Art Cities

Celebrating Bombay’s Art Deco: Rahul Mehrotra in Conversation

rahul_mehrotra Rahul Mehrotra, an architect, conservator and an urban planner has been at the forefront of his generation in several important conservation projects such as in the Mumbai Kala Ghoda area as well as the Chowmalla palace complex at Hyderabad amongst o thers. His practice conceives/conceptualises projects from urban housing, commercial spaces and unusual projects like elephant stables and mahout residences for the Rajasthan Government. Mehrotra also designs spaces for activist groups in rural and urban India. Recently in Chennai tolaunch “Bombay Deco” in collaboration with Sharada Diwedi, Mehrotra speaks on his works, conservation and his teaching practice at MIT in the US.

Can you tell me the different reactions you have had to your latest collaborative book “Bombay Deco”?

The most interesting reactions have been from people in the city who are in their 60s and 70s – the generation that grew up in this environment of the art deco buildings in Mumbai! They are not only nostalgic about what they see in the book but also very appreciative of the interpretations and historic perspective on what they took for granted as the landscape they grew up with. For others in the city, they seem to appreciate that fact that so much they don’t notice in their everyday comings and goings has been pointed out

Architecture Art Cities

Concrete Masterworks: New Delhi

Rrishi Raote / Business Standard / New Delhi 

Few speak of Delhi’s architectural heritage beyond what the sultans, badshahs and British built. Architect Rahul Khanna and photographer Manav Parhawk set out to challenge this paradigm, as Khanna tells Rrishi Raote. Many of the 47 masterpieces of Delhi’s modern architecture they describe in this slim handbook are institutional buildings and embassies, but there are also homes, places of worship, and memorials…

You write that Delhi has architecture but no architectural culture. What do you mean?
By that we mean that there is no platform to debate architecture, to understand or appreciate it. When all these magazines were covering 60 years of Independence, there was not a single mention of architecture. There is all this money in art now, which is why there are so many forums on Indian art, but architecture, despite it being the very surroundings of our lives, is ignored.

The work of a handful of architects appears several times each. Why is that?
Many architects seem to be more prolific than others. During the post-Independence building boom, architects close to Nehru, like Habib Rahman and Mansingh Rana, got many commissions. Later, Raj Rewal seemed to be getting many, also perhaps because he was close to government decision-makers and those who commission public buildings. I could be wrong, but thankfully they were great architects.

Art Cities

Shadowboxing: Shahid Datawala

Architecture of decline

Shahid Datawala’s photographs of spaces in Mumbai meant for human habitation don’t have any people in them because he says that amid the chaos and hubbub, there is a lot of loneliness in the metropolis.

In his show titled Shadowboxing, he is displaying the photographs—which feature tall buildings, concrete shells of unfinished structures and dilapidated interiors—in pairs to highlight, as he puts it, the disparity of Mumbai’s living spaces. This disparity comes in many forms: “You’ll have flats here going for Rs20-30 crore and a slum a few metres down,” says Datawala. “Or, you will have incomplete buildings (only partially built) which have been like this for 25 years in the middle of the most expensive real estate.” Some pairs capture this dichotomy very starkly, such as the two stairwells placed alongside—one is spic and span, with smooth surfaces and sharp lines that intersect cleanly at various angles; the other has so much peeling paint and rubble on the floor that its dilapidated state looks almost grotesque.

Datawala’s diptych. Shahid Datawala

Datawala’s diptych. Shahid Datawala

Most photos placed side by side, though, are not about simple contrasts, but are often slight variations on the same theme—there are two doors, one looking into a kitchen, the other with a curtain and a mailbox, both pictures of well-worn domesticity. There is no obvious pattern to the pairing. “I have put the old with new, the old with the abandoned, or the new with new,” says Datawala, who is also the chief designer for Pallate, a Mumbai furniture store. “I want to provoke the viewer to imagine and to think.”