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Histories of city and mills, spun together

mumbai Updated: Jan 24, 2010 01:26 IST
Mini Pant Zachariah

The textile mill area, Dr Colin J.K. Cunningham said, has to be seen in the context of not just the mills, but also the chawls that house the mill workers.

His was the inaugural address, “The Import-Export Business: Architecture, Form and Function in the Buildings of the Textile Industry in Mumbai” during a two-day seminar called “Architecture as a Social History: Reflections on Bombay / Mumbai”, at the K R Cama Oriental Institute at Fort.

Cunningham said that initially, the entire textile mill architecture was imported to Mumbai from the UK, but half a century later, as the Indian textile industry grew, it evolved a character of its own.

He said what was fascinating about Mumbai’s mill architecture were the mill hands’ living quarters. “They were small but sophisticated dwelling places that retained the simple rural character — the mill hands came here from rural areas,” said Cunningham, former chairman of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain.

The seminar tracked the city’s history from ancient Buddhist times to the Portuguese and then British influence on the city and its architecture. Conservation architect Vikas Dilawari, in his talk, “Indo Saracenic in Mumbai”, showed how the architecture of three cities in India – Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai – had evolved differently. While Kolkata has predominantly classical architecture, Mumbai has an abundance of Gothic, and Chennai has the Indo-Saracenic style.

Aban Sethna, former professor at the JJ School of Architecture spoke on “The Bombay Fort and Esplanade: A Socio-Political Profile”, said that since the 19th century, the poor in this city have not benefited as much or as fast as the rich and the privileged, adding that only the composition of the elite has changed.

Academics Dr Rekha Ranade and Dr Mariam Dossal spoke of the vision of city planners like Sir Bartle Frere and Henry Conybeare who thought of “wide roads with 27-ft wide footpaths, to provide for road expansion”.

Sunday’s speakers will look at modern development in the city and its impact on the city’s social fabric.