THE MUMBAI COASTAL ROAD | The Architect’s Agency in Engaging With a Large-Scale Development Project in the City

Authored by Mrinalini Ghadiok, as a part of her academic study in May 2023, the essay discusses the Mumbai Coastal Road project and the role of architects in engaging with large-scale development projects in cities. She analyzes how architects can act as both professionals and citizens to influence projects through organized collectives while maintaining individual agency. She further examines different views on an architect's responsibility to society and how their identity and work in commercial vs. critical practice impacts their ability to effect change.

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If I tell people that I have had more than 3 meetings in a day, where I had to travel from point A to B to C, I am usually met with incredulous disbelief—this is an impossible feat to achieve in Mumbai. I was lucky that one visit, but it never happened again. On the contrary, recent trips have had extended itineraries accommodating more contingency than actual touch-points. Once in the city, drivers (Uber, local or private) refuse to commit to ETAs, and instead, offer a range that can vary from x to 3x. “We are at the mercy of the traffic,” I am told. With 1,00,000 cars1 added to the roads annually, vehicular speeds in parts of Mumbai have reached as low as 8kmph. The congestion is real. As one of the densest cities in the world with a consistently growing population, Mumbai is bursting at its seams—a large concentration of billionaires is offset by an exponentially larger slum. Somewhere in the middle, as the city’s workforce expands and claims its space on land, the island resorts to claiming more land from the sea.

THE MUMBAI COASTAL ROAD | The Architect's Agency in Engaging With a Large-Scale Development Project in the City 1
Mumbai Coastal Road Project (MCRP) alignment plan. Source: https://portal.mcgm.gov.in/irj/portal/anonymous/qlmaplytcs1

Mumbai’s history is founded on land reclamation—as the city grew, so did its territory—the British transforming seven small islands into one big landmass. The expansion has continued since and has been the bedrock (literally) for iconic infrastructure projects like the Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL). Opened in 2009, the primary objective of the sea bridge was to alleviate traffic on the main north-south arterial road between the western suburbs and the central business district, by providing a faster alternate route—albeit across open seas. Almost 15 years later, the need has risen again—more traffic is demanding more freeways, which is claiming more land from the seas. The ongoing Mumbai Coastal Road (MCR) project is not only the effect but also the cause of this phenomenon—the 29km long roadway is slated to connect the far northern suburbs to South Mumbai and run along the western coast of the city—this time not pinned into the water, but on solid ground that is extended into the water. While it aims to decongest traffic on the land, the project is building its own land to carry that traffic.  

A Joint Technical Committee was formed in 2011 to examine, evaluate and make recommendations for the proposed Coastal Road.2 In addition to allaying traffic terror, the report alleged additional factors in favour of the project—correction of the increasing air pollution owing to traffic, which is causing serious health issues, as well as the need to generate open green areas.3 Welcomed by many as “contribut[ing] greatly towards enhancing the quality of life in the city,” the MCR has also been strongly opposed, predominantly by the local fishing communities, environmentalists, and urban planners. Citizen engagement, surprisingly, has been feeble. Some media reports claim that opposition arose in the form of online petitions but did not hold much ground. On the other hand, local resistance is said to have been limited to the elite of South Mumbai, who rallied with activists to demand that the project be cancelled. However, a large-scale infrastructure project of this nature, that too in the Financial Capital of the country, is difficult to challenge and almost impossible to scrap entirely. There is too much at stake, not only for the state—but a project of this scale becomes one of national interest as well. Thus, resistance, to be considered seriously, needs solid grounding—in a large country like India, this is usually demonstrated by representation through significant numbers or significant people.  

The resident’s movement, though made up of prominent people, was unable to amass sufficient public pressure to create much of a dent in the process. Environmentalists’ theories were challenged with counter-reasoning. An outcry on behalf of the fishing community was temporarily successful in halting the work, but that too was soon resumed. Of all the objections raised against the MCR, the one to be acknowledged and entertained was initiated by a letter addressed to the top administrative brass, including the state Chief Minister (CM), by a cumulative group of architects, urban planners, designers, and principals or colleges of architecture.

Appendix1 MAC Letter to CM by ArchitectureLive

Appendix 1 – Letter from architects to CM. Source: Alan Abraham, Mumbai Architects Collective.

