Empire s Impact on The Built Environment
British-Indian Architectural, Symbolic, and AestheticInterchanges
By: Sean Smith History 4002 Thesis Paper Spring 2010 Semester Dr. David Johnson
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson
With their civilizing mission, the British brought with them to their new colonial subjects a new architecture laden with its own imagery and symbolism as well as more technologically advanced building methods and materials that the native Indians adapted to their own directly or modified to fit their own social and cultural constructs.While the British held deep admiration for the ancient Indian culture and its relics, including architecture, even to the point of maintaining much of its unique traditions and aesthetics, they both inadvertently and intentionally introduced new philosophies, symbolisms, technologies, materials, and building methods to the Indians. These new ideas and elements that the British brought to Indian architecture fundamentally changed not only the general appearance, but also the meaning, function, and how architecture was viewed by the Indians and British alike, both while India was a part of the Empire and thereafter as a direct result of this interaction. Both the British and the Indians had a profound impact on each other s cultures, forever altering each people s values, morals, scientific, and spiritual understandings, histories, and the various physical elements that convey these notions; specifically, their arts, and within that, architecture. Granted, the British felt a much less poignant and quickly stinging transformation upon their lives from the Indians. However,there was a profound alteration; although slight, it is indeed measurable. This impact if only labeled or
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson seen as the effects of a fascination or a fad of the time, which like any, leaves an indelible mark on the course of whatever area of life it touches and, as history teaches, there is no impact too small to sway the path of history. India decidedly felt the brunt of change brought on in a quick onslaught, more by force than by choice. By many western societal and cultural standards and views that the British held when they first encountered the Indian people, they were in their eyes socially, culturally, politically, and scientifically backwards. The masses were illiterate, ruled by a select few, determined by heredity, which wielded all power and knowledge including religious teachings that were disseminated through the select Brahmins, or Religious Leaders. This pattern of society must have looked to the British very familiar and rightly so, as this was nearly the very model for their own society only four to five centuries earlier. It may have been this deep, pinching realization more than anything that spurred Britain s lofty rhetoric of assisting the lesser developed . While cultures around the world, developed or not, are drastically different in values, religion, language, history, and so forth, all imbue these vital elements that make them unique in every kind of art that they practice. For many cultures there are usually a few art forms that take precedence over the others and, in this case, Britain and India aligned in visual arts. This was true in paintings, but even more importantly, in architecture. To this extent many corollaries can be drawn between the two societies of India at the time and Britain long past. Latin, like Sanskrit,or any other hieratic language was known only to the elite few, and the religious texts in these languages were only disseminated by the religious leaders, essentially giving the powerful a monopoly on
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson religious salvation, and thus social standing. In order for the general, illiterate populace to have access to texts not only on religion but on of politics, morals and values through other means such as imagery and symbols, these needed interpretation that their own local traditions and histories imparted meaning to. One can tour Europe and, like India, find inscribed on any building in deep detail and painstaking craftsmanship the very symbols that make up the basic understanding of any tale or tradition of any culture or religion. The most notable of these buildings tended to be churches, temples, palaces, mosques, and other buildings of government or worship the like. Examples of this extend from the earliest Greek temple pediment to the soaring cathedrals of France, Italy, and others. As Victor Hugo so poignantly illustrates in The Hunchback of Notre Dame This will kill that. The book will kill the edifice. The printing press and consequential rise of literacy necessitated a change in the function of architecture within culture and society as a whole, and it was this change more than anything that drove the development of architectural theory in Europe over the course of centuries and still drives it today. However, it was the drastic impact of this upon the Indians that had the most jarring impact of all, showing how true and fundamental this bit of architectural philosophy really is. Indians had to fundamentally modify their architectural philosophy on need for architecture essentially overnight, and the only model they had was the British who at the same time were altering the only architectural symbols they had ever known, imbued with religious, moral, and historical meaning that was now being changed and re-written by the British Raj, all in the name of their own progress.
