The Shifting City
An ongoing exhibition highlights how the city of Mumbai is a place that marks one's arrival, of one's hopes of ' making it', and the geographies of ‘arrival’ which are established through a range of particular spatial narratives
Mumbai Curated by Kaiwan Mehta
Mumbai can seem like a fantasy no matter when you or your ancestors got here. Just look at the promotional material produced by developers of super-luxury super-tall skyscrapers across the city. They’re all visuals conjured up to trick some arrivals into thinking they’ve “arrived”. The billboards, brochures, 3D projections and ads show worlds untouched by reality. The apartment’s windows open to sailboatdotted seas, the race course, a verdant valley or an infinity pool on the podium. Nothing stands between you in the horizon, not even another skyscraper, never mind that the projects themselves spring out from the concrete jungle, right next to a slum, a railway track or a flyover.
The city of Mumbai is a place that marks your arrival — a destination in a continuum — hopes of ‘making it’ within the larger cycle of economic and social well-being. To have come to the city and begin living here, as part of its machinery of material and financial exchanges, one has the notion of having entered a world system of objects and spaces. There is a clear corporeal and urban production of this ARRIVED sense — shaping the idea of city-living, and geographies of experience and encounter. These geographies of ‘arrival’ are established through a range of particular spatial narratives: spaces and behaviours of utilisation and occupation, being and becoming; and architecture emerges as the key site of this action and arrival.
The Mumbai Pavilion includes new works specially developed for the exhibition by visual artist and designer Sameer Kulavoor, writer and journalist Rachel Lopez, and photographer and journalist Ritesh Uttamchandani. It incorporates existing works from artist Sudhir Patwardhan, and photographers Pallon Daruwala and Peter Bialobrzeski. The pavilion also showcases extracts from research projects and books ExtremeUrbanismIV:LookingatHyperDensity –Dongri,Mumbai (Harvard University) and StateofHousing:Aspirations,Imaginaries,and RealitiesinIndia (UDRI and AF).
The City of Arrivals: “Come to Bombay, come to Bombay; Bombay meri hai”
This old song describes Bombay as a place of invitation, but where the outsider soon owns the city, and becomes one that defines and shapes the city, and then the city is all yours, and you are the city! Gillian Tindall titled her classic biography of the city as CityofGold and another famous song on the city, rendered in the classic voice of Bappi Lahiri suggests how the city is full of Gold, even while there is no place to sleep for one other migrant coming to the city, playing on the word for ‘Gold’ and ‘sleep’ which in Hindi is ‘ sonaa’ for both.
Bombay and Mumbai, you arrive in, in distress maybe, but you surely arrive here in hope and for the promise it offers; you arrive in this city to become part of a ‘global arrival’. From the neo-Gothic architecture that lines the maidans in South Bombay to the high-rises of the 1990s that soar way above the city and view the city as a Google diagram only — architecture and urban spaces have conspicuously represented the arrival of global capital and the forming of an urbanity that is uniquely global in its imagery, but local in the way arriving populations bridge a temperament between native cultures and global representations. Bombay/Mumbai then is a city that is neither fully Indian, nor totally global, and is yet holding both grounds.
What is this ARRIVAL?
The city of Mumbai is a place that marks your arrival – a destination in a continuum – of ‘making it’ within the larger cycle of economic and social well-being; where to have been able to come to the city and begin living as a part of its machinery of architecture and financial exchanges one has the notion of having entered a world system of economics as well as lifestyle. There is a clear material and urban representation of this ARRIVED sense – where a kind of material integration — a sense of becoming part of global objects and spaces is crucial to this experience and awareness.
Mumbai, which is often accused of lacking in ‘good architecture’ or where architecture is ‘driven by commercial competition’ — is actually an interesting site of a particular architectural expression — a landscape of spaces and materials that capture this shifting ground of global capital and the accommodation of people that become a part of this system and experience. To map the development in the last 30 years — approximately since the 1990s— a series of geographical locations of the city, such as the Bandra Kurla Complex, or the GoregaonMalad Link Road stretch — one may interestingly be able to locate an urbanity of ‘arrival and announcement’ and an urbanity of a kind of economic fluidity. These areas, especially the latter mark a kind of residential geography, often of rental nature, but with a set of architectural and spatial elements that uniquely mark these zones of ‘arrived impermanence’.
These geographies are established through peculiar spatial narratives — spaces of consumption and occupation — which include from the architecture of corporate head offices, to malls, to call centers. The material and spatial arrangements create zones of suspension — outside time and geography, which allows one work-time in global cycles rather than local sense of day-night, but also casts an environment that is ‘outside location’ — and it is this very precise sense of the city outside-Time and outside-Locale that marks the ARRIVED (in the city) experience.
