IF.BE makes room for art, architecture and design collaborations at Mumbai’s 144-year-old Ice Factory

Mumbai’s new transdisciplinary space blends ideas of architecture, art, retail and community, while resting comfortably on 144 years of history

Mumbai’s new transdisciplinary space blends ideas of architecture, art, retail and community, while resting comfortably on 144 years of history

Ballard Estate has a reputation for turning into a ghost town after office hours. But, a once crumbling 144-year-old ice factory sandwiched between Cochin and Calicut streets, now transformed into Mumbai’s new transdisciplinary space, could well become the first step towards revitalizing the business district.

Art displayed at The Substation

Art displayed at the substation | Photo credit: special arrangement

The exposed brick and stone walls are steeped in history. It’s where giant slabs of Boston ice cream were once unloaded to be enjoyed as short-lived treats for our tropical country’s wealthy elite. Businessman Nanabhoy Byramjee Jeejeebhoy opened the Bombay Ice Manufacturing Co in 1878, which later became Ambico Ice Factory (it still operates at reduced capacity). Now, after two and a half years of renovation, the 10,000 square foot space, renamed IF.BE, aims to be a hub for architects, designers and artists.

“As an industry, the art world is siloed – with artists, architects and designers operating their own restrictive bubbles,” says architect and founder Kamal Malik, 72, who launched the radical adventure with his partners Abhijit Mehta and Amardeep Tony Singh. . Their innovative vision is to encourage all creatives to collaborate in an experimental arts incubator and engage with civilians in a democratic, free and open place for all, rather than staying in their own lane.

Elise Ruth in concert at IF.BE

Elise Ruth in concert at IF.BE | Photo credit: special arrangement

Building on history

The name is an acronym for Ice Factory and Ballard Estate, with “IF” and “BE” also hinting at the potential and possibilities that could emerge from this evolving space. The single-story terraced structure is a charm to behold even as a bare skeleton, with its ancient ice-cooling coil preserved under glass at the entrance, the building’s functional overhead gantry (once used to lift ice and now ideal for dividing up space or creating dynamic art and installations), and a gigantic fireplace that towers above. The space is now segmented into five sections.

Entry of IF.BE

Entrance to IF.BE | Photo credit: special arrangement

The factory’s giant old banyan tree – stuffy amid the shacks and decaying structure – which first caught Kamal’s eye as he passed the factory a few years ago, occupies a prominent place of choice in the courtyard that houses the Banyan Tree Café. The substation is a reading room and gift shop; The cathedral, with its steel and buffalo plank roof hewn to let in northern and eastern light, is an exhibition space; and the 22-foot, column-less Ice Factory is designed for performances, architecturally-focused exhibitions, film screenings, lectures and workshops – all of which invert the notion of a traditional gallery” with spaces multifunctional and fluid that can be easily reconfigured depending on the nature of the event or performance.” Soon, IF.BE will also have a gourmet Indian restaurant and bar called Native Bombay (which will be managed by Shahrom Oshtori, former general manager of Park Hotel).

The Banyan Tree Café

The Banyan Tree Cafe | Photo credit: special arrangement

The original project

Much of the factory’s original structures, including Burmese teak trusses and roof panels, have been retained. The wear and tear of a century has not been completely erased either. A collapsed roof, now supported by a steel frame, was not concealed, nor was the discoloration of the walls and floor.

It sets a precedent in India for spaces that blend creative and retail. “This [format] has existed for a long time abroad. India also has a few – more recently in places like the Jehangir Gallery, where you have the Samovar Cafe or the Prithvi Theater with its cafe,” says Kamal, adding that such civic spaces or “microcosms where culture , hospitality and retail activities are happening at the same time. the enclosure” are the destination of the public spaces.

Kamal Malik

Kamal Malik | Photo credit: special arrangement

A smooth exercise

IF.BE opened its doors on April 17 with a two-week inaugural exhibition titled “Refraction: The (Re)Making of the Ice Factory” curated by Kamal and artist Parul Thacker. Juxtaposing 300 black and white photographs taken during the renovation and architectural drawings (stylized as art), it documents the factory’s transformation. Since then, the space has hosted multidisciplinary performances by Norwegian actress-architect Elise Ruth, film screenings by filmmaker Amit Dutta, a discussion between actor Saif Ali Khan and Sunhil Sippy on the latter’s journey from director to photographer, etc “Both as an architect and a performance artist working in situ, it was a pleasure to witness such incredible and subtle restoration work, with so much love and respect for the original ice factory “, shares Elise.

An interaction between actor Saif Ali Khan and director-photographer Sunhil Sippy

An interaction between actor Saif Ali Khan and director-photographer Sunhil Sippy | Photo credit: special arrangement

Street view

Ballard Estate was built as a port city by the British Raj between 1914 and 1918 to consolidate maritime trade in Bombay. It had six streets named Goa, Cochin, Calicut, Mangalore, Karwar and Kumtha, which extended to the shipyards, of which only Cochin and Calicut streets were not renamed by the government. Each street takes its name from the town from which the ships arrived.

The idea of ​​IF.BE will hopefully be one of continuity. Ballard Estate, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Mumbai Port Trust, has many spaces that just need a little imagination and a spirit of collaboration to come to life. “The neighborhood has a uniform architectural style, with a central open space between each row of colonial buildings, which can be carefully planned to create more commercially viable cultural venues like this,” Kamal concludes, envisioning a model for gentrification which can contribute to the restoration of abandoned warehouses and warehouses.

A freelance journalist since 2015, the writer takes care of late-night networking events and crazy deadlines.


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Rozella J. Cook