Age Of Globalization In Mumbai: Essays Example

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Architecture, Modernity, Colonization, City, Colonialism, Real Estate, History, Colony

Pages: 9

Words: 2475

Published: 2020/12/18

Identity in Architecture in the

Tradition and Modernity
The discussion would follow the fabric of Mumbai as a central patch to the indigenous histories such as its pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial histories (AlSayyad). Within these periods of history, architecture is pertinent to the discussion. It has played a major role in Mumbai’s historical framework. It is a clear indication of how modernity remained and remains a factor. It is seen in the many different styles in the city of Mumbai. The city has also been drawn into modernity (its sense of always wanting to be modern) by its global interactions, thus placing the city in a straddling position of both tradition and the modern.


The interest here is to find the identity of tradition and the modernity in the architecture of Mumbai. The traditional architecture is an identification of the rich culture of the Indian nation, and its pre-colonial history. India, and particularly Mumbai, has had a colonial past where architecture played a role, but also a post-colonial history where Modernity tried to address the sense of place, and to find the nation’s identity as McMordie reflects in Liscombe (2011).

Traditional Architecture in Mumbai

The traditional Mumbai would include the buildings and structures that have significance as cultural heritage sites in the twenty-first century. It has a specific place in history as well as its place in the fabric of the nation as a traditional city.

Identification of the Architecture

In the chapter, A Question of Identity, McMordie (Liscombe 446-465) addresses the quest for an identity in the Canadian context. However, the question that needs answering here is whether Mumbai has a specific architectural identity. The search for a particular identity is scattered over the historical periods, but also the “diverse identities” of which McMordie speaks.
It would, therefore, be a good example to see the architectural identity here as both traditional and modern. Every era had a traditional input, even though it might not have been that of the indigenous people.

Its place in History

With regard Mumbai, the architectural fabric would straddle the pre-colonial structures as well as far into the post-colonial structures. In finding the place of the built environments in history, we need to look at the history of Mumbai as well. A way of doing this is to see how architects have dealt with a place in history in other environments such as, for example, Bosnia, Slovenia, and Croatia (Thaler et al 2012). For these nations, there was a particular vernacular. For Mumbai, there is a need to establish a vernacular to place its architecture in a context of its own. According to Thaler et al, nations have “distinct architectural identities,” hence, it needs to be established for this city.
Mumbai has three sets of architectural identities, which are the traditional (pre-colonial), the colonial, and the modern are seen in the various styles located in various areas in Mumbai. The traditional can also be further broken down to the pre-colonial historic periods.

Modernity in Mumbai

Modernity is not an easy subject for Mumbai, as the struggle is to find a modernity that speaks to India (Mumbai) without a Western cultural “description” (Nangia).

Sense of Place

Karakayali captures the sense of place in the chapter Colonialism and the Critique of Modernity (Avermaete et al 39-47). The chapter gives an idea of what buildings mean to people, and that it is not merely a structure. In addressing the issues in Mumbai, India, the colonizers needed to establish their domination over the colonized, and this was done through the introduction of buildings in the style of the colonizers. In adapting the built environment, they targeted the social, cultural, and political change in colonial societies, which they used as “a unified imagination of the "West" in order to explain the gap between themselves and the colonized.” (Karakayali)

The Nation’s Identity

Modernity in this context, as mentioned before, straddles a few periods. From the Harappan Period, the Early Historic Period, the Medieval Period Architecture, the Colonial Architecture to the Modern Period. (Module – V). Modernity is, therefore, not subjected to time or place.

The Traditional Identity of Mumbai

The traditional fabric of Mumbai includes monuments, palaces, temples, churches, mosques, and memorials (Module – V). Thus, much of the fabric was also patched together with the input of religion. These would include the buildings and structures that have significance as cultural heritage sites. It has a specific place in history as well as its place in the fabric of the nation as a traditional city. An example of such places in history is The Elephanta Caves. The caves have been architecturally carved, and are dated between the fifth and the eighth centuries and have been declared a world heritage site. One set of caves has been dedicated to the Hindu religion and the other set has been dedicated to Buddhism.
Figure 1: Unesco Heritage site. Francesco Bandarin

The Rich Cultural and Traditional Architecture

The pre-colonial historical periods in Mumbai have given life to a particular type of architecture, encompassing it place in history, as well as its cultural diversity. Some of these are seen in the structures indicating the various lifestyles of people. Some of these examples are in the:
Harappan Period (also called the Vedic Period: Around 2600 B.C. there was already an indication of people moving from “an agricultural lifestyle to an urban life.” This included Mumbai as well. This period had significant evidence of revealed the existence of “a very modern urban civilization with expert town-planning and engineering skills (Module – V). Houses were built either as “1-2 stories in height, with a central courtyard around which the rooms are arranged. The interior is not visible from the street, shut off using corridors or walls in the inside. Openings are also restricted to side streets to maintain privacy on the inside of the houses.” (Naveed).
The Early Historic period, which indicated the beginning of Indian architecture “depicted the influence of Persians and Greeks.” (Module – V).
The Medieval Period Architecture presented “a new technique of architecture – the architectural styles of Persia, Arabia and Central Asia.” (Module – V).

