The Family had to make a quick trip to work to pick up something that was only preserved on paper. On the way she took the photos of Mumbai slowly getting back to work which you see in the slideshow here. The reported number of deaths in the city due to COVID-19 has held steady at between 50 and 70 a day for the last six weeks. So people are reluctant to move out of home. The roads are as empty as movies of the 1960s used to show. The main visible difference between then and now is that almost every person on the road is masked.
I have a fantasy vision of the world in 2120. The world’s population will have begun to fall. Even so, there will be more people than today. Drinkable water and tillable land will be harder to find than now. The coastal cities of the world will have drowned, and there will have been unstoppable mass migrations northwards. Most of humanity will have memories of war and loss in their lifetime. But a little before that would Mumbai look like this?
The elegant facade of Fairlawn is fairly well-maintained by the standards of the Backbay Art Deco district. There are buildings which are better maintained, and those which are much worse. But the thing that caught my eye last week was the totally inappropriate retouching of a second floor flat. As you can see in the featured photo, the windows and the balcony have been replaced by ones which clash with everything else.
All other details are wonderful Streamline Art Deco. As you can see in the photo of the balconies above, the clean lines are duplicated in the uniform unadorned rectangles on all the frontages on the road. The Art Deco banding at the bottom of the balconies is a lovely touch. The facade is a little plainer than the other buildings in this row. I couldn’t find who the architects were, but the building was clearly built in the mid to late 1930s, as the others.
I took a closer look at the windows. The plain rectangle was decorated with beautiful wrought iron grilles. The spiral pattern is repeated in other windows that I could see, and also in the ironwork grille atop the low boundary wall (see the photo below). The boundary walls along this row are an uniform height, but the individual buildings are distinguished by the different patterns of railings. What a wide variety of forms the Art Deco style allows!
A stairwell runs up from the central lobby. The semi-circular portico at the entrance to the lobby is also repeated in several of the buildings along this row. Behind it I found that the lobby is more plain than in some of Fairlawn’s neighbours: no stone or coloured cement. The grille atop the entrance has a different pattern than the railings, which made me think that it may have been installed later.
As you can see in the photo above, the change in the balcony in the first floor flat jars with the understated elegance of the building. The dark wood certainly is not in harmony with the white painted wood of the remaining flats, and the rest of the buildings along the row. I guess there is no effective way of ensuring a stylistic unity against the wishes of individual owners.
The elegantly curved first-floor balcony with an eye-catching stucco decoration on it (see the featured photo) always catches my eye when I’m hurrying past the Oval Maidan. I stopped to take photographs a week ago. This is the Court View house, appropriately named since it faces the Gothic-revival facade of the High Court across the open space.
The Art Deco style is clear not only from the elegant shape of the balcony, but also the styling of the facade. The wonderful verticals enclosing the central stairwell are typical of the style as practiced by the three firms which collaborated on this building: Gajanan Mhatre, Maneckji Dalal and Merwanji, Bana and Co. The building probably dates from the mid to late 1930s, when this space was reclaimed from the sea.
The curves of the balconies are repeated in the ironwork of the gate (photo above) and the railing around (photo below) the property. The boundary wall was less interesting than in some of the neighbouring buildings. As you can see from the photos here, the wall and the gate posts are plain, rectangular and unornamented. Since they do not agree with the colour scheme of the building, I wonder whether they were reconstructed later.
The entrance and the lobby are much more spectacular than the facade. The intricate geometric design around the door is typically Style Moderne. Stone and “colourcrete” are mixed in this. Coloured cement was very much a “modern” element of that time, and the architects used it liberally in this building. You see only a little bit of it near the dozing guard in the lobby.
I didn’t walk into the building, so I didn’t get a first-hand view of the stairwell. An article in Livemint contains a wonderful photo down the stairwell. The architects seem to have gone bonkers with their coloured cement inside, in a very pleasant way.
After watching a little club cricket in India’s cricketing nursery of Oval Maidan, I crossed the road to take photos of the wonderful wrought iron railings that I’d noticed for years. Next to an elegant design in right angles set off by one wavy line, I spotted this young man lost in his phone. The right angles of his posture mirrored the railing. He didn’t notice me standing near him and taking photos. A passerby stopped to exchange a smile with me.