The above two are often coupled by a range of service networks — a mixture of faceless systems, such as home-delivery systems, as well as old-service systems but with a scattered work-force of people, permanent and impermanent in the city.
ARRIVAL to ARRIVED-IN
The larger project focusing on MakingHeimat/ MakingHome while ‘investigating the Urban, Architectural, and Social Conditions of Arrival Cities — looks at how cities become home to strangers, who come to cities in search of life, livelihood, safety, and hope… and in the process, alter the way the city and its inhabitants live. A city is constantly shaped by populations in flux, and the hopes and fears they deal with.
But Mumbai, which is also a city of arrivals, is today a city where people come to feel and become part of the global networks of economy as well as culture. People come to the city to become a part of its global imagination and project a self
The tide has turned. The city’s population has more than doubled since 1991. And in 2011, the suburbs grew faster than the island city for the first time in history. The business districts of Fort and Cuffe Parade; the trading centres of Kalbadevi and Pydhonie; posh Malabar Hill, Peddar Road and Walkeshwar; and the working class areas of Byculla, Agripada, Worli and Mahalaxmi, all had fewer residents. Where’s everyone going? North, it seems. The suburbs grew eight per cent in 2011. Goregaon, Malad, Dahisar, Kurla, Deonar and Thane saw the most new entrants. New commercial hubs, townships, the resettled working class, even new slums are in the suburbs. We now have just over 20 million people. By 2030, we’ll have 28 million.
At what point does Mumbai end? What happens when people outside the borders start coming in, or when people within the limits start to venture out? Or when the edges themselves start to stretch? In Vikhroli, the lines are drawn between old and new inhabitants of Godrej towers. Long-time residents want mangroves; upstarts want onsite supermarkets. In faraway Kasara, there are weekend villas with pools, golf courses, and two-car parking. Old residents, meanwhile, have water cuts, power cuts and no buses. Naturally, there’s friction. And in redeveloped buildings, old habits and old ideas of community are tested. Can connectivity to the big city alone make a distant neighbour feel like a Mumbaikar? How many generations does it take to turn ‘Them and Us’ into ‘This Is It’?
Set of 4 images in sizes: 1 of 86.6” X 57.5”,
3 of 43.3” X 28.7”
As the building goes higher, it refuses to interact with the ground, the street, and so the public. Human interaction is contained within the unit- home — the apartment— which now folds up within its own self. Sprawling balconies or terraces in high- rise buildings look out and connect with the stars and the skies but forget the city they emerge from. The city is only a view-scape — a stereoscopic entity rendered as picture. Not the skyline one once saw out of low- rise buildings or across open spaces, but it is now the aerial view of the city. The aerial view distances the city; it creates an object to be viewed from distance. The city is crawling, it is brightly lit, it is an apparent geometry of built and un- built spaces and objects, a map you until now saw only on paper — the city is up for
‘ viewing only’ — it is the ‘object’ of beauty and disgust. It is there only as a view, not a terrain you walk and breathe, negotiate and live through. The city is distanced as much as the home encloses within itself. The window now is only an opening, not an umbilical extension into the city. The photographs by Pallon Daruwala heighten this sense of the aspirational high- rise, while making us encounter the realities of its construction — material and labour, grit and grind.
into the future of finance, and the culture of a globalising community. So, Mumbai is no longer only the city of ARRIVALS but a city you enter to feel ARRIVED IN. What are the material, urban, and architectural, as well as spatial structures that produce the projection of a Global city where people have ARRIVED IN — is something the Mumbai pavilion will explore.
