SAH Blog

  • Northern India: The Golden Triangle

    By
    Amber N. Wiley, 2013 Brooks Travelling Fellow
     |
    Apr 8, 2015

    I knew ahead of time that Delhi would be crazy, but I was not prepared for the amount of crazy. Perhaps it is because I chose to stay in one of the most congested portions of an already congested city. Today Paharganj is known for its bazaar, as it was almost 400 years ago. It is described as “chaotic, noisy, and dirty,” on the Delhi Tourism website, and is commonly referred to as the “traveller’s ghetto.” It was exhilarating at the same time that it was exhausting. I had done enough online research to know what to expect, but there is not much one can do in terms of preparation for that type of environment. I had a hotel room with no external windows, which was fine since the decibel level of noise pollution on Arakashan Road was outstanding, even for India. Despite all of that, there was a certain magic to Arakashan Road, as hotel sign advertisements lit up the night sky like Broadway.

    Delhi is a highly fragmented, frenetic city, with old and new quarters existing in stark juxtaposition. As a World Monuments Fund brochure proclaims, “Delhi is not one city, but many.”1 Since Paharganj traditionally lay outside the old city walls it is a transitional, interstitial space. In Paharganj one is a short bajaj ride from Connaught Place (1929-1934), the commercial complex designed to act as a nodal point between Old and New Delhi. It still serves this purpose today.

    India_Figure-1
    Figure 1. 1911 map of Shahjahanabad, noted as “Modern Delhi” in the map, but known as “Old Delhi” today. Paharganj is slightly southwest of the city. Lutyen’s Delhi has yet to be designed and constructed south of Shahjahanabad. Source: John Murray, A Handbook for Travellers in India, Burma, and Ceylon. (London: J. Murray; Calcutta: Thacker, Spink, & Co., 1911). Flickr Commons.

    I was amazed by the pollution in Delhi. I could see it when touching down at Indira Gandhi International Airport. I could feel it when my eyes watered incessantly. An India Today magazine I picked up in the airport had a cover story entitled “Death in the Air.” The Editor-in-Chief, Aroon Purie proclaims “dust from construction, exhaust fumes from vehicles, coal plant and factory emissions, diesel generators, stubble burning in fields, garage fires, and makeshift cooking appliances have made air pollution a public emergency.”2 The articles discussed the rise in the mortality, cancer, and respiratory disorder rates related to the situation in Delhi, and in India more broadly.

    There is no need to enhance a photograph taken in Delhi with a filter. With today’s preponderance of digital photography posted online through sites like Instagram, fancy photo editing techniques are in common amongst the tech savvy population. Filters add atmosphere, hues, tints, and tones, “romantic” noise and dust. They add a special dreamlike ambiance to the image. But in Delhi, there is no need for a filter. The smog from the pollution does that just fine. It is lovely in a deadly, sad way.

    India_Figure-2
    Figure 2. India Gate by Edwin Lutyens, New Delhi (1921-1931). Natural “atmospheric filter” courtesy of smog.

    Incredible !ndia: Delhi and Agra

    Since my time in Delhi would be much shorter than my stays in other major cities along this trip, and since I had a friend meet me in the city I elected to take packaged tours to significant architecture sites. Normally I would do something more organic, wandering my way through the streets and often stumbling upon places that I had not even planned to visit, but time was of the essence. The packaged tour kept me from exploring Delhi in a more in-depth manner, but it was necessary with the limited amount of time I had in the city. The truth of the matter is, I would not have extended my time in Delhi.

    The city tour was arranged by the Incredible !ndia affiliate in my hotel. India has, in comparison to many of the destinations I have visited on this fellowship, a very succinct and smooth tourism industry machine. Incredible !ndia offices with a selection of maps, brochures, and tours have been highly visible in every state I have visited – Maharashtra, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan – as well as the National Capital Region. This makes the touring aspect of India so much easier than Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, and Mexico.

    In addition to the Incredible !ndia marketing efforts by the Government of India, the permanent delegation to UNESCO submitted “Delhi – A Heritage City” to be included in the list of World Heritage sites. The World Monuments Fund already laid the promotional groundwork, developing the Delhi Heritage Route.3 The Delhi Heritage Route was created in advance of the XIX Commonwealth Games of 2010 to promote tourism in the massively sprawling city. The Delhi Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) developed much of the content for the heritage route and contributed to the publication of 20 informational booklets and 18 walking tours that linked the sites together. It is an impressive promotional collection. Unfortunately most of this literature, which is free and accessible through the World Monuments Fund website, is not found at the sites themselves (I believe it is because these are not money-making ventures). One must know where to look for the information beforehand.

