Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
The Remaking of Mumbai

1 - 11 February 2009, Mumbai

Skyline Mumbai

View west out over city to Arabian Sea at sunset
    Click here to see photos of the Mumbai Tour.

Click here to view this article as a PDF.

With the financial and logistical support of CTBUH organizational member The Remaking of Mumbai Federation (RoMF), ten advanced architectural students from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and Professor / CTBUH Executive Director Antony Wood set out from the white winter background of Chicago at the end of January, ready to engage in the very real complex urban issues of the C-ward district of Mumbai. Twenty-four hours later, after a brief stopover in London, the group arrived in the heat, color and chaos that is Mumbai. There could hardly have been a larger ‘big city’ urban contrast than with wintertime Chicago…

It all began perhaps eighteen months previously, when a private / community-based organization in Mumbai – RoMF – who, desiring to improve the urban standards of Mumbai and considering tall buildings as a part of that equation – had approached the Council with a view to information-share, collaboration and membership. Several meetings later – including participation in our Shanghai 2007 and Dubai 2008 conferences – RoMF had suggested we utilize our position straddling the spheres of both industry and academia at CTBUH-IIT by holding an advanced architectural studio for IIT students based on the real project in Mumbai, which RoMF would support. Given the events of November 2008 and the terrible terrorist attacks in the city, it was not clear whether we’d be able to continue with the trip, despite the numerous months in the planning, but we made the final decision to proceed with just two weeks to go. It was clearly the right decision to take...

Gateway To India       C Ward
Gateway to India   View down on C-ward district

For those that have never experienced the west coast business and cultural capital of India, Mumbai is a simply staggering city of contrasts for the average westerner (let alone the average 21-year old architecture student hardly travelled beyond the US!). For me personally, having lived and worked in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, I had a fair amount of prior Asian experience to draw on, but I can honestly say that I have never quite experienced a city so much ‘on the edge’ as Mumbai. On the one hand there is an energy and a vitality about the city unmatched in most western cities (we arrived at 6am on a Sunday morning and were amazed at the life on the streets; people walking or jogging up and down Marina Drive promenade beside the Arabian Sea; fields awash with kids playing cricket). But on the other hand it seems that the Governance system has absolved itself of all responsibility to provide a decent level of infrastructure for the city’s inhabitants to keep pace with the astronomical urban population growth (estimated currently at 16 million people and rising rapidly – 55% of whom live in slums or very poor housing conditions). The lack of infrastructure was apparent everywhere – in the gridlocked traffic, the people homeless on the streets, the ever-present garbage. I couldn’t understand why strategic decisions on implementing, for example, a mass-transit system hadn’t been made as they had in cities with similar climates, developing populations and ex-colonial histories. Hong Kong or Singapore sprung to mind historically, or more recently Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. This was especially illogical given that, as numerous people mentioned to me during our time there, Mumbai is not necessarily a poor city...

Hindu Sculpture   Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat
Sculpture, Mumbadevi Hindu Temple, C-Ward    Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat Urban Wash-house

Perhaps the experience we had which best portrays the strain on current infrastructure during our 10 days in the city is the morning we boarded a commuter train (off-peak) to visit Bandra in the north of the city. The journey started pleasantly enough at Churchgate Station in the heart of South Mumbai. The train was lightly populated and we enjoyed standing beside the open doors watching Mumbai slip past. The train started to fill up at each station however until it was so crowded that it seemed impossible to get any more people on. In reality, however, that was about at 50% capacity and people continued to pile on, making it virtually impossible to either get off or on. Each station stop was an epic battle where mob rule prevailed – tens of peoples pushing one way or the other, exacerbated by the fact that the train can only stop for 17 seconds, irrespective of who gets on or off (the 17 second rule comes about because there is a train every 3 minutes on that route, to cope with the sheer numbers of people commuting, so the train cannot afford to stop any longer). When it came to our stop and we were stood sardined in at the other side, desperately clinging to cameras and bags, it seemed impossible we could get off, and only managed it with one almighty push – basically trampling over everybody on the train and all those trying to get on, as students bags and cameras and sunglasses went flying everywhere!

That one train journey kind of sums up the urban situation in Mumbai – it seems you can only function properly if you’re prepared to trample over everyone else! The journey itself – as a novelty – was a great experience and actually quite fun, but I couldn’t help but see the alarming implications of it all. Only the able-bodied could dare travel a journey such as that. How about the old, the sick, the mother with children (incidentally, women travel in a separate carriage so they can get squashed against each other without risk to modesty!)? The problem with the rail system is similar across the whole infrastructure: (1) it was created perhaps a century ago, (2) it has had very little update or investment in it to improve since then, (3) as the population has grown exponentially it has come under strain, (4) there are no/few transport alternatives, except the car (which has its own problems – gridlock), (5) in a city of massive disparities in income levels, the majority can only afford to travel by train, and so on. It is a self-perpetuating problem which is getting worse but, amazingly, the government seems unable (or unwilling) to do anything about it. A few days after the train experience I read in the newspaper that one day a 9.10am commuter train was cancelled, which led to a riot and 40 people being arrested. That, perhaps more than anything, shows the scale of the problem – the train system can barely cope when it functions normally. When something goes wrong, however, whole urban-social structures collapse. In many respects Mumbai is a city way beyond capacity – a city really on the edge.

 Inauguration Ceremony        Inauguration Ceremony (from left to right):

Prof Akhtar Chauhan (Principal Rizvi College);
The Honourable Shri. Vinod Ghedia (Deputy Mayor, Mumbai);
Prof. Antony Wood (CTBUH / IIT);
Dr. Vijay Khole (Vice Chancellor, University of Mumbai): Mr. Lalit Gandhi (Chairman, Remaking of Mumbai Federation);
Prof. Rajiv Mishra (Principal, JJ College);
Mr Mayank Gandhi (Remaking of Mumbai Federation)


These are the issues that the Remaking of Mumbai Federation have taken to heart in their desire to develop the C-ward district of Mumbai. Their plan is to use the C-ward development as a model to rebuild the city as a whole, utilizing a cluster based approach and a radically improved infrastructure. In many respects the C-ward is both a microcosm and an intensification of the issues facing the city as a whole. In an incredibly dense, historic urban grain – mostly 5-6 storey buildings separated by narrow streets – the conflict between car vs. pedestrian, individual vs. community, and personal ambition vs. government support, was evident everywhere. The needs of the C-ward are pressing indeed. 40-45 % of the existing buildings are dilapidated and deemed unsafe, and in the past two years there have been 7 deaths in the precinct from collapsing buildings and fire.

Having said this, our prior preparation for the trip did little to actually prepare us for the realities of the C-ward. Viewing of Slumdog Millionaire at the cinema a few days before departing Chicago had in particular clouded our vision of what to expect. We expected a slum, and all the connotations of a Mumbai slum that Millionaire so vividly portrays. Within the first few minutes of tramping the C-ward on our arrival however, it became very clear that our preconceptions were wrong. This was indeed not a slum at all, but a dense, proud, historic community of mostly middle-class working people, some of whom had lived in the area for many generations; people who have both pride and a certain amount of disposable income, but who can’t purchase a larger living space because of the dire shortage of housing in Mumbai all-round. People who can’t purchase a car because a parking spot on the dense crowded streets costs five times more than the car itself. People who can’t, or don’t want to reside out in the ever-increasing suburb because it is so difficult to commute in to their place or work.

Student Group
Student Group with Professor Wood in C-ward

Our objective in visiting Mumbai was to conduct a 10-day site study of a 30-acre cluster of the C-ward district, in collaboration with RoMF and two local colleges; the Rizvi and JJ Schools of Architecture. The site study was aimed at leading to both an understanding of the site and an attitude towards its development, with a view to developing tall building design proposals back in the IIT studios in Chicago. The study began with a formal inauguration event at JJ College, attended amongst other dignitaries by the Honourable Deputy Mayor of Mumbai, Mr. Vinod Ghedia and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mumbai, Dr. Vijay Khole. Following this formal inauguration, the students from IIT, JJ and Rizvi formed groups and the intensive site studies began…

It was a pleasure to watch the developing cultural exchange as the students worked together, as well as to be involved in the site and research studies that were taking place – studies into aspects of life in the C-ward such as arts, education and waste management, as well as a general understanding of architecture, culture and environment. It is expected that many of these studies will directly inform the design projects – and in particular the building agendas – to come. All the students felt incredibly privileged to be a part of the study, and to see such hospitality from the people of the C-ward and Mumbai generally; people who opened their homes, their businesses and their culture to us without a moment’s hesitation.

 Kanchanjunga Apts                         Nehru Center    Buckley Court
1974. Kanchanjunga Apartments Charles Correa
1977. Nehru Centre tower
I.M. Kadri
   1998. Buckley Court
Hafeez Contractor 

As well as studying the C-ward specifically, we took time for a wider education on Mumbai by presentations arranged by RoMF and the colleges, and specific building / cultural visits. During our time in the city we thus also took in the remnants of the spectacular Buddhist monastery at the Kanheri caves – with its sculptures and monastic residences carved from the rock face; the Mumbadevi Hindu temple which lent its name to the city (renamed from the British ‘Bombay’ in 1996); and the evocative Gateway to India monument with the grand Taj Mahal Palace Hotel standing sentinel nearby – the epicenter of the terrorist attacks that had flashed across international TV screens so vividly some 3 months previously. As well as this, myself and the students walked, walked, walked – taking in the markets and the roadside hawkers, the grand colonial buildings and the coastal fishing hamlets, the great and the good, the rich and the poor.

In tall building terms, the story is similar to many other developing Asian cities – buildings being mostly thrown up in haste with little regard to design, quality or appropriateness to location (culturally, physically, socially and climatically). This is what we are hoping to address through the design studio. By far the best tall building seemed to be Charles Correa’s Kanchanjunga Apartments, but the students seemed equally excited by the ‘skyscraper for a single [rich] family’ nearing topping out across the street. For me, I was interested to see a kind of historic tall building precedent for this ‘skyscraper for a single family’ model with several tall buildings dominated by huge balconies for the benefit of a few selected inhabitants (projects such as Buckley Court). Again, interesting those these projects are, and clichéd though this will sound, they seemed to emphasize the huge chasm between rich and poor.

Antilia Tower      CWard Abulance
2009. Antilia Tower
Perkins & Will   
  C-Ward community ambulance

The students presented the findings of their 10-day study back to RoMF and the JJ-Rizvi student-faculty community the day before we left. To be honest, several had completely missed the mark in suggesting what would be appropriate tall buildings responses for the site, but contained in all the studies were the grain of an understanding and direction on which to base the design projects to come. Those design projects will reach fruition in early May and, as usual, we will communicate the hopefully interesting findings to you via the CTBUH website, newsletter and a future edition of this Journal.

One other point to report back on the Mumbai experience before signing off. Such are the infrastructural challenges faced by Mumbai and other cities throughout the world that we believe this is more than deserved of our attention in the form of a conference to discuss and debate the issues. This is especially true in a place like Mumbai with an existing fabric which negates many of the broad-brush urban-environmental strategies that can be instigated in the development of new cities such as at Dongtan or Masdar. It is essential to get both the infrastructure and the tall buildings right and the conference will tackle these issues directly. With a working title of ‘Remaking Sustainable Cities in the Vertical Age’, the conference is set for February 2010; a date for your diaries then. As always, please watch this space for further details...

To learn more about the design studio click here.

Picture Gallery
Click an image below to enlarge. Photos courtesy of Antony Wood.

Project Introduction

Inauguration Ceremony
  Maynak Gandhi from ROMF   Prof Akhtar Chauhan from Rizvi College   Prof Rajiv Mishra from JJCollege   Sagree Sharma from Arup
  Mayank Gandhi (ROMF)   Prof. Akhtar Chauhan
(Rizvi College)
  Prof. Rajiv Mishra
(JJ College)
  Sagree Sharma (ARUP)
Students   Students   Interacting With Children   Becoming Local   Student Group
  Interacting with children   Becoming Local
  Student Group


View Down   Crowded Streets    Hindu Temple   Typical Building Lightwell   Ambulance
View Down
  Crowded Streets

   Hindu Temple
    Typical Building Lightwell   Ambulance

Marine Drive

Marine Drive   Art Deco Buildings   Chowpatty Beach
  Chowpatty Beach   Sunset
Marine Drive   Art Deco Buildings   Chowpatty Beach   Chowpatty Beach


Looking Northeast   Skylines2   Skylines3
  View out over Marine Drive at sunset   Student Group
  View out over Marine Drive at Sunset   Student

Tall Buildings

Kanchanjunga Apts
  Antilia Tower   Nehru Center   Jivesh Terraces   Buckley Court
Kanchanjunga Apartments   Antilia Tower
  Nehru Center
  Jivesh Terraces
  Buckley Court
Haj House
  Imperial Towers   Taj Mahal Palace Tower   Skyscraper   Skyscraper
Haj House
  Imperial Towers
  Taj Mahal Palace Tower   Vidhan Bhavan
  Planet Godrej

City Images

Gateway To India   Victoria Terminal   Oval Maiden   Fishing hamlet   Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat
Gateway to India
  Victoria Terminal
  Oval Maiden
  Fishing Hamlet
  Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat
Resting   Boat   Hindu Sculpture   Cargo   Garbage
Resting   Boat   Hindu sculpture   Cargo   Garbage

Mumbai Children

Mumbai Children   Mumbai Children   Mumbai Children   Mumbai Children   Mumbai Children
Children   Children   Children   Children   Children

Kanheri Caves

Entrance   Sculpture   Sanskrit   Meditation   Students Meditating
Entrance   Sculpture   Sanskrit   Meditation
  Students Meditating