The colony came up in 1970 and was designed by Charles Correa. The Life Insurance Corporation, which had been set up in 1956, offered policy holders the opportunity to buy apartments in the colony once their policies matured. Correa’s design for LIC Colony represented his “idea of ideal living”. This was expressed by such details as terraces, tube-like apartments with large openings on both sides that allowed cross-ventilation and varying apartment sizes that encouraged people of different income groups to live in the same building.
Resident, architect and educator Rohan Shivkumar has captured his experience of growing up in a Correa designed housing complex, the links between architecture and emotion, memories of his childhood and adolescence in a 2019 documentary called ‘Lovely Villa’ which refers to one of the apartment blocks in the LIC Colony built in the city’s Borivali suburb in 1970.
Housing for Citizens
In the 1970s, an insurance policy could get you an apartment in suburban Mumbai. For better or worse, in the early years of Independence, the state saw itself as responsible for the provision of housing for its citizens. There were many schemes and projects that allowed it to experiment with different ideas. One of these was the Own Your Home scheme for policy holders that the LIC Colony was built under. After liberalisation and the state stepping back from the responsibility of providing housing while facilitating private developers to do so, these possibilities disappeared. With profit being the primary motive of developers, the diverse approaches to housing seemed to reduce, with the typical apartment block becoming the default mode through, which many buildings were built. Housing projects began to cater to the aspirations of the middle classes for exclusive apartments – which meant a way for them to distance themselves from the city and its differences, whether they be those of caste, class or religion.
Lovely Villa Movie
The metaphor of architecture allows to see the villa as an imagination of order, it evokes the archetype of the father and by extension the paternalistic nation-state. Correa’s work in housing represented an important moment in Indian architecture and the nation-state. My father came of age in that imagination of the nation.
The film was imagined as a kaleidoscopic portrait. There are four kinds of gaze in the film, each with its own distinctive voice and image. The first is the detached conceptual voice that speaks of large, abstract ideas. It sees the community through arcs of history and the philosophical imagination of the nation and home that underpin most architecture. The second voice describes the physical form of the colony. This includes looking at the organisation of spaces and the architectural details that directly shape our day-to-day lives. The third point of view is the personal – descriptive, often nostalgic and sometimes ironic. The fourth point of view is one that is fragmented and disturbed. It emerges from trauma and anxiety, veering between raw self-expression and detached analysis.
Thee First Inhabitants
The first inhabitants of LIC were mostly recent migrants into the city. Today their children have grown up and many have left. Those who continue to stay have had children of their own, and you can see them in the same spaces that we used to play in, although the nature of public life has changed substantially. Some of the spaces that were public have been cordoned off because of security concerns – both real and imagined. The uninterrupted open space, as designed by Correa, allowed one to go from one end of the colony to the other without crossing the main road. That has been broken up into fragments. This has meant that many of these spaces that were maintained because of the public presence in them are now disused and overgrown.
When we were growing up, it was common to see much more wildlife in the colony, including the odd snake. Many of the open-to-sky terraces have been covered up by families wanting more internal space for living. But even now, some of the main public spaces of the colony continue to be hubs where community activities take place. The core design principles seem to have been able to retain the unusually green open spaces that give the colony its unique identity.