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson The British had their own set of architectural symbols that soon started to appear in India as the Indians acquired more and more of the desired British Taste, opinions, words and intellect. 1These were being taught and even desired by Indians as a way to improve their own social and class standings in this recognized new order of things.Incorporation into new buildings, especially those serving function previously unseen or unheard of that were a part of this new way of life in that the Indians have never had or needed before such as railroad stations, libraries, or other public amenities, became the most recognizably British. Many Indians were reluctant at first to even acknowledge the need for such a change, but as tradition became less and less an economically viable reason for the extra work that went into the creation of such ornament in a building new meaning and reason had to be appended. Meaning not for logic s sake but for the deep spiritual and communicative connection that Indians had with many of their great buildings. While Indian architecture changed in meaning, and consequently aesthetics, it also changed in the way it was constructed through technology both in materiality and methodology. This gave another layer to the British aesthetic that was becoming increasingly prevalent throughout Indian society and culture to the point where British influence and reminders could not be escaped. British Architecture started out as mere utilitarian military buildings and function based commercial warehouses for the East India Company but quickly evolved as a sense of permanence and prominence was required. Symbols of empire and British majesty and power quickly flooded their new edifices and this growth spread these ideas and notions all through their new imperial realm. This was Thomas Babington (1800-1859), shortly to become Baron Macaulay: Speech before the Edinburgh Philosophical Society in 1846. 5
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson at first a coincidental bonus for the British but soon it was observed, studied, and eventually exploited and used in a much more deliberate way through and by a number of rather noted British Architects. Among others not particularly concerned with the field of architecture James Fergusson and Putnam Pickering, two noted writers and architects at the time startedexamining this phenomenon and this observationwas soon followed and inspired such architects as Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker. The changes herein discussed have been thoroughly documented and studied by a wide variety of Indian scholars, Architects, and Imperial Historians. These changes are encompassed in every picture and every edifice, old and new. To a satisfactory extent the significance as to why these changes occurred has been answered. Keeping in mind the why is an ever prevalent and evolving subject, the main focus should be the how in addition to the why. How the British presence caused such a fundamental and pathological shift in the Indian architecture, aesthetically, symbolically, and methodological is what is investigated herein. As argued by such historians as Thomas Metcalf,and discussed at length by historian Anthony King symbolism has a strong place in Indian culture and it was the mixing of these symbolisms and iconographies that gave a dire need to redefine the language of Indian architecture upon the British departure.2 Both discuss the symbolisms and icons directly reflected beliefs and cultural concepts deeply rooted in Indo-Saracenic, or Indian and Muslimsociety and so the alteration of these social elements by the British inevitably altered or even shifted the symbols and icons appended to them. It is made very clear in the early writings of such architects and architectural historians such as John
Anthony D. King. Colonial Urban Development: Culture, Social Power, and Environment. London: Routledge and Paul, 1976. 6
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson Emmett, James Ferguson, and Putnam Pickering that the British were well aware of the impact architecture could have on the altering of society in the reverse fashion and how it could be used to advance their own colonial goals. How architecture is infact used and consciously employed to attain these goals is what can be revealed by comparing both major shifts in architectural imagery and that of societal opinion in social, political, and economic areas of thinking. Writings and research of Robert Home is an excellent guide to just such an endeavor utilizing sources on the architectural scale that he uses on the large city scale.3 Drawing on a wide variety of imagery of Indian architecture can give clues to its interpretation both intentional and accidental. Clearly, looking at prominent buildings from before, during, and after British occupation a number of distinct aesthetic differences are readily noticeable that have nothing to do with the manner in which they were constructed, although that difference is also, separately and just as easily identifiable. The important benchmark which must be set when examining and analyzing any change is the prior conditions that existed and in the case of art or architecture the meaning of these prior conditions as well as the very reason for their existence. Within the constructs of Indian and Muslim architecture there is used a vast palette of symbols and imagery respectively. Indian architecture, much like western architecture during the middle ages, used a wide variety of symbols, images, and other artistic elements to convey meaning and religious or other important texts and stories. Muslim architecture on the other hand is remarkably barren of symbols but does employ applied imagery as part of
Robert Home. Of Planting and Planning: the Making of British Colonial Cities. London: Chapman & Hall. 1997. 16.
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson this conveyance as the very nature of their religion de-emphasizes the usage of symbolism and iconography in any widespread or collaborated form.4 Prior to European incursion into and restructuring of the political constructs of India, the political system of India was dominated through religious leaders and the religious law was a major part of the political and corporeal lawsystems.Important symbols within religious structures included primarily deities;when absent, important creatures that personified deities and actions that these deities were associated with performing or controlling in humans or in nature were also depicted (see below: Identifiable deities expressed on exterior of Kandariya Mahadeva Temple).
