kapur Mahal, Zaver Mahal and Keval Mahal.

Oceana: Detail view of balcony (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Another distinguishing feature at Oceana is the spectacle inspired portholes on the building's facade.

Seksaria Building: Street corner view (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Govindram Seksaria, once the 'Cotton King of the World' spared no expense to build this magnificent street corner facing building for his family. A simple and humble man, is remembered today more for his philanthropy in education and healthcare than his business success.

Seksaria Building: Entrance Lobby (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

The opulent lobby of the Seksaria building, clad from floor to ceiling in shades of Italian marble, is a visual reminder of the brilliant business success of its original owner.

Seksaria Building: Entrance gate (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Entrance gates often featured Deco inspired grill designs, which further emphasized this openness, and interplay of interior and exterior, even when closed. Also note the geometric, cement lamps on the gate of the Seksaria building.

Sonawala Building: View of boundary wall (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

With Marine Drive's proximity to the sea, metal grill work was largely replaced by cement grills. Low boundary walls defined by these grill designs allowed for ventilation, light and an uninterrupted sea view. Most significantly, they were a marker of public trust, offering a secure and people friendly alternative to walled, closed barriers between public and private spaces.

Art Deco buildings along Marine Drive (2019/2019)Original Source: Jehangir Sorabjee Archive

Today, whilst individual buildings along Marine Drive have been modified, the precinct's living nature, massed form and skyline remain authentic. Indeed, the World Heritage Site inscription is a recognition of the outstanding universal value of Mumbai's Art Deco in general, and Marine Drive's sea-facing development in particular.

Film on Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai, UNESCO World Heritage Site (2019/2019) by Federation of Residents Trust (FORT)Art Deco Mumbai

To know more visit the exhibit on the World Heritage Site.

Credits: Story

Art Deco Mumbai showcases Mumbai’s Art Deco, advocates its conservation, chronicles its history, documents neighbourhoods and has created the only online repository dedicated to Mumbai’s Deco buildings. Photo Credits for aerial photograph of Marine Drive to Jehangir Sorabjee. All the remaining images are from Art Deco Mumbai’s archive.

To see the entire Marine Drive Ensemble #WHSMARINEDRIVE

To know more visit UNESCO World Heritage Site

Read more on Making of Marine Drive

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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