Thursday, 7 February 2008

Ballard Estate - 1

Let us start with a short history lesson.

In 1914, the Bombay Port Trust starts dredging the Alexandra Docks to make it wider and deeper to facilitate bigger vessels to berth and unload cargo. The exercise lasts for over four years and the excavated material is used to reclaim 22 acres of land. Enter a Scotsman, then 40 years of age, who is given the task of converting the reclaimed land into a business district. Imposing a uniformity of style and design through the use of classical European facades, he designs and builds a series of buildings that even today, have the ability to take your breath away.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Ballard Estate, even now, one of the most sought after business destinations in this bustling metropolis.

If you find the despairing geometry of Nariman Point and Cuffe Parade too much to bear, and cannot tolerate the sterile glass and chrome towers that have erupted like a rash all across the city, maybe you should head towards Ballard Estate, look around and stand still for a moment in remembrance of George Wittet, the architect responsible for its creation.

George Wittet incidentally, was no ordinary architect. He is today credited as one of the initial proponents of what is now called the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. Some of Wittet’s buildings are among the most well-known of Bombay’s landmarks – the Prince of Wales Museum, the Gateway of India, the Institute of Science and the General Post Office, to name a few.

To come back to Ballard Estate: Wittet laid out his buildings in loose but elegant rectangles at the same time making clever use of the natural topography of the landfill. The venerable Grand Hotel is an example of this elegant dove-tailing of architecture with its environment, an art which is rarely seen in practice these days.

Barely few years after the completion of Ballard Estate, Wittet passed away in 1926. He was only 48. History records his death as “due to acute dysentery”, a common malady of those times. Just imagine! If mankind had a cure for dysentery at the beginning of the 20th century, it is quite possible Bombay would have been richer by a few more buildings and monuments designed by this brilliant architect!

It is a sobering thought.


Velayudhan said...

we started going through the history. Still remember the day when i entered the Mahindra building, JN Heradia Marg. Another charactor Ramesh who identify inmates from visitors by their foot steps. The ass in the Ballard estate is my hero # 1 still. I am not very sure whether i am crossing Nandan's limit.

meena said...

It is indeed Bombay's loss; some more of those beautiful buildings would have added to the character of South Bombay. Ah well! Such is life!

sharif-badmaash said...

This is my first attempt at contributing to a blog, please excuse any errors or stupidity.

I had the pleasure of a leisurely walk around Ballard Estate and Fountain on a rainy Sunday of the previous monsoon. It was a truly breathtaking experience which ended with me, dripping wet, having a few 'rum-coke-soda' brews.

Speaking of "...sterile glass and chrome towers", I have reduced my visits to glass & chrome multiplexes to re-visit cinemas like 'Regal' & 'Liberty'. Brings to mind the past decades when I used to travel all the way to the city to watch English movies.

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.