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Mumbai finds space in London


The Mumbai dwelling

A Mumbai shanty is the last thing you'd expect to see in the stately environs of London's Victoria and Albert Museum. But there it is, sitting almost impertinently near a statuesque David, a plaster reconstruction of an unauthorised Byculla dwelling. It's a seven-foot-long sliver that captures the efforts of the underprivileged to improvise a living space in a city where land is both scarce and outrageously expensive.
The structure is one of seven imaginative and full-scale buildings that are part of an exhibition titled '1:1: Architects Build Small Spaces' that recently opened at the museum.
Although there isn't much of a tradition of exhibiting architecture in museums, the V&A is trying to bring spaces alive for viewers. "The motivation was to make architecture accessible, " says V&A's curator of design, Abraham Thomas. "Architecture is usually about photos, blueprints and models - all things that leave the average person disengaged. So we decided to let architects make buildings that people can walk into and through and engage with. " Submissions were invited from 19 architects across the globe, seven of whom were selected to create displays.
One of these was Studio Mumbai, an architectural firm that found inspiration in the lane behind its Byculla office, where a family of eight had appropriated a sliver of space between a warehouse and another property and turned it into a home. Bijoy Jain, who studied and worked in the US before returning to Mumbai to open his own architectural firm, says the sandwiched space had a dignity about it despite its minuscule size. Walk into the shadowy alleys of his creation, past the slits that pass for windows and the small courtyard wrapped around a plaster-cast tree that he's created in the V&A's cast court, and you get a sense of how three generations of a poor Mumbai family have created a home out of nothing.
It's perhaps apt that Jain chose to replicate the dwelling in plaster. Reason: "It's fragile, just like the space which can cease to exist any time. " For the next two months, however, the recreation of this space is in a London museum. And though Michelangelo's David may be an odd conjunction, there's no doubt that the Mumbai shanty is at home amid the V&A's haunting Victorian reproductions of Renaissance marvels.

The exhibition is on till August 30

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