Location had a very important meaning within architecture for different symbols and deities both in cardinal direction and in vertical elevation both which changed depending on temples and their specific functions and dedications within the religious
Spiro Kostof. A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals. New York: Oxford University Press. 1995. 270. 8
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson constructs. The higher the placement of a particular deity along the vertical elevation indicated an increased prominence and importance to that particular location and structure.5Like every architectural practice, especially in religious architecture, progression to, around, and through the building is paramount. This was no different for the Indo-Saracenic. Regardless of the form of the building be it square, round, or a complex combination of these, the approach and entry sequence was the same (see below: Orientation and approach sequence diagram).
As temple goers approached and circled the temple prior to entry, a storyboard of deities unrolled along the façade with a specified set of stories underpinning the journey, preparing them for whatever ritual or ceremony they were traveling to that specific temple or structure for. Muslim ritualistic architecture held slightly different values in that while certain imagery was still employed, its cardinal location was of more importance. Just as
Ibid. 228. 9
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson conversely, the approach was very straightforward, linear, and based similarly on cardinal direction rather than any progressive importance or hierarchy. This lack of any one prominent element of imagery gave added meaning to the building and its more fundamental elements such as basic structure, shape, and symbolic orientation.Both Indian and Muslim architects regarded the orientation of their structures with respect to the cardinal direction as important and spiritually significant. It was Muslim architecture and through the very nature of their religious practices that gave certain orientations increased symbolism, the prime example of which being the direction of Mecca.6 Many elements seen in Indo-Saracenic architecture parallel ideas held within Western, and more specifically British architectural practices, although coming into being and evolving quite separately from one another. While Indian structures kept their adornments and significant edifications on the exterior of their structures Muslims chose to focus their attention on the interior.7 Comparable to both,Western practices, namely in churches, utilized both interior and exterior of the building to compose a full story. The exterior often conveyed a story or set of stories from religious texts that were unique and significant to the specific chapel, church, or cathedral. The interiors of these disparate churches conveyed a rather structured set of full stories prescribed by the fixed rituals of Christianity. The most dominant being the chronologically ordered stories of the bible and the Stations of the Cross; identically placed and arranged in any church interior (see below: catholic stations of the cross).
Ibid. 272 James Fergusson. History of Indian and Eastern Architecture. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1891. 42. 10
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson
Although separated by many centuries of development these two architectural cultures shared building methods, materials, and practices in nearly identical ways, yielding vastly different aesthetics and meanings behind them. The best parallels for the examination here can be drawn between Western European and Indian with the exclusion of Muslim architecture as the Muslim populous was for the most part more literate and educated at their respective times than the other two. Literacy rates play a key role in the function of architecture within a religion-based society, as it is the conveyor of meaning and important sacred texts.8The redefining of the role of Architecture in society became a key question for Indians during the British occupation as the major population centers quickly became educated and literacy rates rose rapidly to. This rapid rise was unprecedented opposed to the relatively slow spread of literacy through Europe giving architecture a chance to shift and evolve in its own time and way, meeting the newly emerging needs of the society. This gradual period of change was not present in India,
John T. Emmett. The Bane of English Architecture in The British Quarterly Review. London: Hodder and Stoughton. April 1881. 22.
