Art Deco: A Vote for Modernity
Art Deco is so much more than an architectural style. It was a movement that evolved in France and burst onto the Indian urban-scape in Bombay of the 1930s before it spread to a few other Indian cities.
This unique style reflected a post-war exuberance and a move towards modernism, away from the traditional. It was blatantly anti-imperial and emphatically modern. It reflected a desire among Indians to turn their backs on the British Empire.
– Art Deco takes its name from the 1925 Paris Exposition, where it first emerged. It was called the ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes’
What are Art Deco’s signature features?
Buildings designed in this architectural style are identified by streamlined, geometric designs on the structures as well as the grilles; ziggurats and zigzag lines; horizontal and vertical lines called ‘banding’; chhajas or ‘eyebrows’ above windows; curved balconies, and nautical motifs such as portholes.
– Mumbai is said to have the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, after Miami.
Mumbai was India’s commercial capital even in colonial times. Art Deco symbolised wealth and sophistication, and the city in the 1930s saw the rise of a professional class, an affluent elite, and a glamourous movie industry. Many Indian princes too built lavish Art Deco homes in Mumbai.
This new upper crust wanted to embrace Western ideas and was hugely aspirational. Art Deco’s sleek and ornamental style epitomised all this. It connected Indians with a movement that was sweeping the West.
In Mumbai, architects created a style of Art Deco called ‘Bombay Deco’. It took classic Art Deco and blended it with themes and motifs from Indian stories, religious symbols, mythology and the city’s nautical heritage.
The most famous Art Deco buildings in Mumbai are the ones opposite the Oval Maidan and the fabulous sweep of Marine Drive, in South Mumbai.
Art Deco in India was not confined to large, public buildings. The style was used to design cinemas, restaurants, commercial buildings and even homes. It brought a ‘modern’ India right up to people’s doorsteps.
The Art Deco style was made possible due to the invention of reinforced cement concrete, which replaced stone and brick as building materials. RCC gave architects great flexibility in design.
Art Deco caught on very quickly and spread to other cities in India. It was easy to work with, it looked good and was modern. It was also fashionable, and who doesn’t want to follow a global trend?
Here are some Art Deco treasures in other cities in India.
Jodhpur: Sardar Samand Lake Palace – A Royal Hunting Lodge
Jaipur: Raj Mandir Cinema
Kolkata: Metro Cinema
Art Deco went out of vogue a long time ago as other architectural styles came to prominence. But it has a special place in India’s history as it helped India break the imperial mould and look to a new future.