Think Art Deco, and you’d instantly think of Miami, Paris or New York City. In Miami, the age of Instagram has ensured tourists set out on a hunt for art-deco photographs.  The scene in Mumbai though, is slightly different.  Even as the city hosts the world’s second largest collection of art-deco buildings,  most locals and tourists, tend to whizz past these fascinating buildings!

mumbai art deco
Soona Mahal ©️Punit Paranjpe (Getty Images)

With the inclusion of the Oval-Maidan precinct as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS), Mumbai’s Art-Deco buildings have found new life!

“In February, the central government finally nominated the Oval Maidan precinct for UNESCO accreditation. Walking along the Oval Maidan you could actually traverse different time periods. On one side of the Maidan are the Victorian, neo-classical buildings (the University, High Court, etc); on the other side are the art-deco buildings stretching all the way till Marine Drive. This dramatic confrontation of two histories on either side of the Oval make it worthy of the UNESCO WHS-tag.

Featuring on the UNESCO World Heritage list now means guaranteed international attention, as well as funding for conservation efforts, and a massive influx of tourists.

What is interesting is that for the first time, in the history of India’s world-heritage sites,  this nomination has been led by citizens of Mumbai!

mumbai art deco
Art Deco Buildings alongside the Marine Drive

While our favourite, and one of India’s best Museums, the CSMVS (part of the [precinct] is now a World Heritage Site, here’s a look into Mumbai’s Art Deco Buildings!

mumbai art deco

Mumbai’s Art Deco buildings include residential properties, commercial offices, hospitals and single screen movie theaters, including the popular Regal and Eros cinemas. The road next to Oval Maidan, on the Eros side; Sir Pherozeshah Mehta Road (PM Road), MG Road and Marine Drive are areas where you can go Art-Deco’ing!  PM Road has the office buildings like United India Building and New India Assurance; a residential stretch and includes old apartments such as Green Fields, Sunshine and Empress Court. Then, there are the Art Deco cinema houses — Eros, Regal, Metro, New Empire and Liberty.

But hold on… What IS Art-Deco?

Postcard of the Exposition

In 1925, Paris hosted a world fair that heralded what would soon be known as Art Deco: the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes(International Exposition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industries).  Art Deco, short for Arts Décoratifs combined bold geometric designs with Chinese, Egyptian and Indian motifs. Flat roofs, Smooth walls, Bold exterior decorations, modern building materials, Stencilled fonts are key features of Art deco architecture.

Art Deco in Mumbai

mumbai art deco

The Art-Deco movement came to Mumbai in the 1930s and continued to be in vogue way into the 1940s. First generation Indian architects were drawn to its futuristic & modern look. The availability of new building technology and materials like RCC contributed to an environment for art-deco to bloom.  Today, a non-profit called Art-Deco Mumbai (@artdecomumbai) is spreading awareness about the buildings through a drool-worthy Instagram handle, frequent walks, research and other initiatives.

Let’s take a look at some awesome Mumbai Art Deco buildings & their features that are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site!!

Residential Buildings:

The motif used in the above image is called the “Frozen Fountain”.  A symbol of eternal life, the frozen fountain was revived by Rene Lalique, a French designer.  Rene’s designs at the 1925 Paris Exposition were partly responsible for the worldwide explosion of interest in the Art Deco style.

Mumbai was a port city, and the excitement around ocean-liners translated into designs such as porthole windows,  ship deck style railings, and observatory towers! Check out the Zaver Mahal in the photo above… how many of these elements can you find?

The protruding semi-circular edges over windows are called “eyebrows” – a prominent architectural feature of the Art Deco style.

The Parsi Fire Temple!

Just below the temple are the winged mythological figures that you cannot miss!

mumbai art deco

Commercial Buildings

Did you know, the discovery of King Tutankhaman’s tomb in Egypt around 1922 sparked interest in Egyptian symbols and designs such that they appeared on buildings in Mumbai too!

mumbai art deco
New India Assurance Building : Egyptian theme

mumbai art deco

The Bombay Mutual Building | You can spot some interesting typography as you enter the building.
Cinemas! mumbai art deco

The structure of Eros Cinema is cylindrical and a reminder of stepped pyramid structures.

Regal was one of the city’s earliest art-deco cinemas that opened in 1933. The Liberty on the other hand, was built almost at the end of the Art-Deco period (1947).  The reliefs inside the movie hall are even more interesting.

Mumbai has more than 200 art-deco buildings spread out across the city. While the buildings around the Oval Maidan are now a World Heritage Site,  we hope you’d discover some of the other neighbourhoods of city too, for the love of Art-Deco!

The Heritage Lab is a digital platform connecting museums & citizens through campaigns, public-engagement programs & free access content for youth, families and kids.

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