mid-day's 39th anniversary: The sky is the limit

By Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

Updated: Jun 29, 2018, 09:54 IST

A key player in planning Mumbai's first children's museum, this aerial photographer, rare books collector and American architect is a pucca Bombaywallah at heart

Robert D Stephens has created Urbs Indis, a free-for-all digital repository of exhibits, photographs and books built from his photography assignments across Indian cities. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Robert D Stephens, 34
Principal at RMA Architects, photographer and rare books collector

Let's organise the shoot on the terrace of the building where our firm is located; you'll get a fairly nice view of Fort's skyscape," Robert D Stephens suggests when we connect to discuss a photo op. His choice mirrors his love affair with the city, from the ground and above. Mumbai caught the fancy of South Carolina-born Stephens when he first arrived here in 2006.

Over a decade later, he is buried neck deep in planning the ambitious children's museum that will stand near the Natural History wing inside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. His mentor, senior architect and urban planner, Rahul Mehrotra spotted his talent when the young American was looking for work in the city. "Rahul's vision is inspiring; the city will benefit from this revolutionary blueprint. We think of it as a 'Pavilion in the Garden'; and it remains a guiding principle for this project," shares the heritage buff, who refuses to commute from his home in Bandra to Fort by anything other than local train.

In late May, Stephens, conducted a walkabout at the under-construction site of the museum for 50 cultural influencers from India and overseas. "The museum will be high on interactivity and will break free from the idea of a conventional brick-and-mortar structure," he said. Century-old trees form a canopy around the site, including one that pierces through the roof. Despite a restriction on space [2,700 sq ft approximately], the plan includes an activity centre-cum-museum that will be multipurpose in nature and flexible in approach. "No boxed enclosures here," he says.

But the Irani-café-loving Bandra boy's interest extends beyond the project. His fascination with fast-changing urban skylines was evident at his first exhibition in 2014 of black-and-white frames of Mumbai taken from 15,000 ft above the sea. Delhi, Chennai and Ahmedabad have also been captured from the window seat of a plane. When you prod him about juggling time-consuming pursuits with being an architect, he breaks into a smile. "I love this city too much. And isn't Bombay all about multi-tasking?"

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