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson leaving people in a confused state not knowing what their society needed from their buildings, religious and otherwise.9 Western architecture outside of religion had a very specific language that based itself on Greco-Roman temples and houses that had evolved throughout the renaissance and came to symbolize various societal, political, and moral values and traditions. The integration between these religious and Roman elements as Western culture became more and more religion based created a very clear-cut language which any illiterate commoner could interpret and understand the function of the building. When the British first made inroads into India, little impact had been, was, or even intended on being made. Structures were mainly reflective of their functions, simple warehouses and a number of rather temporary administration facilities with residences remaining few in number, these kept to the traditional and vernacular. However, as British interests in India expanded and grew into a more political and governing role, control and influence slipped away from the corporate entity of the East India Company and to a more direct subsidiary of the British government itself.10As the British presence grew and larger, more permanent structures were required to facilitate the infrastructure of the new British Raj, the British initially set into the Indian architectural landscape a series of rather alien structures with little regard to the site on which they sat or the vernacular which they
Partha Mitter. The Early British Port Cities of India: Their Planning and Architecture Circa 1640-1757 in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 95-114. Sussex: Society of Architectural Historians Press. June 1986. 21. Bernard S. Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1996. 19. 12
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson inhabited.11 Very quickly, as the British realized the need to win over the populous of India in order to rule without opposition, the governing officials began to take on Indian mannerism, clothing, and many traditions in order to foster the notion of being one of them and able to relate so that they were truly the best to assist in their cultural upbringing.12 It was by this same realization that the British realized that they knew nothing about these people, which they desired to rule and reform into a more civilized society. For deeper understanding the British sent forth their best scholars, anthropologists, sociologists, linguists, and archeologists to discover the history and traditions of these people as well as their roots. In that work towards this same end had been going on for sometime through private research, the wide swept effort initiated by the governing British had a solid basis of translation, cataloging, and expertise from which to work off of.13 Traditional texts, historical records, artwork and epic poetries which Indians based most of their societal traditions and beliefs on were being translated, studied, analyzed and then interpreted to best service the British agenda. It was during this time that the British learned much of Indian History and worked to incorporate as much of it as possible into their own governing methods to make a seamless and accepted transition. When this methodology wasn t possible, a slight re-writing of their discoveries often worked to their favor and
Thomas R. Metcalf. Architecture and the Representation of Empire: India, 1860-1910 in Representations No. 6, 37-65. Los Angeles: University of California Press. Spring 1984. 52. 12 Bernard S. Cohn. 79. 13 Thomas R. Metcalf. Festival of India: A Tradition Created: Indo-Saracenic Architecture Under the Raj in History Today, 40-45. London: History Today. 1982. 44.
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson went largely unrecognized by the illiterate populous nor the ignorant or paid off elite Brahmins of India.14 The British realized the importance of architecture and design on a large, city scale and on a small domicile scale and what each meant and impacted. The easiest approach to influencing this part of Indian life was through simple addition and alteration of the existing Indian elements. However, buildings thereafterwere recognized as needing to be built with more intentionally Indian aesthetic from the start. This launched an architectural survey to discover what building elements conveyed what meaning to local Indians so that the types of buildings they were building would be immediately recognized, understood, and accepted as such by the Indian populous.15This attempt met with limited success and often times were buildings that stood out as being very different through overly ornate and decorated facades. In comparison to these, traditional Indian structures were very simple and used subtle ornate qualities via the details and craftsmanship which British builders could never quite match up to (see below: British mimicking Indian buildings). Probably the closest the British ever got before abandoning this pursuit was the Gateway of India (see below: Gateway of India).
Bernard S. Cohn. 82. Thomas R. Metcalf. Festival of India . 41.
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson
On the large scale, the British took the lessons that they had learned from Romans and their own past and imposed them rather indiscriminately on Indian towns and cities re-working the tangled road networks into a cohesive city plan. The British believed a solid city plan was essential to more rapid growth and expansion, something that unintelligible masses of dead-end streets could never facilitate efficiently. Roman city planning and design combined with the idea of the grid with large avenues and boulevards gave an 15
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson ordered backbone for growth, but also for control over the populous. Organized streets make everyday life easy and possible for the ordinary citizen, however it also gives a government, in the case of India, unfamiliar with the layout and terrain an ability to quickly learn and disperse into a city taking control and shutting down any commerce and traffic with ease.16 The reordering of towns was not only for the benefit of British control and local traffic, but also this facilitates ease of travel within a city to outside visitors as well. This new design was another way that India was able to expand so quickly into the British popular imagination, through easy tourism and urban domestication. Until the mid nineteenth century the British went far out of their way introducing new ways and ideas to the Indians through the use of a vernacular aesthetic carefully crafted from their research and understanding of Indian history, culture, and tradition. Painstaking measures were undertaken in order to woo the Indians to complacency and hegemony, British leaders dressed in traditional Indian clothing, observed Indian tradition and holidays, as well as ordained their homes with artifacts and Indian cultural treasures. At this same time and into the second half of the nineteenth century many Indians aspired to acting and appearing British in order to be better accepted into the upper echelons both in British and Indian cultures.17As Indians soon found their culture and traditions completely controlled and dictated by the British they had very little left to hang on to that was their own, and to what traditions and beliefs they did cling, often radicalized to a point where the British would intervene and attempt to snuff out these as well.18 As literacy
Spiro Kostof. 350. Bernard S. Cohn, 121. 18 Edward Said. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books. 1993. 26.
