The Victoria Terminus was designed in the Gothic style adapted to suit the Indian context. After the Rampart removal, the authorities chose to adorn Bombay with the height of 19th century architectural fashions. The governor of the time, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, invited Gothic Revival architects to assist him in planning the city’s growth. They followed his ideals to found an indigenous school of Anglo-Indian architecture. Due to several studies of ancient Hindu sites, historic styles came to be incorporated into building designs of the 1860’s, 1870’s and 1880’s in Bombay and in other parts of India. The High Victorian Gothic style was extremely compatible with both, the Indian taste and its building tradition. The Gothic style, offering the colour and complexity of Mughal and Hindu architecture, harmonized and most effectively made reference to the indigenous preference for ornamentation, making it the right choice of style for Victoria Terminus.
The skyline, turrets, pointed arches and eccentric ground plans of the Gothic Revival structure being closest in
appearance to the traditional Indian palace architecture gave an appropriate platform for the incorporation of vernacular architecture.
The building is a utilitarian work of art, with Steven’s wit and play in a deceptive non-symmetrical symmetry. The building is symmetrical about the east-west axis. The elements are freely changed in style, size and materials, and yet there is an indescribable unity in totality. The building was presented as a palace with all the sides of the building being as focal in nature as the other. The skyline and turrets of the Gothic Revival style being closest in appearance to the traditional Indian Palace emphasized the impact of the building. The ‘C’ shaped building is planned symmetrically about the east-west axis. The uni-axial symmetry is crowned by a high central dome, which acts as the focal point around which the building is built. The two side wings enclose the courtyard, which opens onto the street. The wings are anchored on all four sides by turrets that effectively balance and frame the central dome.
Striking features in the main entrance include ornate wooden doors spaced between impressively crafted marble columns and a grand cantilevered staircase that loftily skirts the walls with eight and a half feet wide overhanging slabs of blue stone, beautiful wrought iron railing and rich Sienna marble wall. Between each of the eight ribs of the dome are long, stained glass windows decorated with the GIPR monogram and arms and foliage. The use of different coloured stone creates a striking impact. There are carvings in white limestone contrasting with grey basalt stone used for detailing on the dome. The main structure is in yellow malad stone and red sandstone with limestone used effectively to pronounce the corner stones.
The Indianisation of the ornamentation has created an indigenous school of motifs and embellishments like the Gujrati trellis- work offsetting the pointed arches, the use of floral and animal motifs in typical Indian style like the peacock jali. There are typically European symbols like empirical shields and animal motifs like owls, which intermingle with the vernacular fenestrations. Other prominent features are the essentially European gargoyles.
These are seen adorning all corners of the building and also skirting the base of the dome. Though most are European in design, the use of tropical animals like the crocodile adds an Indian touch. Monkeys play on the arches of the structure while squirrels scamper around the cornices. Thus the building is a unique example of Anglo-Indian architecture.
The planning of the building is simple, with large working spaces. Stevens has conceived a simple arrangement of large rooms with high ceiling, surrounded by verandahs. Thick load bearing walls and an arrangement of transitional spaces from open to semi-open to closed was the perfect solution to the hot humid climate of the region. The local climate and culture was taken into full consideration in design. The external corridors afford excellent protection from the heavy monsoon rains that afflict the area. The use of inner windows, shuttered from the weather, avoids the unpleasant effects, which exposed shutters and wooden awnings have on a facade’s appearance. The simplicity and the robustness of the arrangement of spaces is concealed by the elaborate architectural embellishments for which the building is more known.
The dome, being the most prominent feature, covers the grand central staircase. The vast magnificent space with its
single volume from floor to dome and its impressive cantilevered staircase spiralling around the open well, was certainly designed to impress and ovderawe the visitor. There is elaborate detailing and use of Italian marble for dado work in the interior. Intricately carved squinches are incorporated in the corner spaces.
The ground floor and the wing across the rail line housing the Star Chambers has a wealth of choice Italian marble, polished Indian blue stone and elaborate stone arches covered with carved foliage and grotesques. Other features here include a tessellated floor, dados of glazed tiles, stained glass windows, galleries of highly ornamented iron work executed by students of the J. J. School of Arts and long counters made of cleverly blended woodebony, teak and sewan. The groined roof of the booking office is painted in a shade of azure with gold stars.