Colonial Architecture in India
Colonial Architecture in India
Essay by Moritz Herrmann Cultural History of India
Manipal Institute of Communication
Of course, the India of today is also a product of the decade of colonialism in some ways. And although colonial architecture might be just one piece of the puzzle it remains undeniable that its influence is by no means trivial since the output changed Indian landscape. It is fair to say that India has struggled with the colonial heritage in order to find its post-colonial identity. While political experts agree that India has developed dynamically, architecture critics point out architectural development did not quite so - at least not at the same pace. The following essay wants to examine whether this assumption can be explained by the rule colonial architecture. It gives an overview over that very time and its possible meaning for the later, post-colonial architecture of the independent India. It will focus on urban planning, forts and churches. But first of all, the term of colonial architecture should be made perfectly understand. It refers in general to the style of architecture the Europeans introduced in their colonies abroad. By doing so the Europeans suppressed the culture of the colonies' nations. Thus, however impressive or overwhelming a piece of colonial architecture might appear, its beauty came at a price. The policy of colonialism was and still is simply wrong, and must be named a dark chapter in the book of humankind. In India, colonialism was mostly about the British, the French and the Portuguese invading India, with the Britain Empire maintaining its rule longer than the two others (except for the area of Goa which the Portuguese claimed as their property until 1961). Imperial power was especially expressed by using grand and representative buildings. The invading thought of themselves as superior and tried to emphasize this point via architecture. Yet still, it was not only about forcing the colonial way onto India but also the other way round. Local craftsmen incorporated new skills from the foreigners and added them to their trade. Colonial architecture became assimilated into India's diverse traditions. Other innovations made during the European Industrial Revolution came when the British Raj focused on India. Later on, the involvement brought more experimental styles such as the Art Deco movement, internationally acclaimed architect Le Corbusier. Ever since, fusion has been a consistent feature of both modern Indian architecture and very classic European architecture.
To go further into detail, I want to explain explicitly the colonial idea of urban planning. Of course, India was already strongly urbanized before British supremacy but the new controlling power turned everything into a different direction. A number of new towns and new suburbs were built to house the British. Since India was still divided into administrative districts as under the Mughals reign, the towns which once functioned as district headquarters were the ones where most of the new material was erected. Here, the general idea was to physically and socially separate the Europeans from the indigenous populace, as for instance in the so-called ‘White’ and ‘Black’ towns of Madras. The damage that has been done by urban planning of this kind was enormous. Delhi and Lucknow for example lost huge parts of their historic areas to these city-core demolitions. Then, in the later half of the 19th century frenetic building activity in British India could be spotted. The application of urban design guidelines resulted in the unified character that old settlements of that time still possess. British architecture progressed from single buildings to more densely packed urban schemes. Calcutta and Bombay serve a perfect example of this. In addition to major urban design schemes, it was the civil lines and the cantonments which remain today a major evidence of 19th century British presence, and which in turn have also influenced much middle-class housing development in modern India. Typical characteristics are amongst other the following: tree-lined streets, divided building plots as well as bungalows instead of a house as the main place to live daily life. It became even more British when churches, clubs, pubs, race yards, sport arenas and golf courses were introduced to the scenery. The bungalow’s design in particular evolved as time went by. Its dual origins include the detached rural Bengal house sitting in its compound and the British suburban villa. As these two were mixed, a special building form was the result. Very often, the bungalow was set back from the road by a walled compound. Whilst early bungalows used to have stretched, low classical lines all over them, the later ones featured pitched roofs and richly carpentered details including due to the Gothic background of the Victorian age.