When Dadar’s Our Lady of Salvation Church building, which dated back to 1914, was pulled down in the 1970s and replaced with a four-dome structure designed by Charles Correa, the parishioners got a church that could not be compared to any other in Mumbai.
The building did not resemble a conventional church: there were no spires and many worshippers found the high stone walls that surrounded the structure forbidding. In the confessional area, there was no screen to separate the priest and the penitent.
The design of the church also intrigued Father Felix D’Souza, the current head priest at the church, when he took up his posting there. “I was interested in the explanation of the design. I found that the domes have a very rich significance for worship,” said D’Souza.
The domes, it was explained, represented stages in Christ’s life – the baptism, public life and crucifixion. One dome covers the baptismal font; one towers over the sacristy — the place where the priest stores his vestments — and the central dome rises over the main congregational area.
Correa’s design allows the space under the domes to flow in one another, creating seating place for the congregation. The interiors can accommodate over a thousand people and another thousand can sit in the lawns and paved courtyard.
The only detail in the original plan that was not implemented was the air-conditioning. This makes the interiors of the RCC (reinforced cement concrete) structure quite oppressive during summer.
But Correa’s fluid design makes up for the uncomfortable heat. When the wide wooden doors under the domes are opened, the air from the lawns brings the smell of mown grass into the hall.
The interiors are filled with natural light filtered through the fibreglass skylights, one of which has art by MF Hussain. “The building is a substantial departure from parochial church designs,” said architect Pankaj Joshi, who heads the UDRI, founded by Correa.
When the new building — the fourth successive structure at the site — was inaugurated in 1977, the church, also called Portuguese Church, had 13,000 parishioners; the number is now 7,500.
Judith Monteiro, a PR professional who is a parishioner, said her father was excited when the new building was inaugurated. “It was a different church building. A lot of thought went into the design,” she said.
“We are trying to find ways to keep the church cool,” said a member of the church staff.