    My pre-arranged city tour started in Old Delhi, or Shahjahanabad. Cultural scholar Shu Yamane states:

    Shahjahanabad was built as the capital of the Mughal Empire, India's most powerful and largest Islamic dynasty. This makes it one of the most pertinent cities for the study of urban formation in the Islamic region.4

    This is one of the reasons I am slightly regretful about not spending more time in Old Delhi. Jyoti Hosagrahar’s JSAH article “Mansions to Margins: Modernity and the Domestic Landscapes of Historic Delhi, 1847-1910,” also made me question whether or not I should have spent more time in the area. Her article details the evolution of the haveli form in Old Delhi from the grand palaces of the elite to sub-divided and multifunctional new spaces for the people:

    In colloquial usage, the word haveli in Delhi has remained a signature of traditional aristocratic living. However, in its many variations the haveli was not a timeless or changeless house form. From princely mansion to modest dwelling and then into a tenement house or a more rational and efficiently designed house, the haveli has undergone a variety of metamorphoses.5

    Granted, these kinds of changes might not be obvious to someone walking through the neighborhood. It might take actually going in and doing more in-depth analysis of the buildings themselves. In the end, for me, it was important to know about the urban fabric and history of Shahjahanabad even if I was not able to spend ample time there myself.

    India_Figure-3
    Figure 3. Jama Masjid (1644-1656), Shahjahanabad.

    These issues are the cursed part of taking a pre-arranged tour. The blessing is seeing countless (although singular) sites in one day. In Shahjahanabad we visited the Jama Masjid and Red Fort, two outstanding examples of monumental architecture of the former Mughal Empire. The use of red sandstone at Jama Masjid and the Red Fort would prove to be a common thread with architectural monuments throughout the region.

    The rest of the day tour included Humayan’s Tomb, the Lotus Temple, and Qutb Minar. All the sites were extremely impressive in their own ways, and we could have gone to more locations if we did not linger so long earlier in the day. The Humayan Tomb (1565-1572) complex was amazing. The title of the site only represents a fragment of the wonders situated there. One can get a sense of the growth of the complex, and see changes that come as a result of additions and subtractions. Some are drastic, like the wall that was blasted through to create an entrance to the Humayan Tomb portion of the complex.

    India_Figure-4
    Figure 4.  Isa Khan Tomb (1547-1548). Photograph illustrates recent restorative work done on building.

    One is greeted by the Isa Khan Tomb upon entering into the complex. It is located off to the right of the central walkway, though it predates the Humayan Tomb. The building is compact, the design is all encompassing. It truly represents what art historians would call a gesamtkuntswerk – if art historians chose to use the term for anything other than Western art and architecture. Isa Khan’s Tomb underwent major renovation with aid from the World Monuments Fund. This project built on a pre-existing public-private partnership between the Aga Khan Trust for Culture Urban Renewal Initiative, Archaeological Survey of India, Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. The work at the greater Humayan Tomb complex is significant enough that it should be followed over the next few decades. It is a great case study in public-private partnerships, preservation as a means for a larger urban renewal process (with a social equity factor and without the negative connotations that we have in the States), and craftsman training that spans different countries. It is also important as a shining example that history is not dead, and that solid “facts” may change. Archaeological work at the Isa Khan Tomb complex revealed a sunken garden, one that predates any others known in India, changing the chronology and evolution of the garden type.

    India_Figure-5
    Figure 5. Entering the Taj Mahal (1648) garden complex Agra.

    Before I embarked on this trip I always considered Mughal architecture to be typical of what one finds in the whole of India, more so than the Buddhist and Hindu shrines I had seen in central India. My mind’s eye envisioned all of India through an Indo-Islamic lens. My time in Delhi, Agra, and later on in Rajasthan, was rewarding in a sense that I was seeing things that looked familiar to me – especially the Taj Mahal. This is because if and when architectural surveys make a foray into Indian architecture, the Taj is the symbol celebrated as representative of India. What this trip showed me is that it is representative of a specific time and place in India. The diversity of the Indian subcontinent is overwhelming – the differences between the states and cities make India a powerful and compelling place to study not just Mughal architecture, but Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Rajput, Portuguese, and British.

    Princely Rajasthan

    Depending on how you choose to do the Golden Triangle it could be equilateral or obtuse. Equilateral = Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Obtuse includes the addition of Udaipur. After my time in Delhi and Agra I took a quick flight to Jaipur in the princely state of Rajasthan. I took a train from Jaipur to Udaipur, and then flew back to Delhi and off to Vietnam (more about Vietnam in my next post).

    India_Figure-6
    Figure 6. Golden Triangle Google Map. Clockwise from top: sites in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Bottom left cluster of sites are located in Udaipur.

    Tourism in Jaipur and Udaipur was another well-oiled machine. Careful maintenance was evident in the City Palace (1729-1732). The complex housed several unobtrusive shops, and every detail in presentation was considered. The complex is managed by a trust that includes members of the royal family, and is used as both a museum and a residence.

    India_Figure-7
    Figure 7. Ridhi Sidhi Pol. Four gates that form the entrance to the inner courtyard that leads to Chandra Mahal in the City Palace, Jaipur. These gates represent the four seasons and various Hindu gods.

