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History of Architecture (AP313) | Term Paper | 2013

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Critique on Gautam Bhatias book Punjabi Baroque and
Other Memories of Architecture

Term Paper for History of Architecture (AP131)

Diksha Jain
Roll Number: 06416901611
Sushant School of Art and Architecture

The well to do Indian measures his success by the home he builds
A new type of architecture has flowered in the urban residential realm of India. The
type of architecture that is a result of the owners fantasies being converted to
reality with the inputs of The Architect. However, the architects inputs are just
limited to building the owners vision for his home. The result is an banal
combination of fancy and imperative! Bhatias experience as a practicing architect in
New Delhi has not been a pleasant one because he believes that if the client has to
build his house as he wants it, he does not need an architect! And further Bhatia
takes a very satirical approach to describe this flowering architecture in urban
residences though out the book,

History of Architecture (AP313) | Term Paper | 2013
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Bhatias book Punjabi Baroque and Other Memories of Architecture is an anthology
of his feelings towards the society, the architecture, the architect and the system. It
is set in 1993 in New Delhi 16 years after Bhatiss graduation from University of
Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA. The book is written from his personal viewpoint; he
calls it an informal diary talking about his experience with clients, contractors and
Bhatia is extremely cynical of urban Indian life, pointing out instances of murder, a
wife being burned to death, corruption in government offices, bribing etc. He calls
cricket national pass time.
The country is like a benign cancer, a banyan tree rooting and rerooting, never
dying, slowly gaining new and effective footholds in the ground. Sometimes it is
difficult to live in the eternal overdose if India: its daily message of violence, the
generous hospitality of its ordinary working life: the persistent symbols of piety and
He finds it difficult to survive amidst all the corruption and bureaucracy and almost
wishes to be away from India.
Of what is Architecture and what merely a building? Bhatia says only an architect
knows the answer and its best he keeps it that way. But I think there is no
distinction, even the cowshed is architecture if it has Corinthian columns and a
pediment. Its a matter innovation and inheritance.
Modern is architecture, traditional is building!?
Bhatia is highly influenced by the architecture of New York. He finds Indian
architecture an outcome of conformity, an outcome of set standards. This in certain
cases might be true! but not just for India
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For example, the architecture of a random New York apartment building has not
much to do with innovation. A building overpowered by its utilitarian needs rather
than aesthetics, philosophy or innovation!
This is a result of rapid growth of population. We need more houses as quickly as
possible and so the builders build! More like mass production. This is not the fault
of the architect, its the situation.
With this argument it almost becomes true!
Architects will perhaps disagree, but to my mind, architecture exists only to
provide meaningful occupation to architects
Since the architect has to build only what the client desires,
the client can directly go to the builder and explain to him.
The architect has become a mere mediator, as opposed to
the designer of the building.
Architecture in India is a happy and convenient compromise
Following this argumument Bhatia presents a satirical romanticisation of the
architect only reinforcing the idea that architecture only exists to provide jobs to
architects. The architect is the busiest person on earth, he has to deal with clients,
contractors, take care of his family, attend conferences, fulfil all social
Bhatia after all this comes up with a theory
that all the upcoming domestic architecture in
India is trying to somehow match up to the
great architecture of the west. Tamil Tiffany,
Punjabi Baroque, Bania Gothic, Brahimin
medievalism, Anglo Indian Rococo and so onThe house is a display of History of
Figure 1
History of Architecture (AP313) | Term Paper | 2013
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Architecture-Diksha Jain,3B - critique on Punjabi Baroquepersonal taste, a reflection
of the personality. The Indian society does have a mindset that what is from west
has to be better which naturally reflects, so who is to blame?
Bhatia explains with an analogy, an English mistress from Devonshire living with all
the sophistication of the British lifeCrockery from china, cutlery from Sheffield,
Chairs from the Baroque, Windows from Gothic. To her the Indian life style would be
a rude shock. How then do we expect the English country house to sit in Jabalpur
with harmony!
The bunglow slowly adapting to the Indian climate though generous verandas, deep
loggias, jails etc but the bunglow with all its setbacks and huge open spaces
never addressed the street. The street is the most important Public place. And in a
place like India where the population densities are so high living in an imitation of
the English country house seems selfish and illogical.
After three hundred years of colonial architecture, the Italian villa was to become
the symbol of free India
Sir Joseph Heinz made European imitations for the rich and wealthy Indians. India,
which at that time was hungry for new ideas. The villa not set amidst scent of olives
and grapes in open rural landscape but in the urban chaos of India. This villa
becoming the dream of independent Indian
Architecture was a matter of imitation, quantity and numbers
Bhatia now takes upon modern architecture in India. Modernism was at its peak in
the fifties and sixties in India. Modern architecture lacked life and warmth, it was
extremely abstract and hence according to Bhatia building a house in modern style
was simply stupid.
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The lifelessness of modern style gave birth to what Bhatia calls Punjabi Baroque.
The bold chunky massing of the modern box got subdued with elements that set on
house from the other, elements that decorated the Box: Cornices, mouldings
around windows, decorative cills and door crowns. He says despite all the
impositions on architecture by the changes occurring in the society, the feel of
Indian life i.e. the family, the community and the neighbourhood managed to seep
in. The peths in Pune, the pols in Ahemadabad, the mohallas in Delhi etc.
Following this Bhatia discovers more styles such as Bania Gothic, Early Halwai,
Marwari Mannerism and Sindhi Hacienda, The styles that were Indian adaptations of
the original.

The book is highly subjective with different readers having different opinions about
the book and the authors style of writing. Bhatia expresses his opinions bluntly
with a very satirical and negative backdrop throughout the book. Though his
concerns of India (as a nation) not responding to the context and site, and instead
only focusing on the faade and interiors, and have forgotten its own heritage and
blindly following the west- is a worry and of concern, it could have been addressed
in a more subtle approach. Despite this, its an interesting book that one must
read; it introduces us to a new style of writing and with every page you turn, you
discover something new about the country, its citizens and its architecture which at
some point may offend you and by the end of the book you may or may not agree
with the book.

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1. Bhatia,Gautam. Punjabi Baroque and Other Memories of Architecture: Penguin
Books India, 1994. ISBN: 0-14-024075-6.