The historical inscription was made at the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO in Bahrain.
In Manama, Bahrain, at 13:02 on June 30, 2018, the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles, Mumbai, was inscribed as a World Heritage Site, making it one of the most significant events in Mumbai’s historical timeline. This inscription will serve to protect, enhance and showcase a spectacular ensemble of 94 historic buildings across 66.34 ha with four significant architectural styles.
Two centuries, 19th and 20th, straddle the Oval Maidan on either side, making the ‘Mumbai collective’ unparalleled. The dramatic confrontation of the two styles across the Oval reflects two waves of urban expansion, within which the majority of buildings being built were Victorian Neo Gothic and Art Deco. These styles comprise Victorian Gothic, Indo Saracenic, Neo Classical and Art Deco.
While the Bombay High Court, Mumbai University and David Sassoon Library are Victorian Gothic, the CSMVS (Prince of Wales Museum) and Western railway headquarters at Churchgate are Indo Saracenic. Sir Cawasji Jahangir Hall (NGMA) and the Army and Navy building are Neo Classical. Regal and Eros cinemas, H R College, Cricket Club of India and Empress Court are Art Deco buildings, and so is Soona Mahal. They are all included in the nomination and are a part of the ensemble.
The journey began over a decade ago and was unique simply because no World Heritage Site nomination had been initiated, managed or funded by stakeholders. The entire nomination dossier, running into over a 1,000 pages was completed by stakeholders comprising individuals, resident associations, citizens, architects, urban planners, conservationists and activists, led by Abha Narain Lambah & Associates. Typically, in any other nomination at any other site in the world, the initiative, impetus, funding and preparation of the dossier are driven by the state. In Mumbai’s instance, the state and central government, politicians and bureaucrats cut across ideologies and party lines and consistently supported the initiative leading up to its inscription.
For all the naysayers, this is easily one of the strongest statements reinforcing the fact that first and foremost Mumbai belongs to its citizens. They care deeply for their city and what the built heritage means to them. This is driven by the fact that Mumbai is a city whose built heritage is “living heritage”. The buildings in the precinct are public spaces with residential, commercial and entertainment usage. They are a part of the urban and social fabric of the city and form a part of the collective memory of every resident. If a grandparent remembers seeing his first adult film at Eros while he was still underage, his son remembers seeing Mackenna’s Gold six times at Eros; his grandson remembers going there on his first date. Such is the bond of the built form with its citizens and the mind space it occupies, cutting across generations.
The inscription will serve to sensitise Mumbaikars even further about the architectural styles of the city and, more importantly, bring Art Deco to the forefront as it has resided in the shadow of Mumbai’s magnificent, imposing Victorian Gothic structures. The Art Deco buildings are one of the largest and most homogenous assemblages in Asia and the world, with the spectacular coastal promenade, Marine Drive, sweeping the western boundary of the precinct. It creates a formidable architectural dialectic that influenced the narrative of modernism in Asia, with a distinct architectural genre –western in form and Indian in spirit –as an example of shared heritage.
The ensemble satisfies the criteria of being ‘an outstanding example of a type of building… or landscape which illustrates significant stages in human history’. The inscription will serve to leave a glorious architectural legacy for generations to come. Mumbai has a lot to celebrate today.
You can view all 34 buildings on Marine Drive and 18 buildings in OVAL precinct. Type WHSMarineDrive or WHSOval in our website search box.
Read more about the Victorian Gothic & Art Deco Ensembles, Mumbai at https://www.artdecomumbai.com/research/#unesco
This article was published in Mumbai Mirror on July 1, 2018. It was authored by Atul Kumar, Founder Trustee of Art Deco Mumbai Trust.