    Other major monuments of Jaipur are easy to reach by foot, so I visited the Jantar Mantar and Hawa Mahal the same day I visited City Palace. The city of Jaipur, the City Palace and the Jantar Mantar are carefully preserved testaments to the deep cultural and scientific interests of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who founded the city in 1727. The layout of the streets of the old city of Jaipur was based on the Vastu Purusha Mandala, creating a grid-like pattern that is still evident in the historic center. The Jantar Mantar (originally Yantra Mantra, meaning Instruments and Formulae) in Jaipur is one of a set of five astronomical observation sites that Sawai Jai Singh created throughout India to act as:

    A meeting point for different scientific cultures, and [give] rise to widespread social practices linked to cosmology. [They were] also a symbol of royal authority, through [their] urban dimensions, [their] control of time, and [their] rational and astrological forecasting capacities.6

    The sculptural quality of the observatory in Jaipur is poetically evocative. Sculptor Isamu Noguchi visited both the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur and in Delhi in 1949 and 1960. The Isamu Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York, currently has an exhibit entitled “Noguchi as Photographer: The Jantar Mantars of Northern India” that highlights the sculptor’s photographs of these cosmological wonders. The show runs until May 31. It looks fascinating, and I hope SAH members in the area will take the time to visit the exhibit to see the complexes through the master sculptor's eyes.7

    India_Figure-8
    Figure 8. Screenshot of Isamu Noguchi Museum website.

    I also visited both the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur and Delhi. Since the modern city of Delhi grew around the Jantar Mantar complex it is easily overlooked, standing in the shadows of skyscrapers, markets, and the buzz of Connaught Place. The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is better preserved due to its proximity to the royal enclosure. While it is easy to appreciate the observatories for their sculptural value, it is much more difficult to understand them for their scientific value. So much of the ancient practice of astronomy and observation has been lost to our culture, as we rely on our smart phones and hi-tech watches to tell us the time of day and to predict the weather, sunrise, sunset, and cycles of the sun and moon. Both observatory sites could benefit from multimedia interpretations to demonstrate how each of the various instruments within the complexes work.

    In all, the Golden Triangle does not disappoint. It is as romantic and magical as the advertisements proclaim. The realities of the growing metropolis of Delhi, however, are hard to ignore. At the same time that the countless public-private partnerships are improving the tourist experience in the city, there needs to be an even greater effort in abating the pollution and traffic issues that plague the city. There is no doubt that visitors to Delhi would spend more time, more money, and discover the “off the beaten path” sites in places like Shahjahanabad if a week in the city were more tolerable. But the concerns about the environment are not only about attracting tourists – they need to address the quality of living in the city in an inclusive manner for residents and visitors alike. In addition to the health concerns, the pollution creates a real threat to the vitality of the same cultural monuments the tourism board is trying to promote.

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended Readings

    Salahudin Ahmed, “Jantar Mantar, Jaipur: Implementing the Management Plan,” Context: Building, Living, and Natural 10 no. 2 (Winter 2013/Spring 2014): 141-148

    Catherine B. Asher, “Jaipur: City of Tolerance and Progress,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 37 no. 3 (2014): 410-430

    Balkrishna V. Doshi, “The City of Jaipur,” Architecture + Design 5 no. 2 (January/February 1989): 96-104

    Shuji Funo, Naohiko Yamamoto, and Mohan Pant, “Space Formation of Jaipur City, Rajasthan, India: An Analysis on City Maps (1925-28) made by Survey of India,” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering 1 no. 1 (March 2002): 261-269

    Oleg Grabar, “From Dome of Heaven to Pleasure Dome,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 49 no. 1 (March 1990): 15-21

    John D. Hoag, “The Tomb of Ulugh Beg and Abdu Razzaq at Ghazni, A Model for the Taj Mahal,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 27 no. 4 (December 1968): 234-248

    Susan N. Johnson-Roehr, “Centering the Chrbgh: The Mughal Garden as Design Module for the Jaipur City Plan,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 72 no. 1 (March 2013): 28-47 

    Clay Lancaster, “A Critique on the Taj Mahal,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 15 no. 4 (December 1956): 7-11

    K. K. Muhammed, “World Heritage and Archaeological Excavations: Fatehpur Sikri,” Context: Building, Living, and Natural 10 no. 2 (Winter 2013/Spring 2014): 95-102

    Vikramaditya Prakash, “Between Objectivity and Illusion: Architectural Photography in the Colonial Frame,” Journal of Architectural Education 55 no. 1 (September 2001): 13-20

    Sugata Ray, “Colonial Frames, ‘Native’ Claims: The Jaipur Economic and Industrial Museum,” Art Bulletin 96 no. 2 (June 2014): 196-212

    Martin Reinhold, “Local Stone (A Fragment),” Architectural Design Special Issue: Made in India 77, no. 6 November/December 2007Kazi Ashraf, ed.: 56-59

