On Marine drive…
On Marine drive…

On Marine drive…

On Marine drive… by Gargi Patil

“If any one of us had been around 80 years ago, Marine Drive would never have got built. After all, there are many compelling reasons to oppose it. It brings more traffic. It involves reclamation, adding more buildings between us and the sea. It’s obviously very bad news. Why don’t we just continue using Queen’s Road? Yet, aren’t you glad it happened?”

Charles Correa
(Learning from marine drive)

Mumbai, the city of opportunities, noise, traffic and fast live. The population of Mumbai wakes to an early start the day to run around the clock like a hamster in a wheel, until the end of the day, when the city starts glittering on a canvas of the dark night sky with million lights, indicating it’s time to rush back to the cage which they call ‘home’.


Marine Drive in the 1940’s or 50’s taken by the celebrated Bombay photographer A.L Syed shows the uniform roof lines of the buildings (Source: http://indianquarterly.com/the-making-of-marine-drive/)

Mumbai, the city of opportunities, noise, traffic and fast live. The population of Mumbai wakes to an early start the day to run around the clock like a hamster in a wheel, until the end of the day, when the city starts glittering on a canvas of the dark night sky with million lights, indicating it’s time to rush back to the cage which they call ‘home’.


But some of these hamsters forget their way and try to find the place to have some timeout from the fast city life. Sea shore is one of the favourite spaces for these people.

Marine drive is one of best example, where people come to admire the view of the ocean and effect created by the glittering reflection of the Mumbai city in the Indian Ocean.

The crescent shape of the marine drive is made of five layers of arcs. Which prominently generate the sweeping design. –

First is layer is made of building façades that have uniform roofline.

 “I realised that façade control (a term used in official parlance) around traffic circle meant structure had to have uniform façade in order to maintain the visual identity of the circle.

From Nariman point on the south of Chowpatty at the north end, the buildings on the marine drive together form a continues curve with its roof in one line without jarring protrusions. The exception were the buildings on the corner sites where stairs towers went above the roof level

And were expressed as architectural features. Roof being in the line added to the sweep of the road. The sweep of the buildings, the promenade and the sea wall were what made marine drives Bombay’s most iconic image”

-Kamu Ayer (Bombay from precincts to sprawl)

Since the buildings that form the background for the road and their walls have the footprint in the square shape, they had similar kind of planning. This results in the formation of the uniform roof line. This uniform building façade makes it look like fortification wall that separates the city from the ocean

Second layer is made by road in front of the buildings.

It’s a six lane road which has heavy traffic during the day.

Third layer footpath

The footpath is elevated from the road by 60 cm creating a boundary between the high vehicular traffic and pedestrian traffic. It is broad and plays essential role to reduce the traffic noise so that the sound of ocean can be enjoyed


Before 1958
Present day


Forth layer -the wall.

The wall divides the city and the sea. Also, it retains the reclaimed land from sliding into the ocean. The wall play essential role as a public space as the view of the sea and the curve can be easily seen while seating on the wall is clear

Fifth layer -the beach.

The tetrapods are placed on the beach around the wall. The tetrapods act as bulwarks against the tide. The saline environment and wave pressure force the pods to interlock, which helps reduce the wave force by allowing the water to flow around rather than against them. They popped up in the city in 1958, when the government contracted an Australian company to import the pods. The current army of grey sentinels was made by Indian manufacturers and placed there by the Public Works Department between 1998 and 2004. People were very annoyed [at first] about putting artificial blocks which cost Rs5000 each But they were needed to retain the wall which holds a city together worth much more than Rs5000.  But today these tetrapods are as iconic as the marine drive.


The buildings on the marine drive are referred as art deco style building. Even most of those building are not the great example of art deco. But the effect they create in a group has a large contribution in the look of marine drives.

Initially, the marine drive was a road which connects wealthy ruling class of Malabar hill to the to the fort residence of the governor.

Later it was extended. It was better option to extend by reclaiming the land out of sea but it was also costly.in the end, they reclaimed more land by extending the bay and retain the structure by building a sea wall.

There are four different designs recommended for the marine drive. At first, government trusted this job to the Bombay developing department. This project didn’t only include the design of road but also planning of structures around it. Back Bay reclamation scheme was the biggest project.

