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British Architecture in India

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British Architecture in India

British Empire had gained its full vigour and was named the most powerful political and military force in India, after Tipu Sultan of Mysore was defeated in 1799. Roughly from here had commenced the prolonged history of British architecture that was rule in India for the next 200 years.

With this elevated status the Britons also gauged the need and responsibility to govern territories under their control and to be viewed as a powerful, civilized force by the Indians.

The Military Boards established by the English contributed to the majority of secular architecture, like barracks, forts, mess for soldiers and other assorted buildings. However, for the purposes of government and the church, something more authoritative was needed to assert British dominance.

Hence, Government Houses and Town Halls, towed closely behind changing trends in Britain to a great extent and also demonstrated the continued influence of the self – styled `pattern books`. In fact, history of British architecture in India reveals that it is from these `pattern books` that the bulk of the Company`s designs were carried out.

Madras, Bombay and Calcutta were early British outposts, to which very early stages in British architecture in India can be traced historically. Fort William was the highest point on the Hooghly River that ships could reach. Unlike Madras and Bombay, however, principles of urban design were experimented in Calcutta.


Calcutta had grown out from its position in the last decades of the eighteenth century as East India Company`s main seat; the city was embossed with the hallmark of authority. In the context of colonial architecture, there was established two chief axes.

The first one led from the civil arm of authority circling a massive square dominated by the Writers` Buildings, to the military arm in the Maidan by Fort William. The secondary one encompassed the Council House, the Courts and the Town Hall. At their perpendicular intersection stood the Government House, built for Governor – General Lord Wellesley. General Studies Question Bank CD

The Madras Government Hall was accommodated for Lord Clive in the 1790s from an earlier one, after an established pattern set at Pondicherry. The Government Hall received further enhancement by superimposed arcaded verandahs before clerestory – lit major spaces, which were enunciated with Doric and Ionic orders in the Academic classical manner of early 18th century France. Gradually by stage, history of British architecture in India firmly had consolidated itself in various places in the country. Triplicane, another architectural wonder in Madras, had much lighter colonnaded verandahs, which were chiselled around much of the side as well as the front. The whole complex was dominated by the illustrious Doric banqueting hall.

Quite extraordinary in its incomparable neo – classical lordliness stood the Bombay Town Hall. The Greek Doric Order of its commanding temple-fronts undoubtedly turned eyes for its international outlook. Deviating from the much – experimented models, history of British architecture in India started to take its fresh path of the walled and pillared colonial churches. Contrary to that past prevailing fashion, indeed atypical in its centralised plan, stood the Greek cross church of St. James, Delhi, with an even more exceptional dome.

The steady amplification in British influence led to traditional architecture becoming more eclectic in its preference of sources. The branching out of British architecture, which was primarily associated with power and influence, was the first and fundamental step for its factors to be related with the architecture of native patrons : both Muslim and Hindu. Some of the instances counted under the legacy of history of British architecture – influenced in India are Tomb of Mushirzadi ( 1814 ) and Kaiserbagh in Lucknow, Gopalji Temple, Tipu Sultan`s Mosque and Sitambara Jain Temple in Calcutta. The nineteenth century British supremacy had frantically searched for an appropriate style for its architecture which although manifested room to hold in boldness.

History of British architecture in India, just like in almost all the spheres of native everyday existence, had followed a specific norm of administration. They were of the belief that if the Empire had to rule, it had to be seen to be ruling. And this special norm was expressed, among other things, in the architectures constructed by the British. What had begun in the early days as utilitarian architecture like forts and military buildings, had germinated by the late 19th century into a full – fledged search for solid form and meaning. Colonial architecture in India closely observed the maturations in the metropolis, but also assayed inspiration from existing architecture in India, for greater authenticity. This sometimes bore quite startling results.

Since the 1840s it was rule for the Anglo – Indian church builder to follow the standard set by the revivers of the many replacements of Gothic in England. According to historical annals in British architecture in India, there always stood a fervent aspiration to utilise glass as a building material that was the principal attribute of British Perpendicular Gothic. Other medieval fashion, weightier than Gothic, served for momentous structures, such as the Mutiny Memorial Church in Kanpur, or the last garrison church built in New Delhi. General Studies Question Bank CD

The Italian Gothic favoured by John Ruskin ( illustrious Victorian British art critic ) for secular works and employed most convincingly to public buildings in England, was seen to be well accommodated to conditions in India. The hybrid aspect of this architectural style that was devised for Bombay was a crucial indicator for English builders away from a narrow cultural patriotism towards a building style more `Indian`. These were the offsets of a truly majestic style that reached its zenith in New Delhi.

The later developments in history of British architecture in India can be traced principally in the great public building campaign launched in Bombay in the second half of the 1860s. The campaign was inaugurated with the Decorated Gothic proposal for the reconstructing of St. Thomas`s Cathedral by the Government Architect, James Trubshaw. This was only partially accomplished, however Trubshaw made his weighty contribution, in collaboration with W. Paris, in the General Post and Telegraph Office of 1872. Of other landmarks developed by the campaign, William Emerson`s Crawford Market wholly reflected the standards of the early design reformers back in England. The Market was fashioned in an elementary Northern Gothic, represented in the various coloured stones, which contributed so much to the Gothic revival in Bombay.

History of British architecture in India in fact, does not stop here abruptly. English wonders had prolonged itself for much extensive period, spreading out its wings to every remote corner in the country. Some of the few examples of masterpiece architecture include : Public Works Secretariat, High Court, Victoria Terminus : headquarters of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway, Central Indian Railway Terminus in Bombay; General Post Office and Victoria Memorial in Calcutta; St. John`s College in Agra; High Court and the mid-18th century Chepauk Palace in Madras.

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British Architecture in India

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