Photos: Inside Mumbai’s iconic 129-year-old BMC building

Built in 1893, the grand BMC building is home to the corporation that governs the city. In 2021, it was made accessible to the public on weekends.

Mumbai is rife with markers of its colonial past. One building emblematic of the British architecture, which we frequently come upon in South Bombay, is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) building. 

In 2021, this building was opened to the public for the first time in over a century, inviting the public to explore where the city is run from. We are guided through the building’s architectural history and the foundation of the municipal corporation through a tour held every weekend by the heritage foundation Khaki Tours, in collaboration with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC). 

The towering headquaters of te BMC building is 255 feet tall
Built in 1893, the building was designed by the architect F W Stevens. Stevens had just spent over 10 years working on the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) right across the road and was instructed to ensure the BMC building was taller | Photo: Sheena Khalid
The false gilded gold dome of the BMC building
An interior dome lower than the one we see outside, gilded with gold, hides the water tanks above | Photo: Sheena Khalid
The front and back of the BMC building
The V-shaped building has a courtyard in the centre, with an amphitheatre and a fountain | Photo: Sheena Khalid
Animals are carved onto the coloumns of the BMC Building
Animal iconography is scattered throughout in the BMC building, from lions (some with wings and fish tails to symbolise supremacy over land, air and water) to gargoyles | Photo: Sabah Virani
A view from the dome of the BMC building, looking onto the main stairway and arches
In a competition to decide the designer of the grand BMC building, befitting the ‘urbs prima of Indis’ – the foremost city of India – architect Robert Fellowes Chisholm won, but his design was disliked for being “too Indian”. His Indo-Saracenic style – a mix of Indian and Islamic architecture – was traded in for the Gothic style of F W Stevens | Photo: Sheena Khalid

Read more: Understanding Mumbai’s municipal corporation

The corporation hall of the BMC building
The statues and portraits of the British were replaced with Indian freedom fighters and historical figures around the periphery of the hall, exhibiting cultural diversity in their varied headgears | Photo: Sheena Khalid
People posing for pictures in front of the BMC building, with Pherozeshah Mehta's statue in the background
Called the ‘Father of Bombay Municipality’ and ‘Lion of Bombay’, Sir Pherozeshah Mehta was instrumental in the shape the corporation would take. While drafting the BMC Act in 1872, he suggested elected representatives form a part of the corporation, instead of only appointed ones. The body that came into being was made up of 62 members, 32 of which were elected by certain taxpayers. It became an entirely elected body in 1952 | Photo: Sabah Virani
The corporation hall of the BMC building, with a parapet for looking in above
All the elected corporators (currently 227) congregate in this hall, with the Mayor at its head. People used to be allowed in to observe the proceedings of the corporation from the parapet above | Photo: Sheena Khalid
Stained glass windows of the BMC building looking out onto the roads ahead
The stained glass windows were only added in during restoration, which lasted from 2006 to 2016 | Photo: Sabah Virani

F W Stevens was only part of the building’s foundation. Vyankoo Balooji Kalewar was the supervising architect, who managed to have it built under its Rs 11,88,082 budget. The labourers came from the Telugu-speaking Kamathi community, who had settled in the neighbourhood now known as Kamathipura – named after the community.

The municipal corporation was formed in 1865 headed by Sir Arthur Crawford. As a result of the American Civil War, Bombay was made part of the globalisation era. The city lowered the walls of its fort and money started flowing in from the harbour since Bombay was a suitable stop for the cotton and tobacco coming from America, making up for the ports blocked due to the war.

In its initial years, the corporation was stationed in Girgaum, after which it moved to Rhythm House and then to the Army and Navy building in Kala Ghoda. It was only in 1884 that the foundation stone of the present headquarters was laid.

Citizens must report at Gate no. 2 of the BMC building, 15 minutes prior to the tour. A government-approved identity card is necessary.

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