    Siddhartha Sen, “Between Dominance, Dependence, Negotiation, and Compromise: European Architecture and Urban Planning Practices in Colonial India,” Journal of Planning History 9 no. 4 (2010): 203–231

    Jyoti P. Sharma, “Mughal Gardens of the Indian Subcontinent and the Colonial Legacy: The Treatment of Delhi's Shalamar Bagh,” Journal of Landscape Architecture 4 no. 2 (2009): 32-47

    Patwant Singh, “Sir Edwin Lutyens and the Building of New Delhi,” ICON (Winter 2002/2003): 38-43

    Giles Tillotson, “The Jaipur Exhibition of 1883,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 14, 2 (2004), pp. 111–126


    1. INTACH Delhi Chapter, Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Central Vista (2012), 1.

    2. Aroon Purie, “From the Editor-in-Chief,” India Today (March 16, 2015)

    3. World Monuments Fund, Delhi Heritage Route website.

    4. Shu Yamane, Shuji Funo, Takashi Ikejiri, “Space Formation and Transformation of the Urban Tissue of Old Delhi, India,” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering (November 2008): 217.

    5. Jyoti Hosagrahar, “Mansions to Margins: Modernity and the Domestic Landscapes of Historic Delhi, 1847-1910,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 60 no. 1 (March 2001): 42.

    6. UNESCO, Jantar Mantar website.

    7. Disclaimer: I am a huge Noguchi fan, I collected the postal stamps when they came out, and I would love to go to this exhibit myself but I can’t. PLEASE go for me! Whoever you are! And report back.

    Go comment!
  • Black Lives Matter

    By
    Meredith TenHoor and Jonathan Massey (Organizers)
     |
    Mar 10, 2015

    The Black Lives Matter dossier, published by the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative, is edited by SAH members Jonathan Massey and Meredith TenHoor and includes essays from SAH members Amber Wiley, Michael Abrahamson, Dianne Harris, and Charles David II. Excerpt from the Introduction republished here with permission.

    What does it mean to put black lives at the center of our thinking about architecture and its history? On the Aggregate website, thirteen new essays by scholars, designers, students, and citizens address the Black Lives Matter movement through architectural and urban research. The edited collection diagnoses sources of violence, identifies forms of resistance, and reimagines Black aesthetics.

    Introduction: Black Lives Matter

    Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.

    —Alicia Garza, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement”1

    What does it mean to put Black lives at the center of our thinking about architecture and its history? How do architecture and urban design contribute to violence against black people? How can the tools and knowledge of our disciplines prompt change? Inspired by the scholars, activists, and everyday citizens who have spoken out, marched, and protested against police killings of African-Americans, we present this collection of short essays that directs architectural research to the Black Lives Matter movement.2

    Racism fundamentally shapes architectural and urban spaces. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ devastating Case for Reparations outlines the ways in which Black Americans have been dispossessed of land, excluded from homeownership, and impoverished by redlining and predatory lending from the Jim Crow era to the recent Great Recession.3 As Darnell Moore has argued, in cities ravaged by both predatory lending and gentrification, “Black people will continue to be treated as something other than human as whiteness continues to function as a sign for possession and asset.”4 One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, houses and subdivisions remain architectural instruments in racialized practices of investment, financing, ownership, maintenance, monitoring, and tenancy. In these and other ways, architecture and urban design in the United States today too often support white supremacy, which we understand, following George Lipsitz, to include “a system for protecting the privileges of whites by denying communities of color opportunities for asset accumulation and upward mobility.”5

    These links between race and space have long been visible in lived experience, and they have been addressed in architectural scholarship.6 But as architect Mitch McEwen has argued, the necessity of an architectural critique of new forms of segregation became undeniably urgent after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community in Sanford, Florida.7 Because they privatize formerly public functions and spaces, gated communities exemplify neoliberal approaches to housing, and some commentators were quick to identify their role in Martin’s death.8 Yet as McEwen and others have made clear, Martin’s death can not be pinned on form; rather, it must be understood as the result of intersecting spatial, legal, and social operations. Such violence against people of color requires architectural analysis, but architecture cannot account for it alone.

    After the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Kimani Gray, Tamir Rice, and too many others, the vulnerability long experienced by black people in public spaces challenged the legitimacy of the state, even for those protected by white privilege. Streets, sidewalks and playgrounds such as those where Brown, Garner, Gray, and Rice died are sites where racially-biased policing governs access to liberty and life itself. Over the past year, they have been reclaimed through demonstrations, die-ins, teach-ins, boycotts, Black brunches, and “Blackout Fridays.”9 These spaces have also become sites for design interventions that make sites of violence safe for people of all colors.