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson spread throughout the major population centers of India, which are also the primary architecture generating centers for buildings of any significance or note, a redefinition of what the building edifice was to become to the Indians took place. First Indians started to pull in British symbols, icons, and aesthetics that had been molded by the British to look more Indian, part of the assimilation of the new government to the Indian society. However, the long the time elapse the more Britons tired of trying to look Indians and as a result of many drastic changes within the colony, dispensed with the extra cost and labor and reverted back to an architecture that they knew and did well.19 It was the elements of this architecture that came around most opportunely that the Indians copied as pure form based on history and tradition taught to generations of Indians who now collaborated with British architects in order to design these overly ornate typical British buildings. These new buildings became not only the symbol for,but also the normative in the second half of the British occupation of India (see below: Indian Parliament Building).
Putnam J. Pickering. Architecture Under Nationalism . Boston: The Nationalist Educational Association. Pamphlet. 1890.
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson While it was mainly British design professionals who executed these quintessentially British buildings, it still remained their desire that in being good architecture, it fit in with its surroundings both natural andvernacular built environment. Additionally, the methods and materials utilized in construction were completely local and local Indian labor was used for the construction, this aside from any aesthetic quality lends a soul of Indian ownership and propriety, such an example was in the materiality of the stonework, quarried from the centuries old traditional Mughal site in Rajasthan.20 A number of drastic changes shook the Empire and the British opinion of Indians, their culture, and to what level they wanted to assimilate, incorporate, and imitate them. Once the Indians began sparking revolts such as the Sepoy revolt in 1857 and espousing goals of home rule, the British took a more direct and Eurocentricapproach to dealing with Indians on a political, social, and cultural level. These revolts and rhetoric sparked a series of rather brutal and divisive conflict between the British and Indians that laid the foundations for a fundamental shift in attitudes towards one another. Once the Indian independence movement and clear disillusionment with the British Raj became evident the British very quickly dispensed with any attempt at meeting the Indians on their terms politically or culturally.21 This approach to diplomacy with the Indians had clearly failed to achieve its desired effect and while there was a drastic backlash directly following the mutinies and revolts to making everything act and seem European again there was a steady return to a middle ground. The British eventually returned to the idea of giving credence to Indian influences, as within any discipline, the vernacular precedent cannot be ignored. The
James Fergusson. 22. Putnam J. Pickering. 18
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson Indian Independence movement marked a drastic change within the established political system of India but had only a brief impact on Architecture for as the notion of self rule grew closer to reality, the British realized that the infrastructure they were building would, at least in rhetoric, long outlast their stay in India.22 A fantastic example that innovatively combines the philosophies and methodology of the British and symbolism and technology of the Indians was the creation of New Delhi. This was a new capital city created as a capital city to be representative of the new India as shaped by Britain occupation, and to this extent its design had a distinct undertone of undeniably British influence and eastern philosophical direction.23Even amongst the structures within the city there were a number of unique architectural theories and directions, most notable is the disparity between the Viceroy Residenceor now the Rashtrapati Bhavan designed by Edwin Lutyens and the Parliament House or now called Sansad Bhavan designed by Herbert Baker. Both Architects had a drastically different espoused view, ironically contrary to the work that they produced. Lutyens, who was the primary architect of most New Delhi structures, practiced the idea that the architecture should be British, pure of Indian contaminating influences a philosophy executed in most of his structures through New Delhi with the exception of a rather heavily Indian
Barry Michael Broman. Relics of the Raj: Colonial Architecture in Myanmar in Arts of Asia, 88-97. St. Louis: Arts of Asia Publications. December 1997. 92. David Andrew Johnson. Imperial Vistas: New Delhi s Role as a Symbol of British Constitutional Reform in India and the Cultural Politics of Colonial Space, 1911-1931. Ph.D. diss., University of California, Irvine, 2004.