The letter, interestingly, was not an outright demonstration of dissent—instead, it acknowledged the noble intent of the authorities in addressing issues plaguing the city, and at the same time offered the services of the appellants to achieve more effective results: “For ourselves, as citizens and design professionals we see potential in providing our collective expertise to add greater value to MCGMs efforts towards this ambitious project.”4 Another critical point to note here is that the signatories identified themselves as citizens and design professionals—a telling sign that they consider themselves in a dual role pivoted on personal and professional functions running parallelly as well as simultaneously to affect change.  

This underscores the form and degree of agency afforded to the citizen-architect and professional-architect in engaging with large-scale development projects in the city. The architect’s identity emerges spontaneously from within the profession, and at the same time, from outside it.

It posits the individual as an independent entity, and simultaneously as a part of a larger collective. It also begs to question the dynamics between commissioned and critical5 projects. The act of caring and caring enough to act become pivotal in not only determining the role of the architect but also the manner in which they provoke and affect their environment. 

THE ARCHITECT’S IDENTITY

The position of the professional-architect and the citizen-architect.
Much has been written about how the architect is obliged to be informed about society to design for society. ‘Both Plato and Aristotle use the term “to architect” as a verb to describe a form of civic and intellectual leadership that applied great knowledge in practical ways for the common good,’ says Eleanor Jolliffe (2023) in her ironic claim that architects today are seemingly less vital than ever. Yet, Aristotle (Politics, 330 BCE)6, Jane Jacobs (Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961),7 Rem Koolhaas (Delirious New York, 1978),8 relied on and prescribed the architect to have a deep understanding of society as a subject so that they can provide services for the overall welfare and upliftment of the public.

In stating this, a distinction gets drawn between the architect and society, establishing one as the service provider and the other as a service-seeking client.

While this is true in the professional functioning of an architect, it cannot be denied that he is born into and stems from that very society, making him an intrinsic part of it. Some might argue that he is a product of society before he chooses to become a product of the architectural profession. Others may award more credibility to the choice of profession rather than the default of society. Whether he prioritizes his professional obligations over that of his citizenry, is a subjective matter and beyond the scope of this discussion, but the fact that these functions run simultaneously and can potentially influence each other is pertinent in determining the agency possessed by the professional-architect and citizen-architect.

For the sake of differentiating the two roles, let us refer to them as the architect and citizen respectively. I am an architect. I am also a citizen. While one title identifies what I do, the other tags where I belong—but these are not mutually exclusive. Architects and citizens both are opposing the MCR, but there is a stark difference in the agency afforded to either. We can assume that the citizen’s movement comprises predominantly residents that are directly affected by the project. There may be architects within the group, but their role here as citizen-residents overrides their professional standing. Their opposition to the project has been presented in absolute terms—highlighting the damage that it would cause, criticising its construction, and demanding to scrap the entire exercise. Comparing this revolt with the citizen mobilisation by the Aarey Conservation Group to save the Aarey forests of Mumbai, urban researcher Hussain Indorewala attributes the lack of success in the former to not accommodating negotiation, nor having clauses for reasonable discussion. Dayanand Stalin, an environmentalist from Vanashakti, an organisation that has been litigating against ecologically damaging infrastructure projects, further claims that “[T]he government is not going to be willing to cancel a project [like MCR] of this magnitude…Even the courts today see all infrastructure projects as issues of national importance, so going against an entire project is seen as an attempt to hold the country back.” Conservation architect, Pankaj Joshi ascribes the abysmal citizen turnout to the emotional disconnect on part of the people of Mumbai—the MCR caters to less than 1% of the population. Therefore, the citizen movement fails not only in producing significant numbers of people but also in resorting to fault-finding and categorical terms.  

On the other hand, the group of architectural professionals that sent the letter to the CM have seen a comparatively favourable outcome. Organising themselves under the Mumbai Architects Collective (MAC),9 they now straddle the dichotomous role—bracketed by their common professional expertise, thus representing the architect, and at the same time, sharing a common belonging, and therefore, representing the citizen.

