Those who follow me on my Instagram account already know that I’ve spent Easter 2014 in Mumbai, whichfor this post, i’ll be calling, Bombay, as the locales do!
The trip was notable because it was my first time ever in India, acting only as a plus one for Jim, who booked his tickets first in order to meet old friends from London who now live within Bombay’s city centre. I usually spend my Easter vacations at home in the Philippines, but since tickets to Bombay from Hong Kong are a sliver of a Philippine fare these days, I thought I’d save money and actually fly to India on Jet Airways for less than 2,000 HKD with tax.
Most Hong Kong people are scared of India, which is why tickets are so cheap…I believe.
India and specifically, Mumbai, has had a very long history which runs about three centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. The city, which was once a Portuguese and British Colonial trade outpost since around beginning at about 1500 to mid-1600’s, plays an important role today as India’s Economic, Cultural, and Entertainment centre. The port city is located right on the Arabian Sea, and its character as a waterfront destination is very much still active to this day. As of 2011, the population of the Bombay has reached to about 12.5 million inhabitants, and continues to attract migrants from all over the country to help contribute to its melting pot of different cultures which consists of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, and Sikhs.
For our three day Easter tour, we focused our itinerary mainly on two kinds of destinations; the first part being Heritage Sites (unavoidable since the whole city is well preserved) and the second part we tried to find Design and Lifestyle Destinations that are making a contribution towards Indian contemporary life now. This two part approach to planning Bombay is pretty much how I’ll split up both my blog posts on this wonderful city.
Here is a quick rundown of all the most important “Must Visit” Cultural Heritage Sites we checked out during our visit there.
+ HOTEL // The Taj Mahal Palace
We were originally going to do Bombay “backpack” style, but after seeing images of the The Taj Mahal Palace in both my Wallpaper* and New York Times 36 Hours guides, it wasn’t too hard for Jim to convince me to be a part of history and stay at India’s first five star hotel which turned out to be the only way to really experience the country for the first time. This seaside hotel is in the centre of India’s old historic city located in Colaba, at the tip of the Archipelago. Although it was partially destroyed due to the 2008 terrorist attack on the old palace wing (where we stayed), the hotel has been fully restored, and is once again its full-on fabulous self.
The building, commissioned by Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata, founder of the Tata Group, opened its doors to its first guests on the 16th of December in 1903. This year marks its 110th Anniversary, and the building is still undergoing restoration works to this very day… preserving its contemporary and modern art collection (which runs by the hundreds), as well as its original architectural finishes, materiality, and colours.
Even though we booked the Tower rooms (built in the 1970s) there was an opening and we were lucky enough to have been upgraded to the Palace rooms with butler service on the 6th floor overlooking all of Mumbai and the fabulous grand swimming pool (which used to be the front carriageway and central fountains.) We were given a behind-the-scenes guided tour of several of the palace suites, including the suite where John Lennon and Yoko Ono shacked up for 5 days without leaving, the Ravi Shankar suite where his daughter Norah Jones spent the night, and the Tata Suite… the hotel’s humongous Presidential suite (next to our bedroom) where President Obama stayed. All these suites had an amazing view of the Gateway Arch. If you stay here make sure to have a room that allows you to have an iconic breakfast experience at the historic Taj Mahal Palace Sea Lounge and keep an eye out for weekend Indian wedding performances in the central atrium dome, making an already festive stay… that much more theatric!
Additionally, you may watch out for a memorial outside the Tower lobby for the victims who died at the hands of the 2008 terrorist attacks. The “Tree of Life” sculpture that stands out there once stood in the same area where it was bombed. Thankfully… the tree sculpture was spared and now standing with the names of those who passed away.
It’s a fabulous hotel, with amazing service. I’d stay there again in a heartbeat!
STAY The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower . Apollo Blunder, Mumbai 400 001, Maharashtra, India . T: +92 22 6665 3366
+ MUSEUM // The Prince of Wales Museum ie. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
Built in the same Indo-Saracenic style of architecture as the Taj Mahal Palace, and in fact designed at the same time, The Prince of Wales Museum, opened as an actual museum only in 1922… but only after it was utilised first as Hospital in the First World War.
Today, the Museum, named Shivaji who founded the Maratha Empire, houses and displays a unique collection of Indian Archaeological and Natural History Archives. Art works collected by benefactors from the prestigious Tata Family are also on display, depicting mostly English pastoral art along sides Chinese and Japanese Porcelain and various religious artifacts.
The museum’s offerings is a mixed almost messy-yet-charming-bag. However the buildings and gardens surrounding this century old structure are so lush and wonderful, you’ll forget how things are supposed to be and just appreciate visiting a museum the way people have visited it all these years. Not much has changed with the way this museum is run. Nothing about it is “contemporary” or “new” in any respect, and we love it.