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson influenced Viceroys residence.24 Herbert Baker, the other prominent architect within the planning of New Delhi advocated a design strategy heavily laden with Indian aesthetic and symbolism, a theory that never appeared in any finished work to any measurable or outwardly apparent extent.25An innovative connection between European city planning and Indian architectural emphasis on the north-south axis was the creation of the Queen s Way or Janpath, which was a long and wide boulevard that runs the length of New Delhi connecting the economic and political centers of the city. This axial coordination between what was traditional in European city planning with Indian spiritual ideas and significance went so far as establishing the city itself as a more corporeal and earthly rooted diagram of the Axis Mundi so highly revered and widely implemented in traditional Indian design(see below: New Delhi Master Plan).
Robert Grant Irving. Indian Summer: Lutyens, Baker, and Imperial Delhi. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1981. 43.
Ibid. 21. 20
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New Delhi was a capitol city built as a capitol city, and to this extent there was a natural tendency and desire to imbue certain symbols of the established political system. These symbols were incorporated on every scale from the citywide master plan down to the artwork within and upon significant buildings.26The prolific positioning of effigies, artwork and statues of significant British individuals and events significant to British History throughout the city were just some of the ways this was done. The grid system that was implemented eased navigability and control over the city and the sweeping boulevards, which invaded the grid connecting key elements of governance and symbolic importance throughout the city.These methods and elements tie directly back not only to tradition, but also to design precedents that served similar functions as symbolic national
Robert Home. 145.
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson capitol cities, such as Washington D.C. (see below: Washington D. C. L Enfant Master Plan)
It is essential to note when studying the constructions of the British within India that nearly all influences come from Hindu architecture, this was not an oversight on the part of the British, but favoritism. The British for a long time had worked to drive a wedge between Hindu and Muslim Indians spawning distrust and dissent within the peoples by giving certain priorities and credence to various religious and cultural aspects on both sides of the growing divide.27 While in practice the British treated Muslims and Hindus equally, the Hindus through the passive acceptance of whatever the British did eventually emerged as the apparent favorites and held the highest standing socially in the British perspective when it came to education and government employ. This combined with the
Bernard S. Cohn. 48. 22
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson fact that the majority of Indians in most every province that British controlled directly as well as every major city were in fact Hindu.28 Even before gaining independence Indian sentiment towards anything and everything British shifted away from popularity as part of the movement for home rule, essentially showing that their need for anything British was no longer.Indians held a particularly strong view of the various symbols of empire that the British left behind, this stemmed from artwork and industrial products to architectural works. While artwork, statues, and consumer products could be altered, removed, and even destroyed, buildings could not be so easily redacted. The British had for centuries shaped the Indian consciousness into a method of reading art and architecture that was similar to their own; while this method of reading could not be simply ignored or switched off upon the departure of the British, the Indians could give new meaning to architectural and artistic elements that they read.Traditional British Architecture had very staunch meanings applied to them stemming all the way back to Roman and renaissance design. It was these symbolisms and their meanings that the Indians took and inverted in the spirit of complete breaking with British thinking and tradition. While Indians realized the need for a coherent and national architectural language, they turned the symbolism imposed by the British into very different and in many cases, polar opposite, meanings. This applied not only to the architectural elements, but also the significance of the buildings themselves. In many cases buildings that held extreme power and importance to the British were often relegated to rather basic and non-influential functions while structures of little regard to the British but
Ibid. 121. 23
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson housing Indian controlled functions of governance were given extreme importance. Such examples are the Viceroy Residence, once the most important building in all of India now houses the Indian president, a largely powerless figurehead of government.29 The same can be said for the way that Indians viewed their own architecture elementally and broadly. While architectural practice shifted from British dominated to completely Indian controlled, Architects realized that continuity was key but change and rapid evolution to an aesthetic representative of a purely Indian identity. India, a rather young nation was still struggling to establish an identity all its own and with it was necessitated an architecture that was both iconic and wholly representative.Indians rather than reverting back to architectural notions of their spiritual and cultural history opted to wipe clean the slate and begin with what was going to be important to the new nation and people as a whole. The principle idea was to ignore anything that may have been tainted with British interpretation as most scholarship, documentation, and written research of Indian history had been.30With the chaotic partition of India, it was widely recognized that the society, culture, and political systems of India would be something new and unprecedented. To that effect Indian Architects were able,through eastern schooling, and ready to take advantage of the Modernist movement that was well known and developed worldwide, the main tenant of which was the concept of a complete break with historical
Teresa Hubel. Whose India? : The Independence Struggle in British and Indian Fiction and History. Durham: Duke University Press. 1996. 82.