Mumbai’s Place in the Fabric of the Nation’s Architecture

The architectural influences in Mumbai were vast. The historical periods are scattered across Mumbai and, hence, it is therefore woven into the fabric of the nation’s architecture. It speaks of the nation’s desire to find a sense place. Mumbai itself was built on an earlier settlement (Raghavan). From its earlier periods, as discussed here, people migrated to the city to find work. This always brings about the need to address housing. Over the centuries, Mumbai developed to the North in what architect Kamu lyer, mentions as the urban sprawl.
Figure 2: An aerial view of Mumbai’s urban sprawl. Photo: Courtesy Popular Prakashan

Its Strong Identity as a Global City

As a global city for many centuries, Mumbai has had many influences from the world over. From the earlier centuries to the current age, Mumbai has always been a city of many nations. Even in the cultural and traditional sense, the city has always had various religions and nations living in it. The development of the architecture was even more pronounced with the occupation of the colonists.

Modernity and Mumbai

The modern here is in addressing the modernity of the global influences. As with the traditional architecture, modernity started playing a role in the built environment of the Indian nation, but in Mumbai in particular. It is a matter of finding the language of modernity in Mumbai’s colonial status, but also in its current post-colonial status.
Nangia defines modernity as follows: “Modernity as a concept is not something that should be, or is, exclusively generated in the West, but is also a product of time and place.” Architect, Kamu lyer, gives insight into the built environment of Mumbai (Seervai). He has lived in a time and place, in Mumbai, that stretched from the sixties through to the twenty-first century. Who better to document the architectural history of Mumbai than Mr. lyer?
Modernity has had a place in Mumbai since the colonizers took over. There were the Dutch, Portuguese, and the French. However, the ones who had more influence were the British. This can be seen in the many governmental structures that were raised. There modernity addressed was the issue of power. One such building is what is known as the Gateway to India. This structure was erected for commemorating the visit of the Majesties King George V and Queen Mary. Thus, this building was built to represent the power of the British at the time.
Figure 3: Gateway of India, Mumbai
Furthermore, the structure was built on the history of Mumbai. The site was the place of the small docks of a small fisherman’s village, now Mumbai. It represents, colonial power as well as the end of colonialism. Another building demonstrating Britain’s legacy in Mumbai is the Victoria Terminus. This building was seen as one representing progress (modernity), at the time with its Victorian (Gothic) architecture.
Figure 4: The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly the Victoria Terminus)

The Struggle for a New Identity

Faced with the colonial and post-colonial eras, Mumbai had been undergoing many changes over several decades. As Mr. lyer says: “Stringent regulations on a building’s design became secondary to an unfettered growth of skyscrapers when new rules, based on the concept of floor space index, the ratio of a building’s total floor area to the area of the piece of land, were put in place.” Since the sixties, he has lived to see the skyline of the city changing over the years, and it is still changing as the city establishes itself firmly in twenty-first century architecture. This can be seen in the latest skyscraper going up in the city.
Figure 5: Proposed Grove Towers are scheduled for completion in 2017

Finding the Right Architectural Vocabulary

It has been a battle for Mumbai to find the right architectural vocabulary to address modernity, but it continues to grow in its desire to possess its own world (of architecture). An attempt has been made with the Grove Towers to integrate nature and the environment for the future residents. However, the question is whether it is really addressing the need for a Mumbai-Indian nation. As Mr. lyer points out that “the first truly modern buildings that aspired to modernity were the path-breakers: of the 1950s.” These buildings are the “Jehangir Art Gallery at Kalaghoda, the TISS building at Deonar, Petroleum House at Churchgate (the first with an open-office plan) and Darshan Apartments on Mt Pleasant Road, Malabar Hill, (the first to have duplex apartments)” (Martyris). These building have been an attempt to find a place in the global setting as well as to identify with the times.
Figure 6: Jehangir art gallery glowing in the glory of its 60th year celebrations