Contrary to the people’s movement, MAC has acknowledged the need for the MCR, and instead of challenging the entirety of the project, has questioned essential aspects of it. Their predominant request has been a realignment of the road such that open public spaces are located on the seaward side and the freeway itself is positioned along the city-side edge. Stating benefits like the development of a publicly accessible world-class waterfront with expansive vistas to the horizon, a continuous cycle track that could connect the entire length of the city, and providing a flood barrier, they have pushed for these changes to “safeguard public interest.”10 Most importantly, they have demonstrated a willingness to extend their time and effort to ensure that the project is carried forth, in a manner that is in the best interest of the city and society. Their criticism of the project can be labelled as ‘fault-finding’ as well—however, MAC presents itself as a significant body made up of experts and focused on a productive process—their technical understanding and in-depth knowledge coupled with a solutions-driven approach opened up dialogues with the authorities instead. 

With the opportunity to have an audience with decision-makers, they were able to list and explain in detail, their recommendations for the MCR. Of the many, the authorities adopted the suggestion to connect the 6.7 km length of the promenade without breaks. Although not the most vital, MAC has appreciated this gesture and acknowledged it in their second letter sent to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

Appendix2 MACLetter BMC 221007 by ArchitectureLive

Appendix 2 – Letter from MAC to BMC. Source: Alan Abraham, Mumbai Architects Collective.

Although small, it is a victory, nonetheless. But, instead of rejoicing in this success, Alan Abraham, the architect who is leading the initiative on behalf of MAC, is disillusioned that no more measures will be taken. His disappointment is redolent of Kaminer’s idea of ‘récupération’, in which the state responds to critique by “satisfy[ing] demands raised by ‘respectable’ citizens with the desire to avoid change.”11 Here, the authorities seem to be entertaining the elite (the architects collective as the professional-elite) to maintain a status-quo by accepting ‘change without substantial change’.

Yet, the MAC relentlessly advocates for further amendments, negotiating wherever possible. They derive strength from individuals who are personally and/or professionally invested in the cause, relying not on the number of participants in the collective—which is currently approximately 120 architectural practices—but on the form and manner of participation.

While on one hand, this affords them greater agency in engagement, on the other, it raises questions about individual interests and incentives: Is the citizen-architect a keen participant in this demonstration because of personal effect?

Rahul Kadri, a senior architect and urbanist who lives in South Mumbai has been a frontrunner against the MCR. In an interview to Scroll in 2019, he said, “For me, personally, the coastal road would be great. But for the city, it will be a disaster.” Countering his personal interests with that of the city, he makes his priorities clear. Like him, other architects from South Mumbai have also joined the motion against the MCR. However, they have seen tremendous backlash from supporters of the project who have questioned the integrity and motives of these professionals. They interrogate the citizen for personal benefits (South Mumbai apartments that overlook the sea would no longer have clear views of the horizon), and grill the architect for being sceptical on account of not being included in the project. With every such encounter, the opponent’s agency is further diluted—but more determined as a citizen than an architect.  

THE ARCHITECT’S WORK.

Dynamics between commercial work and critical work.
The citizen acts on personal grounds, the architect conforms to professional obligations. Unlike the Hippocratic oath that formally compels a medical practitioner, the architect is ascribed to guidelines in a Code of Conduct. The Indian Council of Architecture (COA) asks for the architect to “ensure that his professional activities do not conflict with his general responsibility to contribute to the quality of the environment and future welfare of society.”12 Additionally, he should “maintain a high standard of integrity,” and work towards the “advancement of architecture” (as a profession and in education). The Architects Registration Board (ARB) in the UK directs architects to “advise your client how best to conserve and enhance the quality of the environment and its natural resources,” and expects them “to carry out your work with skill and care and in accordance with the terms of your engagement.”13 In both cases, the architect, is accountable to and responsible for his client as well as the greater good of society. Once again, there is an apparent distinction between the service provider (the architect) and service seeker—who can be distinguished as the commercial-client (the one who contracts and financially compensates the architect) and the society-client (for whose benefit the architect must work but does not gain commercial value from). What is unclear, though, is the hierarchy between the commercial-client and society-client—given the ambiguity in cases where one’s interests might conflict with the other, the architect’s prerogative is driven not by rules but by his interests. Aristotle, Jacobs and Koolhaas may expect him to work for the welfare of society, but his actions are a result of personal choice and ethics.