EXTREME URBANISM ExtremeUrbanismIV–Lookat HyperdensityinDongri,Mumbai (2017) Book edited by Rahul Mehrotra, Apoorva Shenvi, and Jessy Yang; Project by Graduate School of Design, Harvard University
The Bhendi Bazar Redevelopment project has been an interesting case in the contemporary history of Bombay and Mumbai — as a redevelopment project, as the potential and cautions regarding cluster redevelopment, as well as regarding community housing, social politics, and community aspirations. The history of many inner- city clusters through their contemporary struggles with decay and redevelopment, or transformations and aspirational redevelopments, points to the interesting continuum of past and present of the urban form and people and communities occupying these physical fabrics. The transforming landscapes indicate how the sense of arrival and arrived- in are in a constant tussle and jostle, impacting financial and materialas well as visual fabrics of the city and the life of its residents. The study by the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, in its detailed pedagogic approach produces the locality within a wider spectrum of historical and global issues, making the city a much more connected space than one defined by nativity or community; especially when communities temselves today travel and house in multiple global locations despite often frantically identifying with a native centre. RACHEL LOPEZ
New Gateways Within (2019)
A collection of 10 essays
Rachel Lopez is thinking aloud about the city — moreover the changing nature of the city — in this collection of ten essays. A journalist who is making sharp and perceptive notes about her city, the spaces she lives within, and often we are losing out on — has turned her eye now to capture that which is new, and demands comprehension, or rather escapes explanation to the naked eye. The changing geography of this city, navigated through digital connections, taxis (old and new), real estate hoardings, promises of greener pastures and starrier skies — is all captured in the essays by Lopez, trying to understand, one more time, afresh.... what are we all made up of in cities such as Mumbai? The city is described here beyond its stereotypes — and in many essays, the stereotypes that have been overused to describe Bombay/Mumbai/Bambai are now read with completely new experiences and cases; addressing ‘ the shifting city’. Via these narratives , she draws the new landscapes that have no Gothic buildings, nor art districts, or colonial histories to a reality of today: the today of shortened histories and instant pasts.
HOUSING CHRONOTOPES State of Housing — Aspirations, Imaginaries and Realities in India (2018)
Exhibition curated by Rahul Mehrotra, Ranjit Hoskote and Kaiwan Mehta; Project by Urban Design Research Institute and Architecture Foundation
This selection of 22 housing projects in the city and extended regions of Mumbai, stretching to Belapur and Lonavla ( from the 80 chronotopes in the StateofHousing project) indicate the landscape of dwelling and built-form in the city, that is constantly growing to fit in aspiation, and home those making the city their location of Arrived-in. Housing is a crucial aspect of urban growth and migration combined, and hence, we focus here on how the community as well as the market has approached the sense of need and aspiration, demand and imagination of people settling in the city with strong sense of being ‘at home and in the world’ simultaneously in the city. This selection of 22 projects cuts across a spectrum of rental housing to private- city development, community support to speculation and super- high- rises. It indicates how the urban and physical imagination of a city gets shaped and how hopes and rights are planted in the idea, and the notion of home, dwelling, safety, as well as an ‘address to be in’. RITESH UTTAMCHANDANI Mumbai Darshan (c. 2019)
Set of 117 nos in size 7 X 7”
Ritesh Uttamchandani uses the logic of a journalist and the art of a photographer to document the everyday city. He is as sharp as a good traveler and perceptive like a local. These combinations produce a collection of photographs that come together to render the everyday as lived, as constructed with objects, and buildings. His photographs capture the complex and tentative relationship between people and objects, people and places, and behaviour across the three. The material city is produced in its details, and people struggle to live— into a lifestyle, they build relationship with things and make marriages with objects — and Uttamchandani is sharp in capturing the changing material landscape of the city, and incorporated attitudes and habits of its residents and users. The city, in accommodating wealth and aspirations, produces a visible as well as subtle landscape of objects and materials — cell phones, hoardings, shopfronts and fumigators, cleaning systems and fitnes combined with religiosity, eating habits, and making space while decay and rot also demand a place. This landscape, which is not about dystopia, but a way of addressing the reality of utopia, is something this body of work brings to us with a critical finsse, and an observers delight!
SAMEER KULAVOOR Public Matters (2019)
Set of 44 nos in sizes 9.5 X 9.5”,
6 nos in sizes 5.5” X 5.5”
Cafe (2019); BLUES (2018); Series 2 - A (2017); Series 4 - B (2017)
Sameer Kulavoor has been a chronicler of crowds; he recognises within the behaviour of crowds the sense of space and a notion of that which is urban or togetherness of strangers. Strangers make an urban street but they are all part of a similar system — of work, life, and production in the city — the urban world of objects and spaces. In his more recent works, Kulavoor is more sharply addressing the ‘ lonesome city- dweller’, where dwelling within global networks makes you alter more local relationships, and where being crowded in a digital world demands you to be a physical loner. As spaces of living and being change, along with change in cultures of work and labour: the mall becomes the new public space, replacing the classical square or the street, while the cafe becomes the shared workspace. In Mumbai, there is a simultaneity of orders and spaces — the mall and the railway station, the cafe and the 9-to- 5 worker — creating new imaginations of the clusters of spaces and habitable infrastructures we all occupy, travel between, live within, and even work around. Kulavoor captures in his new drawings this sense of city, in the dwellers and their locations of dwelling.