Deco Dekho: Bombay Style

A friendly contemporary primer on how to identify Art Deco buildings in Mumbai

By Art Deco Mumbai

Street view of Linga Mahal (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

The 1930’s marked an unprecedented building boom in the city brought about by a high demand for housing. Buildings across neighbourhoods were built in the popular Art Deco style, making Bombay host to one of the largest collections of Deco buildings in the world. While apartment buildings form a majority of the city’s Deco, the style also found expression in cinema theatres, bungalows, schools, hospitals, clubs, hotels and commercial buildings. Many of these buildings survive today, hiding in plain sight among modern high-rises that now dominate the urban landscape.

Archival photograph of Empress Court, Oval MaidanArt Deco Mumbai

The Art Deco style is expressed through various characteristics – through building form, its elements, and ornamental features. In addition to internationally identifiable Deco characteristics, Bombay’s Art Deco draws heavily from the city’s identity as a tropical port city, with nautical and tropical imagery often incorporated in architectural elements and ornamentation. Climate responsive elements like balconies, eyebrows and grilles are also quintessential to Bombay’s Deco aesthetic.

Here is a primer to help you identify Art Deco in the city based on Form, Elements and Features.

Close-up view of New India Assurance (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

FORM

Stepped Profile / Ziggurat

Ziggurats are stepped pyramids with receding storeys, similar to a tiered cake and were originally built in ancient Mesopotamia. Influence of this stepped form of ziggurats is visible in the massing and/or facade profile of buildings (seen here). It can be seen across the world cities like Mumbai, Miami, Shanghai, Havana, New York, Montevideo and many others.

View of Lalchand Mansion (2017/2017)Art Deco Mumbai

Streamlining

Elongated forms, curved contours (in yellow highlights) and stripes known as “speed lines” on symmetrical building facades reflect the Deco era’s infatuation with speed. These were inspired by aerodynamic innovations in locomotive design, especially that of aeroplanes, automobiles and ocean liners.

Close-up view of Commonwealth (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

ELEMENTS

Balconies

Balconies are semi-open spaces in apartments where one can enjoy cool breeze & city views over a cup of tea. They may be projecting or recessed from the facade of the building and appear in a variety of shapes and forms, curvilinear, rectilinear or mimicking the design of streamlined locomotives (seen here). They are often designed with grilles or ship-deck style railings (in white colour).

Close-up view of Shiv Shanti Bhuvan (2017/2017)Art Deco Mumbai

Eyebrows

Eyebrows are cantilevered projections above windows and balconies that act as weather shades. These projections, colloquially known as ‘chajjas,’ vary in shape and may be rectilinear, curved, or angular, or may be continuous eyebrows.

Close-up view of Juvekar House (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Compound walls

A compound wall demarcates a building’s property line. Typically, they are low-height walls with metal or concrete grilles, a quality that allows light and air to ground floor apartments.

Close-up photograph of window grille at Anil Kunj, 2018/2018, From the collection of: Art Deco Mumbai
Show lessRead more

Grilles

Ornate grillework with geometric or tropical inspired designs is often visible on balconies, windows, and stairwells within the building.

Photograph of grille gate of Anil Kunj, 2018/2018, From the collection of: Art Deco Mumbai
Show lessRead more

Grillework with geometric or tropical inspired designs is also seen along the site boundaries such as gates & outdoor lamps.

Close-up view of Ferreira Mansion (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Architectural Lettering

Building nameplates are expressed in a riot of artistic fonts embodying the streamlined, flamboyant and geometric characteristics evident in Art Deco buildings. They are often seen on flooring or facades around the entrance of buildings. They are commonly made of stucco, wood, metal or stone.

Close-up view of Prakash (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

FEATURES

Symbolic Features

Features like porthole windows, frozen fountains, sunburst rays (highlighted in yellow), sea waves and tropical trees can easily be noticed as symbolic decorations on Art Deco buildings. These ornate details draw inspiration from nature in the tropics and Mumbai’s identity as a port city to add a local flavour and identity.

Close-up view of Sonawala building (2017/2017)Art Deco Mumbai

Nautical features

Luxurious ocean liners of the Deco era inspired the architectural design of buildings, complementing Bombay’s identity as a port city. Features such as porthole windows (seen here), ship deck railings (in red) and observatory towers are common nautical features that can be spotted.

Close-up view of Haroon House (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Tropical imagery

Drawing inspiration from Bombay’s tropical vegetation and proximity to the sea, tropical imagery is commonly found in the facade ornamentation of Deco buildings in the city. Stylised imagery of sea waves, sunburst rays, clouds, the moon, tropical flora and fauna appear in many buildings. Notice the wave pattern, clouds, bird-like-feature as abstract art in the octagonal grill work seen here.

Close-up view of Belvedere Court (2017/2017)Art Deco Mumbai

Frozen Fountain

The frozen fountain, a historical symbol of eternal life, was re-popularized in the early 20th century by the French glass designer René Lalique. The motif, seen here in yellow, is prevalent as a decorative feature in building facades.

Close-up view of Bombay Mutual building (2018/2018)Art Deco Mumbai

Geometric Patterns

Impressions in the form of bands, chevrons, stripes, zig-zags, square and oblong shapes (in red) transform these simply constructed buildings into flamboyant edifices. These bands and patterns, mostly painted in contrasting colours transform buildings into works of art.

Close-up view of Nalini Kunj (2018/2018)Art Deco Mumbai

Bands/Banding

Building facades display horizontal or vertical bands painted in contrasting colours (seen here in red), accentuating height or horizontality. Bands may be incised into the facade or have moulded geometric frieze patterns.

Close-up view of Yusuf Chambers (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Chevrons

The repetitive V-shaped pattern often makes an appearance as ornamentation on the facades of Deco buildings emphasising directionality. The picture here shows you how the pattern has been used in building's interior using concrete tiling in yellow and dark grey colour.

Cornice detail at Rajjab Mahal, Oval Maidan (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Zigzags

Zigzags are patterns of jagged lines and appear as decorative motifs on building facades, in the form of bas reliefs and deco banding. Here this detail in green and dark blue colour contrasts with the neutral white background.

Close-up view of N M Petit Fasli Agiary (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Figurative Ornaments

Relief work depicting emotions and occupations such as tragedy, comedy, farmers, labourers, and filmmakers are visible on numerous Art Deco buildings open to the public. These carved decorations use stone or plaster and are angular in design. They reflect cultural practices of the region.

Here, the ornate wings and flowing beard usually associated with lamassus have been traded in for simple, clean geometric: a classic Deco look. This mythological representations can be seen at the entrance of N. M. Petit Fasli, a fire temple in Churchgate, South Mumbai.

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. All the images are from Art Deco Mumbai’s archive.

To know more visit Deco Dekho – Bombay Deco and its Elements
Also read, The Deco Dictionary

Explore the Art Deco Mumbai Gallery

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.
Explore more
Related theme
Wonders of India
A showcase of India's finest cultural treasures. Ancient monuments, spiritual healing, regional arts and crafts, myths and folklore: be inspired by the wonders of this incredible country.
View theme
Google apps