Why then, do members of MAC in Mumbai, or The Architectural League in New York, or London Practice Forum in the UK feel that they must engage with the city and intervene in matters that have considerable, and in many cases, adverse impacts on the urban fabric? What drives these professionals to challenge the authorities, but also expend their resources in working for the upliftment of the community?

Here we consider the role of the architect independent of the citizen. And here, we may draw a parallel between the architectural and medical practitioner again. While the latter understands his professional role in society as the custodian of the general well-being of its people, the architect assumes his position as one that builds an environment for the general well-being of the people. It may be argued that if all architects function under this common belief, then there would exist a singular common agenda towards which all architects would direct their work. But as in the medical profession, in architecture too, differences in interests and opinions generate differences in the manner and form of agency. This is evident in the case of the MCR—the Joint Technical Committee that submitted its report in favour of the project comprises not only experts in the fields of city administration, environment, oceanography, transport, and engineering but also lists some of the most prominent architects in Mumbai. Their signatures endorse the proposal and declare a determined position on the matter. Meanwhile, the members of MAC and signatories of the letter to the CM are also eminent architectural professionals but hold a different stance. Both sets of architects believe that their work promotes the betterment of the city and society, albeit from disparate perspectives. Curiously, in this case, Hafeez Contractor, founder of the eponymous architectural firm, defends the MCR in the report, while Nilabh Nagar, a Senior Associate who has been with the same firm for more than 30 years, is named in the letter. Nagar clarifies that his stand is personal and does not reflect that of the proprietorship firm (Architect Hafeez Contractor) that he is a part of. He also admits that he has no restrictions on causes that he supports merely because he is part of a larger practice—with the fair disclaimer that caution must be exercised to not put himself in direct undue conflict. In this light, he also elucidates that Contractor was the original proponent of the MCR in the late 1990s, and while he endorsed the report in 2011, he does not condone the current scheme and the way it has come to be implemented since. At the same time, he chooses not to publicly condemn it either.14

Looking at the visible evidence in the letters one would expect tension between such colleagues. However, contrary to that, there seems to be expressed freedom of choice and choosing. Even within the MAC— given that it was originally formed to fight the MCR, it has since extended itself to various other ideals. And in doing so, members are not compelled to back every objective but instead choose to advocate as well as nominate what drives them.

This highlights the role of an architect as an independent actant that draws agency from a collective and at the same time contributes to the strength of that group to uphold a shared agency.

It also underlines the potential for an architect to pursue socially charged work, which might be separated from the values of their commercial work and find support for that outside of his formalised professional enterprise. This illustrates the capacity of an architect’s agency as an individual, and his ability to leverage autonomous critical and commercial practices.

It is imperative to note that the understanding of ‘critical’ work, in this case, is antithetical to Charles Jencks’ academic reference. In his book, “The Language of Post-Modern Architecture” (1977), he describes ‘critical architectural practice’ as informed by theory and philosophy framed in academic discourse. Contrarily, when distinguishing between commercial and critical work here, the latter refers to the architect’s engagement with the social, political, and cultural milieus of the society, not through theoretical pursuance, but by work carried out through on-ground interventions for the overall benefit of the public. The architect provides his service to the society-client irrespective of and typically without any commercial value attached to it.  

These critical undertakings might not be financially rewarding but are rewarding, nonetheless. It could be in the form of fulfilment for having improved one’s own environment, gratification for having facilitated space and process for others, or even the benefit of popularity following increased visibility.

Abraham has received much press publicity for his actions on the MCR project, as well as validation as a responsible architect and citizen for using his position to mobilise the community and affect positive change. Sceptics would argue that profit mitigates purpose, however, a simple counter is that nobility does not have to be futile. In fact, greater gain can entice more professionals to shoulder greater responsibilities of critical practice and forge a stronger interface with the city and society.

The list of architects who engage with social and political ideas and use design to effect positive change outside or beside their commercial work is not short—from Alejandro Aravena’s social housing projects in South America to Lacaton & Vassal in France to B.V. Doshi in India and Atelier Bow-Wow in Japan are a few—and the thread that binds them together goes beyond their practice to the fringes of advocacy. Drawing on an intrinsic understanding of the anthropological and urban values that drive society and relying on deep-seated technical expertise, the architect not only delivers on society’s requirements but also becomes their representative. In the case of the MCR, MAC’s presentation of themselves as “citizens and design professionals,”15 works in favour of the resistance.

