New York, Dharavi and Art Deco

I find this article fascinating and depressing at the same time. One more Dharavi slum redevelopment scheme is in planning stages. And to top it off, its gonna be designed on Art Deco styles. Whoever makes such decisions ??

Mukesh Mehta, the head honcho in charge and the person quoted in the article wants to revive the history of the city. What makes him decide that Art Deco is the one thing that’s worth reviving ?? Why not build everything like the Bassien Fort, or Chimbai Village ?? OK, enough of sarcasm on my part. You get the point.

It’s crazy to just imitate a period of history in architecture because it was successful at that time.

It brings back the point I make last week about how we are slowly and steadily lagging architecturally.

Read the article ahead and make up your mind.

How New York could see its reflections in Dharavi

Art Deco will be the architectural style of the rehabilitation buildings when the Rs 10,000-cr makeover of Asia’s largest slum takes off

Style statements couldn’t be further apart than the Empire State Building, New York, and Dharavi, Mumbai. Yet, they could soon speak the same visual language–Art Deco, the style fashionable in the 1930s and 1940s and which gives Mumbai’s Queen’s Necklace its elite apartment buildings.

And, while many officers of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority–it is undertaking the Rs 10,000-crore Dharavi Redevelopment Project–might not fully appreciate the nuances of Art Deco or its evolution, the government body’s Expression of Interest documents that are to be released very soon anyway mention it as the design form developers are to adhere to. While the buildings comprising the free sale component can define their own style, all the slum rehabilitation buildings are to follow Art Deco’s horizontal lines, geometric patterns and streamlined appearance.

”For one, we wanted one language binding the suburb,” says Mukesh Mehta, project management consultant for the project. ”And it’s an attempt at reviving the history of the city.”

After all, Mumbai has some of the finest examples of Art Deco buildings–all of Marine Drive, Regal Cinema, just-restored Metro Cinema, now multiplex Metro Adlabs, and several sea-facing buildings along upmarket Warden Road.

Mehta says the SRA wanted to steer clear of the general ”bastardisation of architecture” and the vulgarity of most slum rehabilitation buildings. ”And the masters have accepted Art Deco as a great style,” he says.

Explaining what the Art Deco style comprises, conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah says it refers to a period, inspired by the machine age of the 1930s, characterised by a lot of work on the corners, use of modern concrete technology and borrowing some elements from Egyptian culture, since Tutankhamen’s tomb had just been discovered in that period, alongside several successful Egyptian archaeological excavations.

While the Miami style of Art Deco is mostly defined by horizontal lines, the New York style is vertical, with steps like in the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre or Mumbai’s Metro Adlabs.

”But I’d say if somebody loved Art Deco, maybe they should help revive the fantastic, original Art Deco examples we have in Mumbai, rather than create a pseudo Art Deco,” Lambah says. ”New buildings have a new context and I’m not so sure about replicating a style from another period.”

Kavitha Iyer, Indian Express



  1. Remodeling Dharavi the American way!

    Dharavi is not “outside” Mumbai. It is in the heart of it, just across the Bandra- Karla Complex (BKC-a fast developing commercial center that has left behind Nariman Point, the current down town of Mumbai) close to the Mumbai domestic and International airports.

    Dharavi is not a “shantytown”, it is a unique vibrant, thriving cottage industry complex, the only one of its kind in the world where all the raw materials produced and processes (lining cloth, sewing needles & thread,colours & dyes, pigments, skining, tanning, cutting & tailoring) of the final product (leather bags,fancy lady’s purses) are carried out at the same location and the value added is very high! Families have been engaged in this industry for generations. The very nature of the process of making fine leather goods requires large tracts of open land for the activity. This is infact the kind of self sufficient,self sustaining ‘village’ community that the Father of the Nation -Mahatma Gandhi- dreamt of and wrote about in his books on the path India should take for its development. Those claiming to be the heirs to his philosophy should seriously reconsider the Proposal by Mukesh Mehta.

    Mukesh Mehta is NOT an Indian Architect and Developer. He is an American businessman cashing in on the false and adverse publicity given to Dharavi as a ‘slum’ by western media; by proposing to raze the existing home-cum workplaces of the poor artisans and cramming them in 225 sq. ft cubbyhole high rise 20 storey buildings to get the land so vacated for commercial exploitation by painting colourful computer generated pictures of beautiful building towers set amidst greenary and playfields!

    Let us look at the numbers. The entire land of 535 acres will be available free to the developer. Normally, in the suburbs of Mumbai, Floor Space Index (FSI) permissible is 1.00. However, this being treated as a Slum Redevelopment Scheme, the FSI permissible would be 4.5 (Development Control Regulations-DCR- for Mumbai,1991). It means that, in this land of 535 acres, after deducting statutory open space of 15%, total floor area that could be built will be 4.5 times the balance land (aprox.455 acres) ie. 2047.50 acres ! For rehousing 100,000 families in 225 sq.ft. Carpet area (aprox. 330 sq.ft.built up area) apartments, total floor area required would be around 757.50 acres. This would leave a balance of 1290 acres for ‘free sale’ by the Developer!

    Construction of 100,000 apartments for the existing residents at a carpet area of 225 sq.ft. each will not cost more than Rs.250,000 per apartment (based on cost of resettlement in the World Bank aided MUTP II project recently completed).The total cost of rehousing will therefore be Rs. 2500 million or US $ 56.8 million (current exchange rate of IRs.44=1US $).

    Total land (inclusive of roads, open spaces & amenities) required for such 100,000 apartments in 20 storey buildings at the standards permitted by the Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA) will be about 126.50 acres leaving the balance of 408.50 acres to be used by the Developer for construction of “Free Sale” apartments. At the current price (based on recent sale of land by Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority-MMRDA) of around Rs.28000 per sq. mt. of FSI (Floor Space Index) the FSI available for sale on the balance land (1290 acres) would fetch approx.Rs.14448 million, or US $ 328.36 m. Deducting the cost of 100,000 flats (US $ 56.80m.) there would be a clear profit of Rs. 11948 million or US $ 271.56 m., a return of 478% on the investment!!

    What is ‘unique’ about this plan is its machiavellien attempt to deprive over 100,000 families of their traditional livelyhood and home-cum work places so that the land so conveniently located across the BKC can ‘host’ commercial urban development that can ride piggy back on the infrastructure already created in BKC at the cost of the public exchequer and benefit the developers.

    When, in the name of redevelopment, a businessman is getting ready to “Raze” Dharavi where the residents have lived for over 50 years; where are the American “Brains” of the Bill Clinton promoted Foundation who recently held a conference in USA to vociferously propagate tenure rights to the slum dwellers of the third world for the land they occupy so that they can register their ownership documents, get access to institutional finance, redevelop their area to increase the wealth of the city?

    Would it not be simpler and just, to give land tenure to the existing residents of Dharavi so that they themselves can redevelop the area and upgrade its physical environment through self help efforts by registering ownership to their piece of land and availing institutional finance? YES, but then how can the developers reap a rich harvest of millions of dollars for their personal benefit?

    The so called redevelopment of Dharavi therefore, is the biggest and cruelest perfidy perpetrated on the poor of Mumbai in the name of improving the urban infrastructure and converting Mumbai into Shanghai or whichever city is fancied as a “Model” at the time of such fraud!

    Prakash M Apte.

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