EXPLORING INDIANARCHITECTURELESSON VIIIThe Architecture of the BritishRaj, The Architecture ofRepression
Last week, we discussed a great empire – TheMoghul Civilisation• However, after 400 years of fighting, building, conquering and change, like all empires, the Moghuls had to fall. Another larger, more powerful and incredibly wealthy empire was ready to take its place, and change India forever.• What do we know of the British Empire? It affected the whole world, and still echoes throughout the planet today. How can we see it in Hungary? What influences did it have here and elsewhere?
The British Empire owned nearly a third of theworld until it began to collapse after the SecondWorld War, and India was perhaps the mostimportant colony
And why were the British so interested in India?
The History of the British Raj islong, brutal, bloody and complicated.• Do worksheet 1 on ‚The History of the Raj’ and report back to the class on your findings.• How is this so different from the Moghuls, or any other empire?
But the differences between India and the UK arehuge, and so the planners and architects who travelledthere to create the English settlements had to think ofmany different things• Perhaps the most obvious is the climate. Most of India is unbearably hot for English people. What could town planners do to overcome this problem? Where might we expect the most ‚Raj’ style towns to be?• The simplest answer was the most widely used: At high altitudes and on the coast. Here, the weather does not reach such extremes. Indeed, in the Raj fort town of Mahabhaleshwar, the mountaintops are so mild in temperature, the English even started growing strawberries there to have with their afternoon tea.
The main feature of Raj architecture was tointimidate and frighten the Indian people• How could you create „frightening” or „intimidating” architecture? What is the purpose of this?• They wanted to show the Indian people that they were more powerful, more technologically advanced, more wealthy and generally superior to them in every way.• Not only this, but they wanted to „re-write” history – to pretend, through architecture, that they had been there for thousands of years. How could you show all of this in a building?• Religion is important, too. As with all empires, the British wanted to force their religion on the native people. Architecture is a hugely powerful and enduring tool for doing just this.
There is one architectural style which does all of thesethings – it is christian, European, scary, intimidating, oldand technically impressive. What is it? • The GOTHIC and NEO-GOTHIC • What are the features of a gothic building? What types of buildings do we normally associate it with? Why?• Why would it seem so strange to find gothic architecture in India? What effect do you think it would have on the people there? • The style was chosen for many of the above reasons. But also because it was fashionable in the Victorian era (even though it was already hundreds of years old) and was over-the-top, outrageous and exaggerated enough to try and ‚overtake’ or engulf Indian culture, architecture and imagery, as if it had never been there.
Not only this, but some of the designs seemedso ridiculous, so fantastical, so „un-Indian”…
That they went ahead and built them anyway, asquickly as they could…
The Victoria Terminus Train Station in Mumbai isthe most ridiculous of the Raj buildings…• Based (although greatly exaggerated) on St. Pancras train station in London, it is a mad gothic fantasy in the middle of India’s 2nd biggest city. What is it doing? What is it saying? Why does it look like a medieval building, even though it was built in the 19th century?
However, some Raj buildings and icons (whilst still very British)tried to incorporate or include elements or patterns or shapestaken from Indian and Moghul architecture, too.• Why would they do this? Can you think of positive or negative reasons for doing so?• Look at the ‚Gate of India’ – built for Empress Victoria’s first visit. What is British, European or Indian about this?
How could you do somethingsimilar with HungarianArchitecture? How would atypically/traditionally/strongHungarian style blend with Indianfashion or traditions? Discuss witha partner.
For perhaps the most extreme and bizarre examples ofBritish architecture in India, we must go East, toShimla, one of the ‚capitals’ of the Raj at its mostpowerful
Have a look at your building in pairs, and try toanswer as many of the questions as you can.
What can we say about Shimla? Should it be treated as a joke, orcan we learn something of the identity of India through it? Arethe buildings here any less valid or „Indian” than the Taj Mahal?• Perhaps the British Empire made India what it was today… modern, connected, democratic, industrial… and poor, hungry, polluted and ruined…
What do you think modern Indians think of allthe Raj architecture that still stands in their(now) free country?• Should it be saved and restored at great cost?• Should it be torn down and rebuilt in a more ‚Indian’ style? What might be the problems with this?
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