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson precedent and creating an architecture devoid of its meaning.31 This new form, of course, was a natural fit for Indians seeking an architectural base to work from in establishing a form unique to India and that completely broke with its colonial and pre colonial past. An iconic representation as to how quickly and readily Indians embraced this new architectural philosophy was the construction and establishment of the city of Chandigarh. Designed primarily by noted modernist LeCorbusier working from base designs and master plans from architects Albert Mayer and Matthew Nowicki, Chandigarh was and remains a city that embraces architectural experimentation and exploration.32As their national identity began to coalesce in the 1950s and 1960s, India looked to this architectural more and more for the symbolism that it lacked, folding modernist ideas and philosophies into their traditional building practices and very way of life (see below: Chandigarh Assembly Hall).
William J. R. Curtis. Modern Architecture Since 1900. London: Phaidon Press Ltd. 2001. 223.
Ibid. 427. 25
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From the governmental assembly hall to the latest university building, the rectangular grid systemthat the city was organized on, to its idealized goal of healthy and utopian living for members of all classes and incomes modernist principles are displayed in their purest and most abundant form. City design was efficient based on maximizing sector-based transit, with universality as to where in India, or the world for that matter, it could be located.33 Britain amid its reconstruction from the Second World War, happenings in other colonial states around the world, as well as the lingering political and personal issues from their own withdrawl from India were left with a distinctly altered view on the culture and abilities of its colonial peoples. Over the centuries of British presence in India, most notably
United Nations World Heritage Center. Urban and Architectural Work of Le Corbusier in Chandigarh http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5082/ (Accessed March 20, 2010).
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson the early years, British architecture at home took on a unique, Indian inspired design based around the popularity andnovelty of India as a crown colony. As previously discussed, everything Indian was in style in the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century with widespread reception and a sense of national pride. Architecture, a discipline based on prior buildings and historical precedent received at this time a vast influx of new material for precedent study and emulation, which laid the ground work for architects not only in Britain but Europe in general.34 Architects such as John Nash replicated and used this aesthetic as a basis for overly ornate and ostentatious buildings like the Royal Pavilion at Brighton(see below: Royal Pavilion at Brighton, England).
The Indian embrace of modernism had round about influence in the acceptance of the movement as mainstream in Britain, but first it had to go through Brazil and the United States, both prompted and encouraged by Indian modernist tendencies. Even after the complete decimation of London and other cities throughout Britain modernist architecture
India in England in The Calcutta Review No. LVI. London: The University of Liverpool. Pamphlet. July 1859.
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson took a back seat to more traditional Neo-Gothic and classically inspired through GrecoRoman and Renaissance designs. In conclusion there was an undeniable interchange of architectural ideas, methods, philosophies and symbols between Britain and India both during and after the rule of the British Raj. Architectural symbolism and the reading thereof by Indians underwent at first a fundamental shift following the necessitated change in the philosophic need of architecture due to the rise of literacy. Architecture then underwent a complete reversal and elimination of all meaning in order to discover a new architecture that would best exemplify Indian society and culture and new and united nation. These shifts and changes from the ancient to the modern were marked with drastic shifts in social policy, cultural attitudes, and international contact as well as popularized national identities and conceptions of those by other peoples.
Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson
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Sean Smith History 4002 Race Gender and Empire - Dr. David Johnson Mitter, Partha. The Early British Port Cities of India: Their Planning and Architecture Circa 1640-1757 in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 95-114. Sussex: Society of Architectural Historians Press. June 1986. King, Anthony D. Buildings and Society: Essays on the Social Development of the Built Environment. London: Routledge & Kegan. 1980. King, Anthony D. The Bungalow: The Production of a Global Culture. London: Routledge & Kegan. 1984. Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books. 1993. United Nations World Heritage Center. Urban and Architectural Work of Le Corbusier in Chandigarh http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5082/ (Accessed March 20, 2010).
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