Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai: A pride for Mumbaikars!

What stands as a metropolitan city now, has undergone various phases of infrastructural development since medieval times, notably with the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles.

Local Samosa
New Update

The dazzling city of dreams might entice people with its shining attractions, but Mumbai also holds the best heritage wrapped in various historical sites, landmarks, colonial-era buildings, and much more. On World Heritage Day, the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles captured our attention because, like many, even the locals are not well-informed about the treasure it is that covers the capital city of Maharashtra. 



When Mumbai implemented urban planning projects in the second half of the 19th century, it also led to the conversion of Bombay from a fortified trading outpost to India's first city. The initial expansion resulted in the construction of a group of Victorian Gothic public buildings and the creation of the Oval Maidan around the 1880s, which is currently easily accessible from both Churchgate and CST stations.

The 20th century witnessed the second expansion through the Backbay Reclamation Scheme, offering new opportunities for Bombay to expand westward with Art Deco residential, commercial, and entertainment buildings, along with the creation of the Marine Drive seafront. Today, Oval Maidan offers a glimpse of Victorian Gothic buildings on its eastern side and an ensemble of Art Deco buildings on its western side, showcasing the phases of modernization in Mumbai over time. Although many other modern constructions are visible from the site, a keen eye can always catch a glimpse of the past.

Alongside the visible infrastructural developments, both the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco ensembles bear testimony to significant exchanges of European and Indian human values over time. In fact, the Victorian public buildings were created with adaptations for the local climate, leading to the construction of balconies and verandas. This is why we see the best blend of Indo-Gothic style, where Gothic revival elements complement Indian elements.



The Art Deco buildings of Mumbai include iconic cinema halls that blend Indian designs with Art Deco imagery, creating unique styles known as Indo-Deco. Such designs are prevalent throughout the entire Indian subcontinent. Both ensembles depict architectural styles and the phases of advancements in construction materials, along with urban planning philosophies, which have contributed to the city's status as an internationally important space not only in the twentieth century but also to date.

Some of the Gothic structures include the Bombay High Court, Mumbai University, Old Secretariat, National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Elphinstone College, David Sassoon Library, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Museum), and the Western Railways (WR) Headquarters. Records mention that the famous Rajabai Clock Tower attached to the University was financed by Premchand Roychand, who lost all his money in the post-cotton crash of 1865.

On the other hand, the entire stretch of Marine Drive, the Cricket Club of India, and well-known cinemas like Eros, Regal, and Liberty fall into the category of Art Deco. Bungalows and houses in central and northern Mumbai still exhibit this architectural style.

Remaining authentic



The Victorian Gothic and Art Deco buildings still meet the criteria for authenticity in terms of architectural form, decorative motifs, design, scale, and material. The Oval Maidan retains its authenticity as an urban open space, while Marine Drive maintains its status as a sea-facing Art Deco development in the city. Despite modifications over time, the buildings' living nature, forms, and designs are generally authentic.

Speaking of history, the Art Deco style originated in Europe and gained popularity at the 1925 exhibition in Paris, known as the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts), later referred to as Art Deco from 1960 onwards. This architectural style emerged in Bombay at a time when various factors, such as population expansion, the growing aspirations of the middle class, increased education levels, and international exposure, contributed to the rise of modernism.

The spectacular ensembles of buildings, totaling 66.34, represent two very different and contrasting styles of architecture, standing in a unique juxtaposition. While the Victorian style was inspired by British architects and engineers, the Art Deco ensemble was created by European artists, British planners, and American and Indian architects and engineers. Many Indian architects, including Gajanan Baburao Mhatre, Merwanji Bana, Sohrabji Bhedwar, and architectural firms like Master, Sathe, and Bhuta, collaborated to shape these neighborhoods.

Another contrasting aspect was that Indians did not feel a sense of ownership of the Victorian buildings, despite much of the funding and physical construction being done by Indians. However, Art Deco buildings were funded, constructed, designed, and inhabited by Indians, giving them a sense of ownership.

It is a source of pride for Indians living in Mumbai that the Victorian buildings and Art Deco Ensembles were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2018.

With inputs from UNESCO, The Wire, ArtDecor Mumbai and The Indian Express.


Victorian Gothic Art Deco Ensemles Mumbai Heritage sites