They use the citizen’s rhetoric to reinforce their activism—reflecting not only on behalf of the profession but also the sentiments of the citizen. They access agency by positing themselves on both sides.

From the resident’s perspective—while there is value in the architect’s professional knowledge system, there is also reluctance in granting exhaustive authority to the expert over the inexpert layperson. The resident, after all, is the end consumer of architecture, infrastructure and the city, and possesses a lived-knowledge16 that cannot be matched with the intuitive, intrinsic or imbibed knowledge of the architect. Here, the architect, who was the representative of the public, now takes on the role of a facilitator acting on their behalf. Seeing this through Foucault’s lens, wherein knowledge is power—in ceding his power, the expert also relinquishes knowledge. Logically then, the citizen, who possesses greater knowledge assumes power, and subsequently, greater agency. However, this equation does not add up in reality. The fishing community in Mumbai called the Kolis, have had a generational claim on the shores of the island as its original inhabitants. Their opposition to the MCR is based on severe threats to their livelihood and subsistence—a notion only they can confirm and condemn. Yet, besides strong support from activists and environmental groups, their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Their knowledge affords them academic power, but due to the paltry slice of the resistance pie they hold, their knowledge has failed to translate into effective agency.  

This begs the question of how one can be heard. And how agency can be reinforced? If the weight does not lie merely on what is being said, or who is saying it, is it hinged on how many say it?

THE ARCHITECT’S POSITION.

Dynamics within the profession—the individual architect and the collective of architects.
There is power in numbers, and there is agency in organised numbers. Like MAC, there are numerous consortiums driven by architects across India that are fighting various causes and promoting the greater well-being of the built environment. The Chennai Architecture Foundation, Bandra Collective, and Goa Collective are a few that were initiated in different parts of the country by diverse architect groups to engage with contemporary practices, public space design and work towards better urban spaces and public life. Internationally, organisations like the Citygroup in New York (established “to challenge the structural and cultural forces that shape the normative practices of architecture”) and Extinction Rebellion in London (founded to “halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse”) have provided platforms to engage with varied objectives and accessible channels for those who are unable to express their support independently. Collectives like these bring together like-minded individuals under a common cause—Nagar is posited along with 150 other professionals in the MAC, where he can nominate his cause and garner support from fellow members, or choose to support an ongoing case, like the MCR. Access to support, in this respect, gives access to agency.

Forming independent organisations like MAC is an effective way to gain a voice, but ratified professional bodies that officially represent the profession and develop discourse hold unparalleled gravitas.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in the UK, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in the US and the Council of Architects (COA) in India are designated to represent the architect and architectural profession in each of these countries. In addition to advancing the architectural discipline, some charters govern them to act as interest or pressure groups for architects. Of course, they cannot be expected to partake in protest movements, but taking a position on social or political issues that affect society is their prerogative. This is often achieved through agendas set by their governing personnel—Muyiwa Oki recently won the election for President of RIBA on the ticket of creating an ‘inclusive’ environment within the profession in the UK. As an office-bearer, he now has the opportunity to give voice to his objective and drive the institution towards these goals. In the case of the MCR, the absence of the COA, the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA), or its office bearers, is conspicuous. While they cannot be compelled to pick a side, for or against the project, this seems to be a missed opportunity to clarify the basis of the argument—what constitutes the welfare of society, and how is it realised in architectural and urban interventions like the MCR. On the other hand, several architectural education institutes are represented in the letter.

While they have signed the piece of paper to show support, what is debatable is the action they take within the academy. This is where Jencks’ academic idea of critical practice becomes critical. It is also where young students can be motivated to position themselves on matters of care.  