    While responses to this crisis of space and state can untangle, critique, and resist the conditions that have made Black life too precarious in the United States, recent protests and design projects make clear that architectural responses to the Black Lives Matter movement must also activate the aesthetic dimension of architecture, a dimension that offers resources to sustain alternative visions of Black life.10 This collection of brief essays thus comprise a mixture of aesthetic, critical, historical and theoretical analyses which we have grouped into three categories. The first essay group, Diagnosis: Policing and Incarceration, describes the architectural origins and human effects of racially-biased policing, the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and mass incarceration, identifying ways in which design has helped to create the present crisis. In Resistance: Rights to the City and Suburb, contributors outline forms of resistance developed by black people and their allies through activism, protest, research, and analysis. The third set of essays, Aesthetics: From Cities to Curricula, illuminates architectural practices that figure and reimagine Blackness through a variety of aesthetic, educational, and formal practices.

    When we put out our call for contributions, we aimed to highlight work underway on this topic, as well as to spur further scholarship and reflection on the biopolitical and architectural questions raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. Time was of the essence: We hoped that this writing might nourish political conversations, and that it could be used in seminars and teach-ins this spring semester. We are very grateful to all our contributors for putting this project on the front burner, and for writing and editing so quickly and diligently. As a result of their efforts, the work gathered here directs a wide range of scholarly and activist insights toward the present crisis. But it raises as many questions as it answers, and only begins to encompass the possible responses to the Black Lives Matter movement. We invite you to deepen the discussion by commenting on the work presented here using the links at the end of each essay. We also welcome further proposals for work in a variety of lengths and formats ranging from short photo, video, sound, or text essays to long-form scholarly articles for peer review.

    Continue reading at we-aggregate.org/project/black-lives-matter.

    1 Comment
  • Mighty Mumbai: Urbs Primus in Indus

    By
    Amber N. Wiley, 2013 Brooks Travelling Fellow
     |
    Mar 6, 2015

    Palimpsest. Microcosm. Hybrid. Pluralist. Diasporic. Cosmopolitan. Third world. Postindustrial. Postcolonial. Post-Independence. Global. Hypermodern. Slum. Polynuclear. Agglomeration. (Con)fusion. Bombay. Mumbai.

    “Mombay.” I kept typing it. “Mombay.” When I was looking for articles on Mumbai and had little luck typing “Mumbai” I decided to search instead for “Bombay.” The city only officially changed its name in 1996 after the Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena won elections in the state of Maharashtra. Literary scholar Rashmi Varma characterizes this act as “provincializing the global city.”1 Much of the literature I read discussed architectural and urban trends in “Bombay.” Somewhere along the way, however, “Mombay” was all my brain could manage. Bollywood, a nickname for the Indian film industry, is a portmanteau of the words “Bombay” and “Hollywood.” Bollywood is still Bollywood almost twenty years after the city name changed. Most Indians I spoke to still referred to Mumbai as Bombay. I came across the keywords above in the literature on the city, and my research on Mumbai has led me to understand the city as all these things, but not just any one of these things.2 Most scholars I have consulted agree – more research must be undertaken to understand and analyze the city on its own terms. In many ways, the city I experienced was indeed “Mombay:” the hybrid provincial capital of Maharashtra and the global millennial city.

    Mumbai-Figure-1
    Figure 1. Null Bazaar in Bhuleshwar neighborhood of Mumbai.

    Roots of Mumbai

    The human occupation of the area we know as Mumbai dates back to prehistory. The region that forms metropolitan Mumbai was originally an archipelago of seven islands with fishing villages settled by the indigenous Koli. The patron goddess of the Koli fishermen was Mumba Devi. It is from this goddess that the city derives its current name. The area was successively ruled by separate Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim kingdoms until the Portuguese gained control in 1534. The architectural heritage from these various political and religious entities includes the Buddhist Kanheri and Mahakali caves, the Buddhist and Hindu Jogeshwari Caves, the Hindu Walkeshwar Temple, the Buddhist and Hindu Elephanta Caves, and Portuguese forts and churches. The name Bombay is a derivation of Bombaim, or “Good Bay,” the Portuguese name for the settlement.

     Mumbai-Figure-2
    Figure 2. Mumba Devi Temple in Bhuleshwar.

    Most of my reading, however, focused on the time period after Portuguese rule. Many architectural histories began with the Portuguese handing over Bombay as part of the wedding dowry for Catherine de Braganza to Charles II of England in 1661. The English East India Company leased the islands from 1668 until 1757 when the company took over rule in the region. The East India Company continued to expand into the subcontinent and gain further autonomy until the Indian Rebellion of 1857. From 1858 to 1947 Bombay was under control of the British Raj.

    On Hybridity and Pluralism

    After writing my preceding entry on Harar and Goa I realized “hybridity” might not be the word I needed to describe the conditions I experienced in both regions. “Pluralist” is. This is an important distinction, not just given over to semantics, because it helps encapsulate the architectural variety. There were aspects of various cultures that remained distinct and clearly identifiable as belonging different architectural traditions. Catholic churches of Goa. Egyptian mosque in Harar. Indian merchant houses in Harar. Portuguese villas in Goa. Italian municipal buildings in Harar. These carry the ambitions and messages of each cultural entity in architectural program, form, and function. Hybridity can only truly be found in the small decorative details – the woodwork in Goa, for instance, or the use of a certain color palette in Harar.

