Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Foreign architects of Indian cities


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Indian architecture

Mains level: Indian architecture and foreign influence

A controversy has been playing out over the last several days over a decision by the IIM Ahmedabad to bring down 18 dormitories built by legendary American architect Louis Kahn on the old campus.

This newscard is full of facts. But one must note the features of present-day Indian Architecture and the western influence on it.

Kahn, in fact, is one among several foreign architects whose work defines several Indian cities. Take a glimpse of all important architects and their works:

Antonin Raymond & George Nakashima

  • Golconde, one of India’s first modernist buildings, was conceptualized in Puducherry by the founders of the experimental township of Auroville.
  • Tokyo-based Czech architect Antonin Raymond was invited to design this space as a universal commune, and Japanese-American woodworker George Nakashima would complete it after Raymond left India.
  • It is possibly India’s first reinforced concrete buildings, built between 1937 and 1945.
  • Its façade creates the impression that one could open or shut these concrete blinds, without compromising on privacy, while the ascetic interiors helped provide a meditative atmosphere.

Otto Koenigsberger

  • Berlin-bred Koenigsberger was already working for the Maharaja of Mysore in the late 1930s when he was commissioned by Tata & Sons to develop the industrial township of Jamshedpur in the early 1940s.
  • He would later design the masterplan for Bhubhaneswar (1948) and Faridabad (1949).
  • Having seen children and women walk large distances to reach schools and workplaces, he planned for schools and bazaars in the city center and for a network of neighborhoods.
  • His friends Albert Mayer and Mathew Nowicki would go on to design Chandigarh.
  • However, much before Koenigsberger, there was the Scottish biologist and geographer Patrick Geddes, who wrote town planning reports, from 1915 to 1919, for 18 Indian cities, including Bombay and Indore.

Frank Lloyd Wright

  • Though the legendary American architect never built a structure in India, his influence was unmistakable.
  • Two of his students, Gautam and Gira Sarabhai, founders of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, requested him to design the administration building for Sarabhai Calico Mills in 1946.
  • It would possibly have been the city’s first high-rise with terraces and a podium.
  • Padma Vibhushan Charles Correa, one of India’s finest architects and urban planners, was hugely influenced by Wright.

Le Corbusier

  • Before Swiss-French painter-writer-architect Corbusier came on the scene in Chandigarh, there was Polish architect Mathew Nowicki, an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright and American developer Albert Mayer.
  • Nowicki’s death in a plane crash ended the commission, and Corbusier came on board.
  • With English architect Maxwell Fry and his wife Jane Drew, Corbusier with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret would design many of Chandigarh’s civic buildings, from courts to housing.
  • Corbusier’s modernist approach, without decoration, gave India its brutalist, bare concrete buildings.
  • He won favour with the Sarabhai’s of Ahmedabad and built the Sarabhai House, Shodhan House, Mill Owner’s Association Building and Sankar Kendra. He is often called the “father of modern Indian architecture”.

Joseph Allen Stein

  • He was invited by Vijayalakshmi Pandit in 1952 to come to India and establish the Department of Architecture and Planning at the West Bengal Engineering College.
  • Though he also practiced briefly in Orissa and West Bengal, it’s in New Delhi where Stein left the deepest imprint.
  • From the Triveni Kala Sangam, the High Commissioner’s Residence and Chancery for Australia, where his polygon-shaped masonry with local stone made its first appearance to ‘Steinabad’.

Louis Kahn

  • The importance of being Kahn is never more real than now, as the American architect’s only project in India faces bulldozers.
  • The design for IIM Ahmedabad (1962-1974) carried the essence of learning in the humility of its material, and the way spaces were managed.

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