Joshi, who draws a parallel between the resistance against MCR and the Save Aarey movement, emphasises the importance of the young professional in the success of the appeal. He highlights the large number of students who turned up with families in tow for Aarey—boosting the citizen’s protest through numbers. The sheer scale of the turnout awarded agency to the movement, which emerged triumphant. In contrast, there have been instances where neither numbers nor names have caused a stir. The Central Vista (CV) project is one of the most significant architectural/urban design undertakings for modern India—for it not only symbolically but also literally contends to alter the face of the capital city of New Delhi. There have been widespread protests spanning years, involving architects, designers, conservationists, environmentalists, historians, educationists, and residents to appeal the process—without a modicum of effect. Similarly, the Hall of Nations was demolished in 2017 despite an internationally charged architect-led appeal against the destruction of this iconic modernist building. Even the Museum of Modern Art called it an “outstanding representative of India’s post-independence architectural heritage,” and issued a statement in support of preserving the structure—but in vain. This goes to show that not all demonstrations, even those driven by the most prominent vehicles to influence matters, result in favourable change.  

THE MUMBAI COASTAL ROAD | The Architect's Agency in Engaging With a Large-Scale Development Project in the City 11
Hall of Nations building in New Delhi, before its demolition. © Ariel Huber via Wikipedia Commons

THE ARCHITECT’S AGENCY

While Aristotle, Jacobs, and Koolhaas set precedence for the architect to engage with and design for society, Kaminer rejects the “‘one-way’ determinism” to add that architecture also shapes the society.17 He designates power, even if restricted, in the hands of the professional. Robert Gutman (1988) grants the means to influence to the public—drawing on the neighbourhood-led campaigns opposing additions to the Whitney and Guggenheim museums in New York, he cites public opinion as playing a compelling part in decisions about the city.18 Malcolm McEwan (1974) encourages the architect to take his client (the public) into confidence to join forces—especially when resisting an idea that does not sit well. He distributes responsibility across the board—to the individual and organisation alike.19

Agency lies with the resident, student, professional, institution, community, or collective—agency lies with anyone who wishes to affect change. What varies is the manner and form of that agency.

The architect leverages power through engagement with the society, collecting in numbers, demonstrating technical knowledge systems as well as professing empathy, with fellow appellants as well as the authorities. The key to harnessing this power is not how it is accumulated, but how it is employed. In Mumbai, the MAC resistance is distinguished from others for its explicative and result-oriented format and the way in which it has adopted a conversation-driven process over confrontation. Vital cogs in the machinery are the individuals who drive the campaign, and it would be remiss to acknowledge them as illustrious professionals. Whether they are motivated as citizens or architects is inconsequential in this matter, for what is more substantive than the why, is the fact that they are. They are irritants to the system, and even if the authorities have acted only to placate their movement, in this instance, the cumulative of architects has managed to demonstrate greater agency than most others.  

Having said that, a number of concerns remain unaddressed. First and foremost—why architects and urban designers are not invited at the onset of such projects to give their valuable input?

It is remarkable to observe how their blatant omission in the conceptualisation and subsequent execution of the project is met by a widespread retort instead. This is even more surprising, given the number of professionals for whom critical practice is a critical part of their practice. Unfortunately, instead of collaborating with the administration on large-scale public projects such as these, they resort to smaller opportunities that may be relevant but do not come even close to having the impact that an MCR could. It would be interesting to see how groups like the MAC if involved in sizeable public undertakings, could mobilise its members to offer effective solutions. As a collective of many voices and diverse expertise of professionals across the city, the MAC would be the ideal service provider as a one-stop-shop for its client, the Mumbai authorities. Transforming unpaid critical practice to commercial practice could potentially evolve a competitive environment that breaks the monopoly accorded to the few preeminent architects who are repeatedly solicited for such projects.  

On the other hand, questions remain unanswered about the professional architect—whether his critical practice is restricted by proximal issues, funding or even interests. Nagar points out that architects are “trained” to care about their environments and work to “make the city a better place to live in.”20 However, do they care enough to extend themselves beyond commercial practice without real incentive? There is a growing sense of scepticism and dismay in India, which interestingly, stems from the lack of accessible agency, that has kept many professionals at bay from critical work. Moreover, short-lived memories often tide over long struggles—evident in the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Deemed as phase 1 of the MCR, there was much uproar against its construction in 2009. However, all that has been forgotten—and instead, the structure today is considered an engineering wonder, which has become as symbolic of the city of Mumbai as the historic Gateway of India.21

THE MUMBAI COASTAL ROAD | The Architect's Agency in Engaging With a Large-Scale Development Project in the City 13
Gateway of India: Another Photo of This Icon from the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, India. © David Brossard, 2014.
THE MUMBAI COASTAL ROAD | The Architect's Agency in Engaging With a Large-Scale Development Project in the City 15
Bandra-Worli Sea Link, Mumbai, India. © Mintu500px, 2016.