    Architectural pluralism is also central to the understanding of the urban fabric of Mumbai. This is a direct result of the city’s position as a “factory” in the English East India Company. The Company sought to bring merchants, traders, and artisans of high standing from various castes and religions to the city, and therefore offered a freedom of cultural and religious tradition. This included Armenians, Hindu and Jain Banias, Muslim Bohras and Khojas, Jews, Parsis, and Gujaratis.3 The architecture of Mumbai reflects the cultural autonomy of these various groups.

    Mumbai-Figure-3
    Figure 3. David Sassoon Library (1870), Army and Navy Building (1890), and Watson’s Hotel (1869) in Kala Ghoda.

    Sassoon was a Baghdadi Jew, businessman, and philanthropist responsible for funding many projects in Bombay, including the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. The expansive parking lot in front of this row of buildings is the former site of the statue of King Edward VII, the Prince of Wales (also financed by Sassoon). The statue was called “Kala Ghoda” or Black Horse. The neighborhood derived its name from the statue, which was removed to the Byculla Zoo.

    Mumbai-Figure-4
    Figure 4. Jain temple, Bhuleshwar.

    Mumbai-Figure-5
    Figure 5. Mosque, Bhuleshwar. This mosque has classical details, including double-height Corinthian-inspired pilasters along the main façade.

    I walked extensively throughout South Mumbai: 4 the Fort area, Kala Ghoda, Colaba, and Bhuleshwar. The Fort area and Kala Ghoda immediately took me back to London. The scale and uniformity of the structures, the cool, reserved face of classicism in the Fort and the dark, expressive Victorian Gothic spires. These were mixed in with the major Indo-Saracenic monuments erected at the end of the nineteenth century, and the Art Deco structures of the interwar years. The street scale in Bhuleshwar was much more intimate than that of other areas of South Mumbai. Part of this is due to the fact that Bhuleshwar is located in the high-density area previously known as “native town. As architectural historian Preeti Chopra notes: 

    The British viewed the city in terms of color and settlement pattern. In their eyes the Indians lived in what the British called the "native town" or "black town," characterized by its high population density and intricate network of streets. The Europeans lived in the "European quarter" or beyond the bazaars in spacious, low-density suburbs. In contrast, the complex mapping of the city by Indians included religious buildings, water tanks, statues, markets, and other localities inhabited by Bombay's diverse populations.5

    One can find deliberately hybrid architectural design in its truest form in Mumbai. British architects developed and popularized the Indo-Saracenic style in the late nineteenth century. George Wittet, a major proponent of the style, was the architect of the Prince of Wales Museum, now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, and the Gateway of India. Both structures were erected to commemorate King George V and Queen Mary’s visit to India in 1911.

    Mumbai-Figure-6
    Figure 6. Interior view of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum). The interior details of the central hall are inspired by architecture from across the country.

    British architects who traveled to India to find work in the late 1800s and early 1900s frequently wrote about the state of architecture in India and the need to create something at once traditional and modern. Articles appeared in the Journal of the Society of Architects with titles like “Characteristic Architecture for India: A Plea for the Saracenic Form,” (1909), “Government Architecture in the East: Indian Architects for India,” (1911), “Architects’ Difficulties in India: The Need of Trained Men,” (1912), “Indian Architecture, and Its Suitability for Modern Requirements,” (1913). These called for the study of traditional Indian architecture, and the necessity for training of architects on the subcontinent (as opposed to England) to promote a new and eclectic style of modern Indian architecture. Architects Magazine, a short-lived British periodical, featured articles on ventilating buildings in India and highlighted outstanding building design, such as the Grant Road residence of Parsi industrialist Jamsetji Nusserwanji (J. N.) Tata.6

    Parsi Patronage

    Parsi patronage of the building arts is one of the most fundamental points to understand the architectural heritage of late nineteenth and twentieth century Bombay. I spent all of my first day in Mumbai being whisked around the city in a cab trying to get technical support for my Apple products. Several of the stores and service centers that had what I needed were in the major shopping area near the Royal Opera House. When I pulled up to the Royal Opera House I oohed and awed. My cab driver stated the Parsis constructed the building. I was confused, as I never heard the term before. In my mind I decided he meant “Farsis,” and instead of saying Persian he accidentally said the language of Persians. I quickly learned of the small, well-connected community of Parsis who had migrated to Bombay from the Gujarati region, where they had settled after escaping persecution in Iran for the religious practice of Zoroastrianism.7 Initially traders, this community penetrated many aspects of commercial and industrial enterprise, and had a favored position in the British trade hegemony.

    Mumbai-Figure-7 
    Figure 7. Maneckji Seth Agiary (1733), second oldest surviving Parsi fire temple. Kala Ghoda neighborhood.

