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British colonial Architecture in India


European colonists brought with them to India concepts of their "world view" and a whole baggage of the history of European architecture - Neo-Classical, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance. The initial structures were utilitarian warehouses and walled trading posts, giving way to fortified towns along the coastline. The Portuguese adapted to India the climatically appropriate Iberian galleried patio house and the Baroque churches of Goa. Se Cathedral and Arch of Conception of Goa were built in the typical Portuguese-Gothic style. The St. Francis Church at Cochin, built by the Portuguese in 1510, is believed to be the first church built by the Europeans in India. The Portuguese also built the fort of Castella de Aguanda near Mumbai and added fortifications to the Bassein fort built by Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, in 1532 AD. The Bassein fort is famous for the Matriz (Cathedral of St Joseph), the Corinthian pillared hall and the Porte da Mer (sea gate).

The Danish influence is evident in Nagapatnam, which was laid out in squares and canals and also in Tranquebar and Serampore. The French gave a distinct urban design to its settlement in Pondicherry by applying the Cartesian grid plans and classical architectural patterns. The Church of Sacred Heart of Jesus (Eglise De Sacre Coeur De Jesus), the Eglise de Notre Dame de Anges and the Eglise de Notre Dame de Lourdes at Pondicherry have a distinct French influence.

However, it was the British who left a lasting impact on the India architecture. They saw themselves as the successors to the Mughals and used architecture as a symbol of power. The British followed various architectural styles – Gothic, Imperial, Christian, English Renaissance and Victorian being the essentials.

The first buildings were factories but later courts, schools, municipal halls and dak bungalows came up, which were ordinary structures built by garrison engineers. A deeper concern with architecture was exhibited in churches and other public buildings. Most of the buildings were adaptations of the buildings designed by leading British architects of that time like Wren, Adam, Nash and others in London and other places. For instance, the Church of St. John at Calcutta was built in 1787 inspired by St. Stephens Church at Walbrooks, the Government House in Calcutta was built by Capt. Charles Wyatt modelled on the Kedleston Hall of Derbyshire, the Indian Government Mint in Calcutta is a half-scale replica of the Temple of Minerva at Athens and the Pachaiyappa's Hall in Chennai was modelled on the Athenium Temple of Theseus. Unlike Europe, however, these buildings were built mostly of brick and stuccoed with lime or chunam, sometimes "facades" incised to look like stones. Some later buildings were, however, built with stones. Churches, which were symbols of colonialism, were built in great style. Based on London prototypes, several churches evolved with variations as highly original works. The earliest example is the St. Mary's Church in Fort St. George in Chennai.

Neo-Gothic architecture flourished in different parts of India under the British, inspired by the Houses of Parliament in London. Colonel Thomas Cowper built the town hall in Bombay during 1820 to 1835. Governor Sir Bartle Frere tried to give a truly imperial ambience to the city of Bombay. During his reign the old town walls were broken down and the Gateway of India was built in the Gothic style of architecture. The Secretariat, University Library, Rajabai Tower, Telegraph Office and the Victoria Terminus all followed the Victorian Gothic style, similar to buildings in London. Undoubtedly, the Victoria Terminus, designed by the architect Frederick Willaim Stevens modelled on the St.Pancras Station, is the finest example of Gothic architecture with a subtle hint of the Indo-Saracenic motifs, an extravaganza of polychromatic stone, decorated tile marble and stained glass. Stevens also designed other buildings like the Churchgate Terminus and the Municipal Building opposite the Victoria Terminus.

In Varanasi, one of the true Gothic monuments is Queen’s College, built in a perpendicular style by Major Kitoe from 1847 to 1852. In Allahabad, the British built a series of edifices including the University, All Saints Cathedral, the High Court and the Mayo College. In Calcutta, a High Court was constructed following the Gothic style. The Howrah Bridge (1943), with its red brick facade surrounded by eight square towers represents a combination of the Oriental and Roman styles. Fort William, the stronghold of the British in mid 19th century that took 13 years to construct at a cost of more than $3.5 million and the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta (1921), designed by Sir William Emerson, are probably the most imposing of all British structures in India.

The passing of power from the East India Company to the British Crown, the rise of Indian nationalism and the introduction of Railways were the watersheds in the British Colonial Indian architectural history. New materials like concrete, glass, wrought and cast iron opened up new architectural possibilities. The British also started assimilating and adopting the native Indian styles in the architecture. All these factors led to the development of Indo-Saracenic architecture towards the end of the 19th century. Victorian in essence, it borrowed heavily from the Islamic style of Mughal and Afghan rulers. In fact it was a pot pouri of architectural styles; a hybrid style that combined in a wonderful manner diverse architectural elements of Hindu and Mughal with gothic cusped arches, domes, spires, tracery, minarets and stained glass.The Indo-Saracenic style was Indian on the outside and British inside since the facade was built with an Indian touch while the interior was solely Victorian. F.S.Growse, Sir Swinton Jacob, R.F.Chisholm and H.Irwin were the pioneers of this style of architecture. The Chepauk Palace in Chennai designed by Paul Benfield is said to be the first Indo-Saracenic building in India. Other outstanding examples of this style of architecture include the Law Courts, Victoria Memorial Hall, Presidency College and Senate House of Chennai, Muir College at Allahabad, Napier Museum at Thiruvanthapuram, the Post Office, Prince of Wales Museum and the Gateway of India in Mumbai, the Maharaja's Palace at Mysore and M.S.University and Lakshmi Villas Palace at Baroda.

The architecture of New Delhi was the crowning glory of the British Raj. Robert Byron described New Delhi as "The Rome of Hindostan". The British built New Delhi as a systematically planned city after it was made the capital in 1911. The British Viceroy made Sir Edward Lutyens responsible for the overall plan of Delhi. He was specifically directed to "harmonise externally with the traditions of Indian art". Thus, the Western architecture with Oriental motif was realised with chajjas, jalis and chhattris, as stylistic devices in the Viceroy's House (now Rashtrapati Bhawan). Herbert Baker added the imposing buildings of the South Block and the North Block, which flank the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Another Englishman called Robert Tor Tussell built the Connaught Place and the Eastern and Western Courts.

St Martin’s Garrison Church marks the culmination of the British architectural ventures in India. The Church is a huge monolith with a high square tower and deeply sunken window ledges reminiscent of Dutch and German architecture.

Shipping by airmail from UK: items normally reach US addresses within a few days but can take longer LONDON: In Devereux Court, full of Eighteenth- century associations;1926
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  • Caption below print: In Devereux court, full of Eighteenth-century associations
  • Condition: Good; suitable for framing. Please check the scan for any blemishes prior to making your purchase.
  • Size: 21.0 x 17.0cm, 8.25 x 6.75 inches (Medium)
  • Type & Age: Year printed 1926. Vintage photographic book illustration
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Vintage photo of The British Medical Association House in London. 1974.
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