  1. As per the report, “The total number of vehicles registered in Mumbai in the years 2004 and 2011 was 12,33,675 and 19,17,798 respectively, which shows that on an average 96,000 vehicles are added every year to the already congested road system in the city.” Joint Technical Committee, Govt. of Maharashtra. “Coastal Road Mumbai.” Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. (December 29, 2011). https://portal.mcgm.gov.in/irj/go/km/docs/documents/Coastal%20road/Costal%20road%20JTC.pdf ↩︎
  2. Referring to the Comprehensive Transport Strategy (CTS) study carried out earlier under the aegis of the World Bank, the Joint Technical Committee asserted that although Mumbai’s public transport carries a high share of commuters, the roads were badly congested and needed greater investments. Additionally, they argued that growing income levels were causing growth in private cars on the roads, which was bound to increase despite improvements in public transport infrastructure. Citing London as an example, where despite having a highly efficient public transport system, it only accounts for 20% of travel. In light of this, they recommend new road construction in addition to enhanced public transport systems. Ibid.  ↩︎
  3. “Thus, the freeway project is not merely an infrastructure project it would ameliorate the health hazards posed by the present level of traffic congestion on the one hand and on the other create a large amount of open green space and contribute greatly towards enhancing the quality of life in the city. Indeed, the health concerns alone would justify taking up of this project in the larger public interest.” Ibid. ↩︎
  4. Abraham, Alan, Nitin Killawala, and Nilesh H. Dholakia et al. Letter to The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, The Municipal Commissioner, Mumbai, and The Environment & Tourism Minister, Maharashtra. “THE COASTAL ROAD, MUMBAI.” Written, March 2, 2022. ↩︎
  5. In this case, ‘critical’ work refers to the architect’s engagement with the social, political and cultural milieus of the society, wherein work is carried out for the overall benefit of the public, irrespective of and typically without any commercial value. This is differentiated from Charles Jencks’ reference to critical architectural practice in his book, “The Language of Post-Modern Architecture” (1977), wherein he describes it as being informed by theory and philosophy framed in academic discourse.  ↩︎
  6. In his treatise, Aristotle argues that architecture should serve the needs of the community. Assuming that the architect is responsible for the creation of architecture, then it is implied that he is obligated to serve in the best interest of society. In reference to Aristotle, Politics. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. (New York: Colonial Press, 1900). ↩︎
  7. Jane Jacobs saw architecture as an inherently social and political practice and believed that architects have a responsibility to create buildings and spaces that serve the needs of the communities they are designed for and to contribute to the social, economic, and cultural vitality of those communities. She emphasized that architects should work closely with community members to understand their needs and desires to build successful neighbourhoods and cities. Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. (New York: Random House, 1961). ↩︎
  8. Rem Koolhaas’s view of the architect’s relationship to society is one of deep engagement and responsibility. He believes that architects have a responsibility to engage with the social and political realities of their time and to use architecture as a means of responding to those realities. He suggests that architects should not simply be concerned with creating beautiful or functional buildings, but should instead focus on understanding and engaging with the complex social and economic forces that shape the built environment. Rem Koolhaas. Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978). ↩︎
  9. Abraham Alan, Nitin Killawala, and Nilesh H. Dholakia et al. Letter to The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, The Municipal Commissioner, Mumbai, and The Environment & Tourism Minister, Maharashtra. “THE COASTAL ROAD, MUMBAI.” Written, March 2, 2022. ↩︎
  10. ibid.  ↩︎
  11. Kaminer, Tahl. The Efficacy of Architecture: Political Contestation and Agency. (London, New York: Routledge, 2017). 54. ↩︎
  12. Council Of Architecture, Architects (Professional Conduct) Regulations (1989) – Clause 2.i ensure that his professional activities do not conflict with his general responsibility to contribute to the quality of the environment and future welfare of society; Clause 2.ii. apply his skill to the creative, responsible and economic development of his country; Clause 2.viii. maintain a high standard of integrity; Clause x. Should promote the advancement of architecture, research, training, architectural education and also training. Council of Architecture. “Architectural Codes of Conduct in India.” https://www.coa-india.org/practice/practice.htm  ↩︎