    The Parsi community was active in architectural patronage in Bombay due to the success of various business ventures. One of the most important was the involvement of Parsi entrepreneurs in the cotton production and export industry in the nineteenth century. The American Civil War and port blockades on the exportation of cotton from the South forced England to increase its importation of cotton produced in India. This cotton boom created great wealth and opportunity to turn economic capital into cultural capital. Members of the Parsi business community were some of the greatest patrons of British architects practicing in Bombay. As historian Christopher W. London notes, “The Parsis were not the only benefactors to contribute to the 19th century architectural fabric of the city, but they helped set the tone and they established the precedent.”8

    While London highlights Parsi involvement in building Victorian Bombay, architectural historian Michael Windover shows how Parsi architectural patronage continued in the interwar years. Windover examines patronage of Art Deco structures in general, and cinemas more specifically. While Mumbai is widely known for its amalgamation of Victorian Gothic, Indo-Saracenic, and Art Deco structures, particularly in the historic Fort Area, the Parsi connection to placemaking should be highlighted more. Perhaps it is not emphasized because the community has long been a minority population, and today it has considerably declined. When the nomination of the Victorian and Art Deco ensemble of Mumbai to the World Heritage List does not once mention the Parsi involvement in creating this varied and impressive heritage, something is amiss. 

    Mumbai-Figure-8
    Figure 8. Regal Cinema (1933) financed by Parsi film exhibitor Pramji Sidhwa and designed by Charles Stevens, whose father Frederick William Stevens designed Victoria Terminus (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) Station.

    Curating the City

    Mumbai has little in the way of heritage conservation of its industrial infrastructure. For a city that was built on trade and industry, this may seem surprising. Imagine Liverpool, Glasgow, Detroit, or Pittsburgh without an emphasis on their industrial heritage. It would be hard to truly understand the evolution of those cities. As architectural historian Jyoti Hosagrahar notes, the nineteenth century:

    Saw the rise of a new and broad category of institutional buildings, including courthouses, museums, libraries, banks, city halls, elite boarding schools, colleges, and post offices. Railway terminals, factories, bungalows, and a network of dak bungalows (inspection rest houses) were other types of buildings that transformed the landscape of the South Asian subcontinent in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet these buildings of the modern age did not find historians until recently and many still await them.9

    Perhaps this is because the areas in neighborhoods such as Girangaon and Parel surrounding former factories and cotton mills reveal the economic disparity that is modern Mumbai.10 It is at once the richest city in India, but more than half of its urban population lives in slums. These neighborhoods spread far beyond the boundaries of the Fort Area, upon which most of the architectural and heritage tourism is focused.

    It is exceedingly important for historians to understand these economic conditions and disparities when making decisions about what and how to conserve. Mumbai in the millennium has moved beyond its colonial and industrial past, yet so much of the urban fabric in the historic core reveals these pasts to us.

    Mumbai-Figure-9
    Figure 9. Beyond South Mumbai the city continues to grow.

    Bombay was the second most populous city in the British Empire after London. It was the “Urbs Primus in Indus.” As such historians have often tried to understand Mumbai in relation to both the history of British colonization and the rise of megacities in the Global South. Geographer Andrew Harris argues for new frameworks in understanding the city today, moving away from a Eurocentric approach to something more dynamic. He contends that we must:

    Challenge conceptions of Mumbai as only a replicator or mimic of urbanisms fashioned elsewhere, whether in 19th-century Manchester or London or 21st-century Shanghai or Singapore. This involves greater acknowledgement of, and engagement with, Bombay’s specific socio-spatial formations of urban modernity and with the fundamental disjunctions into social experience and urban form shaped by colonization.11

    I cannot say that I have succeeded in that attempt, as my frame of reference is mainly Western and therefore tied into the longer tradition that Harris maintains we most move away from. One way to think about this in a useful and theoretical way is to look at urban fabric of Mumbai – its past, present, and future, as parts of the kinetic and static city. Architect and urbanist Rahul Mehrotra put forth this proposition as a means to understanding and reconciling disparate aspects of the urban environment. Mehrotra asserts:

    Today in our urban areas there exist two cities – the static and kinetic – two completely different worlds that cohabit the same urban space. The static city is represented through its architecture and by monuments built in permanent materials. The kinetic city that occupies interstitial space is the city of motion – the kuttcha city, built of temporary material.

    In a way, Mehrotra’s conservation work in Mumbai through the Urban Design Research Institute speaks directly to the intellectual challenges put forth by Harris. Mehrotra is cognizant of two very important aspects of conservation in Mumbai. First, that the Victorian core represents the exclusion and repression of British colonization. Second, that while this is true, the cohesive face of the area is in fact a relief from the sprawling nature of the millennial megalopolis. He does not see these two points as contrary to the need for conservation, but as facts that need to be acknowledged in the planning process. This is the complexity of conservation in the post-colonial, post-industrial, post-Independence, millennial moment.

