Monday, October 29, 2007

The Art Deco Schools of Margao - Ushering in Modernism


Another post on the architecture of Margao! Though the last few posts have been Moddgonv-centric, they also show the varied genres we have in our towns.

The three schools in the photos, Fatima Convent, Presentation Convent and Loyola High School were built in the early/mid 20th century. This was a time when the Art Deco style was ushering in the Modern era. The Fatima Convent façade shows the chevrons, grooved plaster edge, stepping and clean, stylized geometric forms that were characteristic of the Art Deco expression of that time. Presentation Convent's imposing front with a stepped top, parallel 'pulvinated' (swelling out from the flat surface) lines and a play on stepped geometric patterns. The roofing on the second floor is a later extension. The decorative element comes in with the coat-of-arms and the 'Colegio de Apresentacao de N. Senhora' banner.

Such heraldry and decoration in Art Deco belonged to the School of French Art Deco while others like the Swiss architect Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius who founded the Bauhaus movement believed that modernism should shun unnecessary decoration. The Loyola High School building shows a clean composition of lines with the narrow windows accentuating its height.

'Art Deco's peak was at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925. The exhibition was revived in 1966 and it was then that the term Art Deco was coined. The exposition stipulated that everything included had to be 'modern' (achieving the maximum of novelty and the minimum of traditional influence) and that objects displayed should obey the tenet 'form follows function'... Art Deco also brought in the concept of 'total design'. The entire environment, from the structure of a building to its furniture and ornaments, even to clothing and jewellery, was regarded as a work of art.' - (Art Deco House Style by Ingrid Cranfield)

This 'total design' may not have been achieved to that extent in Goa's Art Deco buildings. But when I visited the house of photographer Prasad Pankar's house at Mapusa, I was struck by the architecture of the house which was American Art Deco. The furniture, the window ironwork and the mosaic floor tiling were all designed on the same theme.

It is these Art Deco houses that are under major threat in Goa. We think of only the Portuguese period houses as being of heritage value. The Art Deco houses are built of modern materials like concrete and steel which unfortunately deteriorate over time. So after a lifetime of maybe 60-80 years, they come in for demolition. Neither the house owners nor the State are aware of their Art Deco value, so off they go, to be replaced by a monstrous block of flats. Even restoration if carried out is not done keeping the Art Deco style in mind.

In an excellent essay on Goan architecture, Sarto Almeida and Jaimini Mehta comment on the Art Deco presence in Goa :
"However, a few stray examples of a far different architectural style did crop up. The earliest, the Mandovi Hotel at Panaji, was built to cater to the influx of visitors expected to attend the Exposition of St. Francis Xavier in 1952. There being no architects in Goa then, the hotel brought them in from Bombay. They designed the Mandovi, our first multistoried building, in the Art Deco style then prevalent in that city. The Art Deco style may thus have been a necessary stepping stone to a more robust modernity."


Anonymous said...


I can see the makings of a guru here....hehe....with the knowledge and the hunger for information & study of structures/buildings & architecture you have, you sure are on your way to being an expert!

As am used to by now about the things u do, this is an excellent essay on the Art Deco buildings in margao. Architects & architecture students as well as people in general get a wonderful insight into wht the different styles of architecture mean.

CHeers & keep up the good work

rob (moderne melbourne) said...

Enjoyed the article and would love to visit Goa to see the buildings. However am puzzled by the comment that the three schools were built in the early/mid nineties. Was this just a typo?

Jose Lourenco said...

Rob, I don't know exactly when they were built, but it's likely to be mid nineties, before the Liberation of Goa from Portuguese rule in 1961.

Are you an architect? Art Deco was called 'style moderne' at that time. Wondering if you have a 'moderne' forum Down Under!


Jose Lourenco said...

Thanks, PV. I think Art Deco really gave us a good start, but then our designers began mixing up styles and everything turned to kitsch. We had neither good revival architecture nor any pioneering modern work. Cornices, pediments and Corinthian capitals started turning up anywhere and our modern buildings suffered an identity crisis. Our architects were seized by a Jekyll/Hyde personality or rather a Roark/Keating one !

Jose Lourenco said...


My apologies, you were right. I meant one thing and typed something else! The schools were built early/mid 20th century. I will edit the post and correct the line. Thanks.

amicalechica said...
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