  13. The Architects Code: Standards of Professional Conduct and Practice – Standard 5 – Considering the wider impact of your work: 5.1: Where appropriate, you should advise your client how best to conserve and enhance the quality of the environment and its natural resources; Standard 6 – You should carry out your professional work conscientiously and with due regard to relevant technical and professional standards: 6.1 You are expected to carry out your work with skill and care and in accordance with the terms of your engagement. Architects Registration Board. “The Architects Code: Standards of Professional Conduct and Practice.” (2017). https://arb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Architects-Code-2017.pdf. ↩︎
  14. Nilabh Nagar (Senior Associate, Architect Hafeez Contractor), in a telephonic discussion with the author. (London, UK, 2023). ↩︎
  15. Abraham, Alan, Nitin Killawala, and Nilesh H. Dholakia et al. Letter to The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, The Municipal Commissioner, Mumbai, and The Environment & Tourism Minister, Maharashtra. “THE COASTAL ROAD, MUMBAI.” Written, March 2, 2022. ↩︎
  16. As people who occupy that land and live in the area practice their daily rituals, there is no one better than them to identify and assess their needs. If a public project is being undertaken, it is prudent to include public participation, which can be understood in Tahl Kaminer’s terms as “the ability and right of the inhabitants of a certain place to analyse, criticise and transform the environment in which they live. The processes of decision-making usually occur without taking into account the people who will be affected by its consequences, and therefore many of these decisions do not correspond to their real needs.” Kaminer, Tahl. The Efficacy of Architecture: Political Contestation and Agency. (London, New York: Routledge, 2017). 79. ↩︎
  17. “The point of departure of ‘The Efficacy of Architecture’ is a rejection of ‘one-way’ determinism or causality. Architecture, architectural designs, and buildings are not only expressions of society, politics, technology or economics, outcomes moulded by external forces. They necessarily partake in shaping society as well, even if in a limited sense. And consequently, even if restricted, the architect has some degree of agency.” ibid. 10. ↩︎
  18. “Public opinion now plays a part in decisions about the landmarking of districts, and the preservation of historic buildings. In major metropolitan cities, the views of citizens now encompass relatively recondite aspects of design, as is revealed by recent disputes about the aesthetic acceptability of proposed additions to the Whitney and Guggenheim museums in New York City. Local opponents to the proposals for both museums have drawn upon the rhetoric of the neighbourhood ideal and call themselves ‘Neighbours of the Whitney’ or ‘Guggenheim Neighbours.’” Gutman, Robert. Architectural Practice: A Critical View. (Princeton, N.J., USA: Princeton Architectural Press, 1988). 90. ↩︎
  19. “…architects have to kick far more strongly against the pricks, to say ‘no’ when their consciences say ‘no’, and to take their problems to the public—to refuse, in short, to carry the cans for their clients, but to enlist the help of their clients and (whenever this is possible) the users of their buildings or of the community. Are the teachers and parents not essentials allies in the efforts to get better schools? Are the tenants and community organisations not essential allies in the efforts to get better houses? Are the students and university staffs not essential allies in the efforts to secure good housing for students? And are these problems not all interlinked?” MacEwan, Malcolm. Crisis in Architecture. (London, UK: RIBA Publications Limited, 1974). 46. ↩︎
  20. Nilabh Nagar (Senior Associate, Architect Hafeez Contractor), in a telephonic discussion with the author. (London, UK, 2023). ↩︎
  21. The Gateway of India was built by the British to welcome King George V and Queen Mary to India in 1911. Overlooking the Arabian Sea, the monument stands as a representation of Mumbai’s maritime history, trade and commerce, and cosmopolitan character. It has been the site of important historical moments ranging from protests and celebrations to concerts and cultural events. A popular tourist destination, the arched gateway has been the symbol of the city of Mumbai since its inception.  ↩︎

Feature Image: A project representation of the Mumbai Coastal Road (Haji Ali Interchange). Courtesy- News18

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