The Struggle for its Modernity

Since the end of the colonial era – from the time of India’s independence – Mumbai has been in the midst of a struggle for its modernity. “In the 1960s, the city’s rigid building rules were relaxed, enabling architects to create stand-alone structures without considering the surrounding neighborhood.” (Seervai). It is with this in mind that the Danish architectural company, 3XN, designed the building Grove Towers (except for many questions surrounding it validity to address the quality or the condition for Mumbai to be modern. It lies within the grasp of the twenty-first century architects, to address (should have addressed) what is needed for its modernity. It is not in the high-rise structures, but for Mumbai and the rest of India, to look after its citizens (specifically the poor). Where the problem started was, as already said, “in the 1960s, [when] the city’s rigid building rules were relaxed, enabling architects to create stand-alone structures without considering the surrounding neighborhood.” (Seervai).
However, again, it is about finding a time and place for Mumbai’s architecture in the twenty-first century, but more so the architectural language to address its modernity. As Mr. Iyer contends, once more, as with “The gated communities of the early and mid-20th century, which were organized along religious or cultural lines, have been replaced with homogeneous apartment complexes, inhabited by those on similar incomes. This, according to Mr. Iyer, has “eroded one of Mumbai’s greatest strengths: rich and poor living cheek by jowl.” (Seervai).


Mumbai is India’s largest commercial city, and, therefore, has a strong identity as a global city although it is rich in its culture and tradition. It has always been a global city, but even more so in the current age. This means that the architecture in the city, seeks to address modernity as well as the traditional in its effort to provide housing and business facilities. It needs to continue its straddle between the traditional and the modern, covering a wide range of eras, which has affected the cities skyline.
Architect, Kuma Iyer maintains that the start of Mumbai’s modernity – finding the right vernacular for the current cityscape – lies in taking a page out of “the first truly modern buildings.” (Martyris), which addressed a particular style. In the light of the proposed Grove Towers, the modernist buildings seem to disappear in the woodwork. However, the architectural language it has addressed is what makes it iconic.
Mumbai has a long history of various cultures, and nations that have imprinted their desired architecture onto the city. The quest for a specific identity is, therefore, almost invalid. It is a matter of preserving and maintaining what is now seen as heritage to the city. These are especially the architecture that covers the pre-colonial, and the colonial eras. The colonial era of the British had a strong impact on the architecture in Mumbai in particular. There are many office buildings, which was erected for their “governmental” purposes, as well as homes that were built for those who came to live in Mumbai. These building are still a solid part of the fabric of the nation as well as Mumbai.
The attempt here was to establish an architectural identity for Mumbai, especially in the age of globalization. The need was to establish the fabric of the nation’s architecture in its struggle to find its modernity. Thus, the aim is to keep its tradition, but to establish a new identity for the future. It is still an ongoing struggle as much of the new vernacular excludes those who cannot afford such high-rise condominiums – the latest building under construction, Grove Towers – but excludes Mr. Iyer’s concerns for the lack of provision for the poor.
Every time a nation entered India, the architectural fabric was affected. Mumbai, in its current time, requires the need to find a sense of place and identity. This discussion has only been a small scratch on the surface, as Mumbai, and the rest of India has a vast array of architectural styles and forms that could address the traditional, modern and the reference to its modernity. The modernity that speaks to all eras where an attempt was made to bring “renewal” or establish a “rule.” Both the traditional and the modern answers to modernity, as it addresses the thinking at the time (at any stage) and place of the history in Mumbai. The entire built environment, no matter what the historical period, is what makes the city of Mumbai what it is.


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Karakayali, Serhal. “Colonialism and the Critique of Modernity.” In Colonial Modern: Aesthetics of the Past, Rebellions for the Future, edited by Tom Avermaete, Serhat Karakayali and Marion von Osten. Black Dog Publishing, 2010.
Martyris, Nina. “In the '50s they were modern, but now they're modest.” The Times of India, Mumbai.
McMordie, Michael. “A Question of Identity.” In Architecture and the Canadian Fabric, edited by Rhodri Windsor Liscombe. Vancouer: UBC Press, 2011.
MODULE – V. “Painting, Performing Arts, and Architecture.” Indian Culture and Heritage Secondary Course
Nangia, Ashish. “Identity, Architecture, Modernity.”
Naveed, Muhammad.B. Harappa: “Architecture and Town Planning.”
Raghavan, Chakravarthi. “Mumbai.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
Seervai, Shanoor. “The Architectural Evolution of Mumbai.” The Wall Street Journal, India.
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Figure 1: Elephanta Caves.
Figure 2: An aerial view of Mumbai’s urban sprawl. Photo: Courtesy Popular Prakashan
Figure 3: Gateway of India.
Figure 4: The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly the Victoria Terminus)
Figure 5: Proposed Grove Towers are scheduled for completion in 2017.
Figure 6: Jehangir art gallery glowing in the glory of its 60th year celebrations.

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