The master plan was designed by a British planner W. R. Davidge. His plan was grand covering 1,145 Acers. The design was formal, with three lined streets, parks for recreation and cultural activities.it did not provide the residential spaces. Instead, it includes educational and cultural buildings, government offices etc.

The Back Bay reclamation scheme began in 1919. Stone and mud were quarried in the north in Kandivali, brought by train to the site and dumped into the sea. But the whole project was badly planned, the dredging of the sea inadequate. Soon there was no hope of finishing the project within five years, contrary to what investors had been told.

By the early 1920s, it was clear that the development plan was a disaster. The scandal led to an official inquiry. So the scheme was dodge by cost escalations and charges of corruption.

Leading the public outcry was the nationalist lawyer Khursheed Framji Nariman. He wrote strident articles in the local press, whose headlines lambasted the reclamation plan as “Lloyd’s folly” and “Buchanan’s blunder”.

After the government recommended that only four of the eight planned blocks should be reclaimed. The result can be seen when one stands at the jetty-like strip that juts out into the sea at Nariman Point and gazes at ‘Cuffe Parade’ across the gap. Had it been filled in, Marine Drive would have been much longer. As it was, 1660 acres emerged from the sea opposite the imposing Gothic headquarters of the Western Railway and Church gate station, which had until then been on the waterfront. But the area was reduced to 552 Acers

An advisory committee was formed which altered Davidge’s inward-looking plan to the plan which is open to the sea and create a bay by extending Kennedy sea face (Chowpatty) to Nariman point. A sea wall for entire stretch defined edge between land and the sea.

This new plan of the marine drive was appreciated by the public. This was proven by the number of people coming to the marine drive. But there were some critics who still did not appreciate the planning. One of them was Claude Batley. He liked Davidge’s planning better.

“Committee was formed to take all the guts out of the Davidge scheme. Which it did most effectively by seeing how many small rectangles it could contrive to draw over area reclaimed.”

– Claude Batley (journal of Indian institute of architecture 1945).

In the Davidge’s plan gap between buildings were set at a wide interval. In the revised plan they were close intervals. Batley wrote –

Building on the sea front resembles a set of ill-fitted false teeth.”

The comment gave a good example that critic needs to say a statement with a strong base to it. The comment by Batley was not fair since the gap between the buildings let in the breeze benefited the city instead of the strong blow of sea wind.

Even if he hates the planning, he still liked the idea of the promenade on the sea face. He appreciated how that area has become effective public space. After his article in the journal of Indian institute of architecture in 1945, he recommends his own plan for the marine drive. But he was ignored.

Later in 1968, Charles Correa gave a new plan which involves few similarities to the Batley’s plan. Which include modifying the sidewalks on the main road to accommodate both hawkers and pavement sleepers. Correa’s plan provides the line of platforms 60 centimetres high with water traps. The platform acts as a safety barrier between pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Initially, there wasn’t any direct road to connect sea from the station which doesn’t include crossing the high traffic road. In 1950 one of the commercial firms offered to fund for a foot over bridge at the end of marine drives (at the Chowpatty) under a condition, the sponsor will get right to use the bridge sides for advertisement purpose for fixed years. This started a wave of criticism. Even though its design is not attractive it gives very good place to advertise. Since it can be seen easily from distance from a fast vehicle coming towards the bridge. So today it acts gateway that opened up the sweep of marine drive.

This bridge is a link between two different worlds. At the one side, there are middle-class people spending there live hanging to the bars of the train. Running with the crowd, like cattle. On the other side the higher class people zooming through their cars on the marine drive, to add their wealth. Oh, but they also get stuck in the traffic. Here cars act as cattle. Not much difference there. Both the classes want to climb up towards the better life. No matter how much, a man never has enough.

Marine drive dissolves this rift between these classes. The feeling of calmness while watching the sea is similar for everyone. Marin drive is not just a public place. It is a place where people can turn their back to the city and forget its chaotic life. Give some time to themselves and connect themselves to nature.

Correa, Charles. “Learning from Marine Drive.” The Times of India . Mumbai, 1992.
Iyer, Kamu. Boombay from precinct to sprawl. Popular Prakashan, 2014.

Written as a part of an assignment for Theory of Design

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