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Malabar Hill as a Cultural Landscape


Co-authored by

G5A, Mumbai ; P.K. Das Architects, Mumbai

& GroundStory L+A, Mumbai


Malabar Hill, D-Ward is a Locality located in the geography between Girgaon Chowpatty and Peddar Road. Physiographycally, when this paper refers to Malabar hill, it will refer to the entire peninsula bordered by the sea on one side and the Breach candy, Hughes, Babulnath Road Stretch on the other. 

Malabar Hill arial view - Wikimedia Commons 

A cursory glance within this area shows us a highly sophisticated , well informed, car centric neighborhood. The new developments that happen in this area are state of the art in terms of technology and taste. There is a sense of vitality that comes thru its constant newness and renewal. . 


Seen today, the Malabar Hill region is almost completely covered by real estate development, except for the tower of silence grounds and the grounds owned by the temple trusts to the south of malabar hill, and the large gardens on the ridge of the hill. One would be forgiven for thinking of Malabar Hill as a homogenous part of city. 


However, under this veil of Motor Traffic and ever newer, ever taller buildings, lies a criss cross of footpaths that organically navigate over the undulating landscape of the Malabar Hill. These passages and walkways, explore spaces that are sometimes not accessible by motor cars, and connect places like the Banganga, the Colonial Buildings, and other interesting  remnants of pre-independence times, like the retaining walls of the hanging gardens and the retaining walls estate that once belonged to the Nizam of Hyderabad (currently Hyderabad Estate). There are also many hindu and jain temples that have been said to have a long history .

tree canopy seen on Malabar Hill, close to the Ridge 

All of these are connected by pathways under the shade of large old trees that were part of a once-existing forest that, no doubt, connected the Tower of Silence to the Banganga. The trees still cover most of the roads even today. In one hidden part of the pathways, is a perennial spring of water that is said to be gushing with water for 12 months of the year, resulting in a  perennial brook whose course seems to be hidden to the rest of the city (probably ending in a sewer).

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The spring is currently used for washing with soapy water allowed to flow downstream

It should be noted that these pathways, while not exactly dilapidated, are generally maintained by the lowest bidder and it is generally noticed that the experience of walking these spaces is not aesthetic and not evocative of the heritage of the place. The somewhat careless use of vendor available materials, the sub standard detailing, and the overall lack of amenities like lighting and seating make for a very indifferent experience in what is otherwise an extraordinary setting.

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Images showing derelicts lands, a indifferent quality of the pathway surface and wall 


This paper attempts to identify the Malabar Hill precinct as a place of significant cultural importance. To understand this area better, it is necessary to not see the colonial and pre independence buildings as disparate ‘points of interest’  scattered in a city region, but to see them as connected pieces of a historical narrative held together by the ground on which they stand. 


The Malabar hill is basalt rock formation that sits as a spur into the Arabian sea.  The geology of Malabar is hydrologically rich. It has an impressively high watertable, evidenced by the water spring mentioned earlier. This water table also has socio - cultural and historical importance as this is the same water that feeds the Banganga tank as well (a fresh water spring on the edge of the sea). These waters also feed the remaining ecosystem of the D-Ward and is also responsible for the large , old trees we see there. The hill, by its nature is the progenitor of the forest, its water networks, and the religious and cultural anchors of Malabar hill. 


In our humble opinion,  the colonial, and pre independence structures (the postmaster general’s house, the all saints chapel, the jinnah house etc) and vestiges (the old walls and old retaining walls), The cultural anchors (the Banganga and the Tower of Silence, the old jain and hindu temples) are joined at the hip to the ecology (the remenants of a forest, the large trees the open spaces) and the geology (the basalt rock the aquifers, the water springs) of the Malabar hill and together form a living and historically significant Cultural Landscape. 


This Cultural Landscape Runs the risk of being lost under the constant pressure of development, short sighted planning and long term memory loss. This paper proposes to give this Cultural Landscape the integrity it deserves and treat this precinct, not as an Urban Upgradation project, but as an Urban Public Realm Heritage Conservation Initiative that will not only focus on, the Built environment, but also revitalize and the protect the ecological and the geo hydrological heritage of Malabar Hill.

Vision Statement 

The Ideas of this policy document is based on the philosophy outlined in the Position paper ‘Malabar Hill - A Cultural Landscape’ 


Our specific vision for the Malabar Hill precinct is to develop a Walkable - Safe - Accessible Pedestrian Circuit that is anchored by and pays homage to, the singularities of the Malabar Hill Cultural - Landscape 


Areas in Scope 

We see this pedestrian circuit as a ‘linear ecological park (or urban public realm)’ where the pathway surface (the footpath and staircases etc)- the edges of the pathway (the retaining wall and edging walls) and the derelict (and other unclaimed realms along the pathways) will be the primary areas in our scope of works.

This Pedestrian Circulation project will have the following areas in scope.

The Pathway Surface : 

existing and new footpaths will be identified and developed, keeping in mind the construction and surface material of the walkway. 

The Edge Walls 

The retaining walls currently are either in a state of neglect or in a state of indifference. they are built with very poor quality of craftsman ship and are in need of urgent attention (see notes on materiality) 

The derelict Urban Public realm. 

the spaces along these pathways are unclaimed and unloved. Here we are presented with an opportunity to adopt them and treat them in a way to enhance the overall quality of the walkers experience. 

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Design Brief

This upgradation of the pedestrian circulation will be anchored by the idea that Malabar Hill is a Cultural Landscape and design treatment should consider the heritage of the localities. 


Following will be the nature of Design Details and Intervention 


(physically walkable) The pedestrian network will be expanded and made better where possible. the surface will be anti-skid and non slippery. They will also be Staircases of equal risers and comfortable treads where required, with the necessary safety handles made in durable materials. (see below) 


The pathways will be well lit, Will have clear signages regarding safety concerns and be detailed in a way to prevent accidents.


the pathways will be legible, there will be installations for seating and providing ease of way, signages and maps for navigating the pathways and understanding the landscape. 


The walkable connecting passage that allows us to appreciate and unearth the History and heritage of Malabar Hill. The walkway should be detailed in a way to echo the antiquity of the Malabar hill precinct.

Materials: The BMC Schedule of Rates Document VS Stone. 

the drawback of the SOR of BMC is that they fail the test of posterity. the passages that connect our points of heritage interest should not look “spanking new”.

the materials used should be allowed to age gracefully and with integrity. the materials that are best suited for this are rough cut basalt stone and even concrete that is allowed to weather with the rain. It is preferred that the passages be paved in Basalt Cobble Stones, and the Retaining wall be treated such that they create an authentic and aesthetic experience during the walk. The support handles are made in cast iron, deeply embedded in the stone for high durability and weathering. 

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newer materials used anywhere do not age well 



ecology / horticulture 

The spaces along the pathway are in a state of disrepair and degradation. the landscape design intention is to plant these spaces in a way to make them lush and make them look like they are a continuation of the adjoining forest spaces, so as to make the pathways look like they are weaving thru an old, still untouched historical ecology. There already exist a good number of old large trees. The intent here will be to insert species that make up the lower and ground canopies layers of the forest as well as wild lianas to complete the ecological typology of the forest. Further a manual for maintaining this ecology will be released which will become the basis for the AMC for this landscape.


the waters in the ground are under threat from two separate aspects. 

  1. the paving of the ground that prevents the water percolation

  2. the newer construction of basements which need to pump out water to prevent flooding during the construction phase. This creates a water drain on the water table.  


Steps will also be taken to feed the aquifers of the Basalt rock. Each area of intervention will have an underground installation that will collect and percolate water throughout the year. 

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