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What should you look for when trying to identify an art deco building? Bright colours, geometric shapes that loom large, open balconies and curved verandahs, distinctive lettering, and lines that zig-zag their way across the façade. Mumbai is dotted with clusters of gorgeous buildings with this architecture style that hails from the 19th and 20th century, and it's no wonder that these ensembles are now on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Last week, on June 30, 2018, the Victorian-Gothic and deco buildings of Mumbai got the famed world heritage tag—the third of its kind in Mumbai after family-favourite Elephanta caves and every commuter’s shrine—Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (most often abbreviated and overhead while hailing cabs as “Boss, VT station”.)
So where can one find these acclaimed buildings? Solidly parked around Marine Drive and encircling the popular cricket ground Oval Maidan. A few of the most noteworthy ones with the Victorian-Gothic and art deco style are in South Bombay, and include the grandiose High Court, the RBI building, the fleet of hotels and residences with viewing galleries that line Marine Drive, and our personal favourites, single-screen cinemas that run full to date, such as Liberty Cinema and Aurora Talkies.
Let’s not forget the rest of Mumbai, which, too is sprinkled with concrete history, across Parsi-colonies Dadar, Parel and the South-Indian neighbourhoods in Matunga.
Long before the status upgrade, the residents of these spaces have been respecting, restoring and documenting this form of design and architecture. This can be seen through city-based projects such as the Art Deco Project, which calls itself a digital diary and visually showcases the buildings in the city. Other projects such as the Bombay Deco Lettering Series by Storycity aim to capture the unique typographical elements that can be seen in Mumbai’s art deco buildings and replicates it in an illustrated form—whether first seen in a distinctive ‘H’ seen perched atop an old building or a ’D’ spotted in a school’s logo.
The next time you're in Mumbai and feel like you’re losing focus, remember to look away from the sea and gaze up to the buildings—they’ll remind you to zoom into the details.
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