Deco on the Oval Decoded

Come take a walk through Mumbai’s historical Oval Maidan. While the East of the Oval is flanked by buildings from the Victorian neo-gothic architecture of the 19th century like the Bombay High Court, The University of Mumbai, The Old Secretariat Building and Rajabai Clock Tower, right opposite this, on the West precinct, are eighteen 20th century Art Deco buildings- the largest cluster of art deco buildings after Miami.

Art Deco, or simply Deco, is a style of visual arts, architecture and design that first appeared in France just before World War I. It combined modernist styles with fine craftsmanship and rich materials and during its heyday, Art Deco represented luxury, glamour, exuberance, and faith in social and technological progress. Mumbai’s art deco heritage or “Bombay Deco”, originated as early as the 1920s, spanning across the ’30s and ’40s. The initial art deco developments took place majorly in South Mumbai, in areas such as Malabar Hill, Oval Maidan and Marine Drive, known to host relatively more affluent Indians at the time.

The house name are usually seen part of a larger ornamental schema on the buildings consistent with the Art Deco with recognizable symbols and design styles include tropical imagery, nautical design, architectural lettering, ziggurats and zigzags, references to Indian mythology and tradition, streamlining (inspired by aerodynamics of trains, airplanes), “eyebrows” (projecting edge over a structure’s portico to protect it from harsh sun), nautical design (Mumbai being a port city) and classical Egyptian elements (hieroglyphics and sphinxes depicted).

The visual characteristics of the nameplates like the choice of words and their typography are symbolic, depending on the semiotics underlining the meanings of the building’s names. These can represent everything from a patron’s aspirations, a declaration of its location, to an idea or belief beyond the local context of the building. Usually three types of materials were used for the lettering: wooden letters (cut out or arrayed on wooden frames), metal letters (cut out or wrought and placed on wooden bases or inset directly into the plaster) and letters made in the plaster itself. The choice of fonts was bold and chunky and varied in size from around five inches in height to more than a foot.

For the purpose of this photo project, fifteen of these eighteen buildings were picked and their unique nameplates along with two other key identifying features were documented and most of the above mentioned elements are depicted in the pictures that will follow.

The nameplate has been created by wood where the two ‘O’s interlink evoking an image of the various phases of the moon. One can also see streamlining and sharp angles in the facade which is a distinct deco style.
The nameplate is created as a self contained ‘logo’, where the font in metal is superimposed on a flaming sun motif. Hence the word and image together to form the ‘name-sign. One can also see the distinct deco style window grills in the other two images.
Ivorine is a Biblical name and also signifies a substance resembling ivory, pure, white. One can notice a sunburst like design underneath the canopy. The second image depicts a deco band that runs around the building. The third image highlights the angles and streamlining in the facade.
The nameplate is wooden with a grill depicting palm leaves above the nameplate. The grill in the next image is part of the compound wall and depicts the frozen fountain imagery.
The name Oval View is derived from the immediate location of the building overlooking the Oval Maidan and the nameplate is made in metal, flanked by stepped ziggurat motifs. One can see streamlining at the corner of the building and the balconies showcase prominent frozen fountain motif grills.
The name is of religious significance and the lettering is wooden. This being the corner building boasts of prominent streamlining and eyebrows above the windows. One can also note the geometric patterns of triangles all over the facade resembling Egyptian imagery.
Rajjab Mahal gets its name from its patron Dr. Rajjab Ali Patel and the nameplate is made of wooden letters mounted on metal. The building has prominent tropical imagery and sunbursts in its grills and stucco work in plaster. The colors indicate a nautical influence.
The name indicates the ruling dynasty of the Raj and the nameplate is in plaster relief. Being at the corner, the building has prominent streamlined balconies while the balconies on the sides are flanked by pillars with ziggurats at the ends and its grills depict the sun, clouds and waves in its design.
The name signifies the ruling Dynasty in Britain at that time and the nameplate is of wooden cut out letters on a base. The window depicts a deco grill and the compound wall is a characteristic deco feature.
The name Green Fields refers to the greens of the Oval Maidan and the nameplate is made of plaster. Here too, one finds the nameplate flanked with stepped ziggurat motifs. The balconies have a geometric zigzag design and the gate too has hints of a ziggurat pattern.
The name Swastik Court has religious significance and the nameplate is in metal. A set of three exquisitely carved reliefs of tropical birds in the Art Deco style are directly above the signage and both, the streamlined balcony and compound wall have grills with similar geometric patterns.
Motabhoy Mansion gets its name from its patron and the letters of the nameplate are in metal. The plaster design in the balconies are geometric while the grill on the compound walls showcase a frozen fountain imagery.
The name Fairlawn too describes the lawn of the Maidan and the nameplate is made of metal cutouts. One can see prominent streamlined balconies with bands running on the edges. These bands with the central vertical lines create a tripartite symmetry. The grill on the compound wall has a strong nautical influence.
The building is named so as it sits opposite the High Court and the nameplate is of metal cutouts. Also, the nameplate is the base for an elaborate frozen fountain motif in plaster. The design in the balconies depict waves and shells which is indicative of a strong nautical influence.
Eros is the Greek name for the god of Love and the building's nameplate has a metal base with a neon outline. The building presents itself in a series of stepped curved facades.


Note: Pictures with an asterisk (*) have not been taken by me and due credits for those images is given in the references section. These are older images and were used because of modifications to the building in recent time which took away from the aesthetics and the art deco style that was being showcased. For the current condition of the building, please follow the link to all the images in the references section.
Created By
Ishita Bhave

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