    Mumbai-Figure-10
    Figure 10. Souvenir coffee mugs at Starbucks in Kala Ghoda district, Mumbai. Image depicts Gate of India in New Delhi by Edwin Lutyens.

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended Readings

    Arjun Appadurai, “Spectral Housing and Urban Cleansing: Notes on Millenial Mumbai,” Public Culture 12 no. 3 Fall 2000: 627-651

    Arjun Appadurai, “Burning Questions: Arson and Other Public Works in Bombay,” ANY: Architecture New York 18, Public Fear: WHAT'S SO SCARY ABOUT ARCHITECTURE? (1997): 44-47

    Bill Ashcroft, “Urbanism, Mobility and Bombay: Reading the Postcolonial City,” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 47 no. 5 (2011): 497-509

    Manish Chalana, “Slumdogs vs. Millionaires,” Journal of Architectural Education 63 no. 2 (2010): 25-37

    Sandip Hazareesingh, “Colonial Modernism and the Flawed Paradigms of Urban Renewal: Uneven Development in Bombay, 1900–25,” Urban History 28 no. 2 (August 2001): 235 - 255

    Meera Kosambi and John E. Brush, “Three Colonial Port Cities in India,” Geographical Review 78 no. 1 (January 1988): 32-47

    Rahul Mehrotra, “Constructing Cultural Significance: Looking at Bombay’s Historic Fort Area,” Future Anterior 1 no. 2 (2004): 25-31

    Kaiwan Mehta, Alice in Bhuleshwar: Navigating a Mumbai Neighbourhood (New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2009)

    Radhika Savant Mohit and H. Detlef Kammeier, “The Fort: Opportunities for an Effective Urban Conservation Strategy in Bombay,” Cities 13 no. 6 (1996): 387-398

    Michael Pacione, “Mumbai,” Cities 23 no. 3 (2006): 229–238

    Howard Spodek, “Studying the History of Urbanization in India,” Journal of Urban History 6 no 3 (May 1980): 251-295

    Stuart Tappin, “The Early Use of Reinforced Concrete in India,” Construction History 18 (2002): 79-98

    Michael Windover, “Exchanging Looks: ‘Art Dekho’ Movie Theatres in Bombay,” Architectural History 52 (2009): 201-232



    1. See Rashmi Varma, “Provincializing the Global City: From Bombay to Mumbai,” Social Text 22 no. 4 (Winter 2004): 65-89.

    2. I will refer to the city as “Mumbai” when discussing present context and “Bombay” in the historical context.

    3. Partha Mitter, “The Early British Port Cities of India: Their Planning and Architecture Circa 1640-1757,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 45 no. 2 (June 1986): 102; Meera Kosambi, “Commerce, Conquest and the Colonial City: Role of Locational Factors in Rise of Bombay,” Economic and Political Weekly 20 no. 1 (January 5, 1985): 34. See also Frank Conlon, “Caste, Community, and Colonialism: "The Elements of Population Recruitment and Urban Rule in British Bombay: 1665-1830,” Journal of Urban History 11 no. 2 (February 1985): 181-208 and Amy Karafin, “Around Mumbai in 7 Faiths,” Lonely Planet September, 19 2012 http://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/mumbai-bombay/travel-tips-and-articles/77468.

    4. This is only possible due to nineteenth century land reclamation projects.

    5. Preeti Chopra, “Refiguring the Colonial City: Recovering the Role of Local Inhabitants in the Construction of Colonial Bombay, 1854-1918,” Buildings & Landscapes 14 (Fall 2007): 110.

    6. Tata financed the construction of the Taj Mahal Hotel (1903).

    7. See Gijsbert Oonk, “The Emergence of Indigenous Industrialists in Calcutta, Bombay, and Ahmedabad, 1850–1947,” Business History Review 88 (Spring 2014): 43–71 and Talinn Grigor, “Parsi Patronage of the Urheimat,” Getty Research Journal no. 2 (2010): 53-68.

    8. Christopher W. London, “High Victorian Bombay: Historic, Economic and Social Influences on Its Architectural Development,” South Asian Studies 13 no. 1 (1997): 101.

    9. Jyoti Hosagrahar, “South Asia: Looking Back, Moving Ahead-History and Modernization,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 61 no. 3 (September 2002): 358.

    10. The mills in particular have a rich connection to the labor and freedom movements in India. For research on their history and potential for adaptive reuse see INTBAU India, “Mumbai Mills Report, Analysis & Conclusions of INTBAU India Workshop,” March 2005 and Alain Bertaud, “The Formation of Urban Spatial Structures: Markets vs. Design,” Marron Institute of Urban Management http://marroninstitute.nyu.edu/content/working-papers/the-formation-of-urban-spatial-structures.

    11. Andrew Harris, “The Metonymic Urbanism of Twenty-first-century Mumbai,” Urban Studies 49 no. 13 (October 2012): 2966.

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