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.