VISIT Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya . 159 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort, Mumbai 400023 . T: +91 022 2284448
+ MONUMENT // The Gateway Arch of India
Because it was right outside our hotel, The Gateway of India was our first tourist stop. And out of all the tourist destinations we’ve seen, its generally a horrific “trap” with tons of hustlers. That said if you can ignore them, it’s certainly beautiful piece of work… a basalt based structure that stands 26 meters high to commemorate the landing of the King George V and Queen Mary at the Apollo Bunder, the site, in 1911. Funny thing about the Gateway, it was originally built out of Papier Mache for quite a while. The finished Arch, also in the Indo-Saracenic Style, was fully completed in 1924.
The last British troops marched out ceremoniously through the arch after India received its Independence from British rule in 1948. Today you have to arrive here or leave here if taking the boat to our next stop… The Elephanta Island…
VISIT The Gateway Arch of India . Apollo Bunder, Shivaji Marg, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001, India . T: +91 22 2284 1877
+ TEMPLE // The Elephanta Caves
The day we visited, Good Friday, was also the day India celebrated its Archeological Heritage Day. A Good thing for us, the Elephanta Caves in the Elephanta Island located in Mumbai Harbour… was free! After gleefully saving about 150 rupees (2 USD), we went inside to check out all the amazing man-made caves at the top of the island, originally called Gharapuri. There are about six man made caves in total to visit, however the one to see is really the big Main Cave where at the end of the central Nave on the north-south axis, is the awesomely preserved sculpture of Shiva with three faces… about six meters in height. One of India’s most notably significant works of history, the three faced Trimurti Sadashiva piece represents destruction (male to the left), protection (centre), and creation (female to the right).
Thank God at least this piece is well preserved. The Portuguese, who used the site for firing practice around the 1600s, haphazard management by the city, and increasing amount of visitors, endangers what’s left of the sculptures here. The other caves have no sculptures, since they have been moved to the Prince of Wales and other museums for archiving.
What we did appreciate was that foreigners were the minority visitors. Most who were around here were Indians from other parts of the country. We also enjoyed seeing school children sketch out parts of the sculptures… it was nice to see. Expect an hours boat ride each way from the Gateway Arch. The crowd is very VERY local Indian, and you pretty much get into any boat which departs every 10 minutes. Depending on the crowd you get in the boat with you… it’s sure to be an adventure.
VISIT The Elephanta Caves . Gharapuri, Maharashtra 400094, India . T: +91 22 2204 4040
+ ARCHITECTURE // Ghandi’s Mani Bhavan and The Laburnum Mansions
If you want to see Bombay’s luxuriously historic houses… you’ll want to take a walk down Laburnum Road in the lush Gamdevi Precinct near Downtown. Mahatma Gandhi lived at the mansion called, Mani Bhavan on #19 Laburnum Road, from 1917 to 1934. The three-story mansion actually belonged to his patron, however this was Ghandi’s headquarters during a pivotal time in history when he coordinated and initiated the Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha, Swadesih, Khadi, and Khilafat movements.
The building was immediately turned into a memorial in 1955, 7 years after his assassination in 1948. If you go, you’ll basically see a full library of Ghandi’s books plus other books devoted to Ghand-ist principles of Peace, Non-Violence, and Human Equality. There’s a movie and more books on the 2nd floor, his bedroom on the third floor, with a full on diorama (actually helpful) of putting his life on multiple perspectives… and in scale.
However, as an architect, I find the house was nice and interesting to visit, as well as walking down the same street to check out similar luscious turn-of-the-century homes in various degrees of preservation. Overall its a nice quiet residential street, and very interesting for those looking closer into the life of a historical leader as well as a contextual representation of a specific time and place of which this street is a great example.
VISIT Mani Bhavan . 19 Laburnum Road, Gamdevi, Mumbai 400 007, India . T: +91 22 2380 5864
+ OTHER INTERESTING SITES in BOMBAY
We also briefly checked out other amazing sites like the Victoria Terminus (Chhatrapati Shvaji Terminus), a great piece of architecture and UNESCO World Heritage Site based on the St. Pancras Railway Station in London. We also saw the incredible Dhobi Ghat, washer’s area next to the main railway and new Bombay city centre. Around our hotel there’s so much Art-Deco structures, and a great example of it is the REGAL Cinema structure, which today still shows a series of Bollywood Films. The only temple in the city we visited was the Jain Temple on Ridge Road on Malabar Hill. It was opulent, yet boutique in scale.
