The story of the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) — its journey from a banyan tree at Horniman Circle by Bombay architect Claude Batley to the trading hall and Phiroze Jeejeebhoy Towers —mirrors the transformation of India’s economy and its people. Asia’s oldest stock exchange, the BSE goes back to 1855 when brokers (dalals) would meet informally. They grew into an organisation, The Native Share and Stock Brokers Association, in 1875. More than eight decades later, in 1957, BSE was recognised by the Indian government under the Securities Contracts Regulation Act.
Phiroze Jamshedji Jeejeebhoy (1915-’80), after whom the BSE building has been named, was the chairman from mid-’60s to 1980. He put his faith in a young architect, Chandrakant Patel, who had returned to Mumbai after a stint with Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, and had set up his own firm Architectural Research Unit. Under Aalto, Patel had grown as an architect, says Mumbai-based Kamu Iyer, who was his senior at the Sir JJ School of Arts. One of the tallest towers at the time, it was completed in 1980, given a curved façade with alternating glass and concrete bands. Patel, in his book 4th Dimension Architecture (2015), writes, “The idea behind the design of the Stock Exchange was that the two wings would house all the brokers and their offices, while all the services, other facilities would be in the central core. These services would be easily accessible from the corridor by the foyer.”
Structural engineer Kamal Hadkar, who worked on the building with Patel, says the building had many firsts. “The central core was constructed using slip-form technique — a method in which concrete is poured in a continuously moving form, facilitated by jacks — and thus we managed about 11 ft every day. It seemed like a chimney in a textile mill for people who saw it. Secondly, since the chairman wanted to give maximum carpet area, we chose to go with structural steel columns in the towers. These were steel mullions from Jamshedpur, which had maximum strength and welding advantages.” The second phase of the project included the 100 ft-diameter hall, which Hadkar calls “an inverted basket” with a skylight.
Iyer draws our attention to the seashell-shaped canopy of the building, which is similar to the cantilevered one at the Jehangir Art Gallery. “Both Durga (Shankar) Bajpai and Patel were influenced by Aalto and the way they have interpreted his organic form shows in these canopies,” he says.
Mustansir Dalvi, architect, author and professor, Sir JJ School of Architecture, who worked with Patel, and on the second phase of this project, pegs the building as a fine example of modern architecture in India. “The site, located between Dalal Street, Hamam Street and Bombay Samachar Marg, is congested. Patel put the tower on a podium of three floors so that it maintains its urbanity. In the canopy, kalakari and technology go together.”
“In those days, we had time to argue and make mistakes and come back the next morning and rework it. Today, everything is about fast construction. There are deadlines and penalty clauses and Floor Space Index (FSI) to worry about now,” says Hadkar.
This article appeared in print with the headline ‘Building Blocks: Taking Stock’