An Illustratred History of the Unbuilt City by Robert Stephens; stories of 200 unrealised projects.
Beginning in 1670, Bombay Imagined: An Illustrated History of the Unbuilt City tells the story of 200 unrealised urban visions — aspirations of an evolved metropolis boasting everything from humane housing and expanded parks to sanitation systems and more. Ideas that never saw the light of the day are richly illustrated with archival drawings, contemporary speculations and artistic overlays, illuminating long-lost futures from the city’s never-before-seen past.
Bombay Imagined is a testimony to the audacious dreams of city-lovers, a chronicle of untold narratives across centuries and an insight into the tides that have shaped present-day Mumbai.
Since his move to Mumbai in 2007, Robert Stephens has cultivated a passion for rare and second-hand books with a focus on the city. What began as a meandering journey through archival texts to quench an innate curiosity transformed in 2014 when he opened the Professional Papers on Indian Engineering, published in 1869. Sandwiched between countless projects from the 19th century, Arthur Crawford's grand (albeit unrealised) plan for a 400-acre park at Mahalaxmi transcended the mundane aspirations of his contemporaries, despite being relegated to the pages of history for more than 150 years. The unexpected discovery ignited a seven-year-long exploration, leading Robert to scour nearly five dozen archives, libraries and studios around the world in search of radical ideas for Mumbai that never came to fruition.
“Since Bombay's very inception, its diverse inhabitants have been united in a singular belief: that the place could do with a little improvement. In his painstakingly researched, engagingly presented Bombay Imagined, Robert Stephens excavates visions of the City Unrealised. This is more than just a prospectus of plans and projects that failed to reach fruition (in some cases, thankfully so). It is also a loving tribute to the eccentrics and altruists, hucksters and geniuses who have called Bombay home. I read and re-read it with awe and enjoyment.”
- Naresh Fernandes, author of City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay
“Sit back with Bombay Imagined: An Illustrated History of the Unbuilt City, and time-travel through its spotlight on 200 unrealised plans and dreams to many Bombays — parallel, phantom cities and histories — that just might have been! It tells a great story of ideas on reclamation, housing, sanitation, reuse, architecture and more, that have championed an almost impossible city for the last 350 years. With painstaking, original research animated with archival images and digital artwork or ‘speculations’, Bombay Imagined is thoughtfully, creatively constructed, accessible and exciting. Written with brevity, humour, even fun, it left me amused, amazed and inspired. Trust me, this is a Bombay book for everyone!”
-Alisha Sadikot, founder of The Inheritage Project
How Can You Help?
Your pre-order for Bombay Imagined will help preserve Mumbai’s unbuilt past, and share Robert Stephens’ unique storytelling along with over 350 images with the world. While we have already invested heavily in the book’s development, your support will aid production costs and bring to life-form this seven-year-long effort.
Your pre-orders will cover approximately 75% of the printing costs for the first edition. Signed copies and premium items will help to cover the remaining production costs, reimburse expenses incurred in the design stages of the book and Robert's research.
January 2022: Pre-orders start.
February 2022: Offset printing commences in Mumbai.
March 2022: Local and global shipping of books*
*Customs may apply for orders shipped outside of India.
Researched and written by Robert Stephens (native of South Carolina, and Mumbai resident and practising architect since 2007), Bombay Imagined was conceived in the meditative depths of the Mumbai local train in 2013 and matured through various lockdowns during the global coronavirus pandemic.
About the Book
Nearly two dozen institutions, foundations and libraries from around the world have opened the physical and digital doors of their collections, sharing rare, often never-before-published material.
Selected images are reproduced from the Urbs Indis Library, Robert Stephens’ personal collection of second-hand books on Mumbai, sourced from local vendors dotting the footpaths around the city’s Flora Fountain locale and numerous booksellers globally.
Thirty-one studios from around the globe have contributed content, including Abraham John Architects, Apostrophe A+uD, Architect Hafeez Contractor, Bandra Collective, DCOOP, Foster + Partners, Ganti & Associates, Heatherwick Studio, HKS, IMK Architects, Jakob + MacFarlane, Mad(e) in Mumbai, MO-OF, Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos, OMA, Pheroze Kudianvala, PK Das & Associates, Ratan J Batliboi Consultants, RMA Architects, Salil Ranadivé Architects, Sameep Padora & Associates, SNK Consultants, Sound Space Design, Steven Holl Architects, Studio MADe, Studio PKA, StudioPOD, Tiarstudio, TOWNLAND, Vikas Dilawari Architects and Zaha Hadid Architects.
Drawing heavily on historical data, speculations are contemporary artworks that lend graphic form to ideas and proposals that were either never visualised or for which content has not survived. The creative works of Aniket Umaria (Mumbai), Akhil Alukkaran (Calicut), Yannis Efstathiou (Berlin) and Lambros Papathanasiou (Athens) breathe visual life into 30 unrealised projects for the first time ever.
Eighteen unrealised projects feature overlays by Fauwaz Khan (Mumbai), propositions drawn to scale over original archival material. The base images for selected overlays feature Robert Stephens' aerial photographs of Mumbai, captured over the last decade and taken from 5,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level.
Each unrealised proposition is described with concise, creative and, at times, playful prose. Historical sources are paired in tandem with the description for each scheme, lighting the path to a more in-depth exploration for the inspired or curious.
All 200 proposals are chronologically arranged and graphically tagged — using colours from Le Corbusier's Architectural Polychromy — according to the functions (typologies) represented within each scheme. Sixteen typologies and 25 sub-typologies create the possibility of 41 function-specific micro-narratives, akin to 41 books within the book.
Extensively researched and skillfully crafted relief maps accompany and locate each unrealised project within the city's greater geographic context. When viewed in kinetic succession (like a flip book) these three-dimensional extrusions of the city's form present Mumbai's transformation from seven islands to its modern-day form. Tabs identifying the location of each project allow for the possibility of geography-specific readings, creating 45 (more) micro-narratives, 45 (more) books within the book.
Bombay Imagined is designed specifically for Mumbai's formidable environment. A grey cloth-wrapped cover presents a forgiving façade in the face of the city’s atmospheric grit and grime. The title is debossed, an impression whose depth is revealed in the presence of light, much like the projects within.
7.5” x 11” (Landscape) I 460 pages I 2.2 kilograms I 30 Speculations I 18 Overlays I 309 Archival Images I 20 Relief Maps I Hardcover
First Edition 1,500 prints.
Robert Stephens I Research and Writing
After completing his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Virginia Tech in 2007, Robert Stephens left his childhood hometown of Summerville, South Carolina, and moved to Mumbai, India. He joined RMA Architects as an apprentice at the age of 22 and is now a principal at the same firm. In 2016, he founded Urbs Indis, a studio that narrates lesser-known civic histories through the juxtaposition of archival material with contemporary aerial photographs of urban India. His work has been exhibited in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Chennai and Edinburgh, and has appeared in publications such as The Guardian, DOMUS India and Scroll. He currently lives in Mumbai with his wife and son.
Fauwaz Khan I Project Management and Overlays
Fauwaz Khan is a practising architect with a strong interest in history. He is currently working at the urban and rural scale in and around Mumbai. Fauwaz graduated in 2019 from Balwant Sheth School of Architecture, Mumbai.
Studio Anugraha I Book Design
Deshna Mehta is the co-founder of