But for all these other sites one, one really has to take a train, to do the laundry, to watch a movie, or to worship in order to really appreciate the essence of each place. They’re all nice to visit, but if you only have a day or two for a Heritage visit in Bombay, the Top 5 sites should do the trick for you.
Okay. Let me just put it out there and get the obvious criticisms i’ve been hearing on and on about about Zaha Hadid’s design for the new new PolyU Design Jockey Club Innovation Tower out the way. Ready? Here goes:
CRITIC: The Tower is out of context with the rest of the Hong Kong PolyU Campus in Hung Hom.
ME: This is a criticism that most new “avant-garde” iconic buildings get around the world in relation to their context. And really… the language of this urban brutalist dream that is the HK PolyU campus is a product of its time and does not reflect what design innovators are doing at this point in time. Any further investment in architecture should support new ways of form exploration and form making.
CRITIC: The Tower facade, defined by a series of white aluminium fins is too flimsy.
ME: Actually I think it’s quite okay. I get that the horizontal striations are generally in line with the rest of HK Poly U’s Horizontal red bricked striations.
CRITIC: The windows and the buildings are too difficult to clean and maintain. They need to erect bamboo scaffolding to clean each area.
ME: You got me on that one.
CRITIC: The floor layouts are too crazy.
ME: Actually the floor layouts are not bad. Each floor is a kind of place that is different from floor to floor. The corridors are as important as a place of gathering as are the classrooms. I would imagine design students could be more open to congregate within these playful spaces than traditional narrow corridors and boxy classrooms.
The vertical circulation without use of lifts is easy, using a main escalator from the Ground Floor Gallery to the First Floor, with subsequent floors connecting via a series of easy sloped staircases which are quite comfortable.
CRITIC: The paint job is a cheap white paint with no gloss or special finish. Design students can just easily scratch it.
ME: Agreed. I too am worried about the white paint used in the interior spaces, since it is a design school and different materials are always being lugged around by students.
Now that all those critical statements are out of the way and addressed, lets focus on the Good. Yesterday we had the pleasure of attending the ribbon cutting at the Innovation Tower’s official opening to the public with Zaha Hadid and company in tow. After seeing a series of speeches, all the guests were immediately invited to rush into the new building to what turned out to be an open house.
Here’s a few facts; the PolyU Design school was first established in 1964, which makes it 50 Year Old. In 2009 BusinessWeek rated its Master’s program as one of the World’s 30 Best Design Thinking Programmes. In 2013, PolyU Design became the only school in Asia to get in on Business Insider’s World’s Best 25 Design School list. While there is no Architecture Programme being housed here, they do teach Art / Education, Communication Design, Digital Media, Interior Design, Interactive Media, Product Design, Design Business, and Multimedia Entertainment Technology.
Construction work on the school began in 2009, shortly after Zaha Hadid was named Design Architect. Four years later, the building completed in August 2013. In total, it houses 15,000 square meters of net floor area, accommodating about 1,800 staff and students.
While true that the building has its faults (what building has none?) overall the impression that I get here is that a Zaha building was achievable in a conservative city full of red tape like Hong Kong, and by the looks of some of the finishes… seemingly with the constraints of the allocated budget, which, correct me if i’m wrong, was about 40 million usd.
BRAVA. TO. HER.
I mean, look at these spatial moments. It’s pure ArchiPron!
London based award winning Architect, Zaha Hadid, is everywhere in Hong Kong these days. For one, I’ll be attending the inauguration for her project for Hong Kong Poly U in two weeks, the Innovation Tower, Zaha’s first stand alone building in the city. Additionally, for those who have been shopping at Landmark Men’s Neil Barrett store in Central within the last two years, would get more than a hint that the shop is a Zaha-designed store. And priced at a whopping 1,500Euros online, sources say that Zaha’s United Nude shoe collaboration has been a hit in this city and mainland China as well.
Now taking our love for shoes and architecture to the next level, look what I spotted walking around the Hong Kong IFC Mall the other night… Hong Kong’s brand new Stuart Weitzman flagship, one of a handful in the world designed by Zaha Hadid. Hong Kong and the Milan stores are some of the first in operation. Other locations to follow include New York City, Rome, and possibly London and Beijing.
While the stores will conceptually be unique to each location, Hadid tells DEZEEN Blog that each “design is divided into invariant and adaptive elements to establish unique relationships within each worldwide location,” yet will all be conceptually and formally developed as if from the same family. This is to help establish the spatial direction as that uniquely of the Stuart Weitzman brand.
Enjoy my photos, and check out the shops (for architectural study of course. ahem.)
Other Photos Spotted Online: