After spending a few days in Dubai, the second half of our recent business trip took us to Mumbai in India. We have have an office there, which has been successfully delivering architectural consultancy, Pan India, for five years now. Leaving the dry heat of Dubai and everything looking rather beige (thanks to the sand), arriving in Mumbai was an immediate assault on the senses! It was monsoon season while we were there, but luckily the weather wasn’t too bad.
Mumbai is intense, in seemingly every possible way. It is perhaps the busiest place I have ever been to (and I spend a lot of time in London). The amount of activity in any one moment is a lot to take in. Your senses are overwhelmed; sights, smells, tastes and sounds. As we drove down roads, there were people, animals and vehicles all jostling to progress on their journeys. The blend of life is amazing; from the wealthy to the poor. It is fascinating to experience, but tiring also. The roads are interesting. I’ve been on some busy roads, Rome springs to mind as one place. But in Mumbai the roads are so busy, its pretty much standstill a lot of the time. What would be three lane carriageways here are typically five-six vehicles abreast, Lorry’s, Buses, Cars, Taxi’s, Tuk Tuk’s (lots of those!) and motorbikes all moving around with no real regard for lanes. Sounding your horn is mandatory and is done so to advise other drivers that you are coming – its noisy all the time! Getting to your destination is about being patient, calm and to some extent forceful. But impact seems to be a rarity?!
One evening we took a drive to south Mumbai, on the way we passed the “worlds most expensive house”. I was expecting to see immense landscaped grounds and a large stately looking mansion – perhaps a bit like Buckingham Palace. No, this is a tower, its actually a 27-storey house (which is the equivalent to 60-storeys with standard floor to floor heights). It was commissioned and is owned by Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries. Reliance are a bit like Virgin (they have many different businesses), including a major retail company which owns the franchise rights to many global brands in India. The house is called Antilia and it has a floor area of 400,000ft2, parking for 168 cars, Nine lifts, three helipads, an Ice room (where it snows), a health spa, a 50-seater theatre and much more! Its has over 500 staff to run the place. This, as with the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, is a statement of wealth. Architecturally, I have mixed views on it. It looks better in the flesh than this photo portrays.
While in south Mumbai we visited the Leopald Cafe, made famous for two reasons; the novel Shantaram includes many references to the cafe…
“Shantaram is a 2003 novel by Gregory David Roberts, in which a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escaped from Pentridge Prison flees to India where he lives for 10 years. The novel is commended by many for its vivid portrayal of tumultuous life in Bombay.”
The cafe is also where the devastating Mumbai terrorist attacks first started in 2008. From there the terrorists went on to 10 other public buildings, killing 168 people in total and injuring a further 308 (according the official reports). The cafe experienced open gunfire and grenades. There are still visible signs on the walls of the shooting. A sobering experience. Going back to the roads (which we seemed to spend a long time on), our journey back to Juhu beach was around 10-12 miles away. It took us two and a half hours to get back. Getting around Mumbai definitely takes patience.
Architecturally, Mumbai is very interesting. There is a eclectic blend of old and new buildings everywhere and limited evidence of a true vernacular from what I saw. The amount of building activity is impressive – in some parts there are tower cranes everywhere and some impressive contemporary structures being built. The fact that there are so many people in Mumbai (12.5m and the fourth most populated city in the world) means the demand on housing is significant. There are many Slum area’s in Mumbai (we didn’t get to see these properly). People also live on the streets. But high-rise apartments are the ‘norm’ and they pack them in very closely. This photo I took shows around 4-5m gaps between circa 15-storey blocks! Directly next to these blocks is a significant high quality all-glass office building being built – the juxtaposition of such diverse buildings is unlike anything I’ve seen before.
Since being back home (and suffering a severe dose of Flu, resulting in being hospitalised to check for any tropical infections!) my friends and family have asked; Did I enjoy it? Would I go back? “Yes” to both. My experience of Mumbai was sadly compromised by me being ill, but it is an amazing place to visit. I think two things stood out for me, which hopefully I’ve touched on in this blog. 1) Everything about the place is ‘intense’; people, movement, activity. This is fascinating, mesmerising and also tiring. 2) It has an amazing ‘diversity’; of people (again) and in its urban fabric. The spectrum of wealth is huge and it often sits together/ very close by.
We have a great team of people/ talent in Mumbai. It was great to spend some time in the office, to understand a bit more about Indian Business culture and, of course, to see Mumbai. Thank you especially to Brijesh, our Director who leads the Mumbai office, he was a great host.