Contesting imperialism in modern architecture: British India 1920s-1940s

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This paper explores stylistic evolution in training and practice, particularly in Bombay, now Mumbai, and proclaimed by Governor H.B.E. Frere (1815-1884) as "India's first city" in the colony's early days. From Frere's advocacy of the Gothic Revival the style had been the undisputed choice for most public commissions. A challenge of Imperial architecture was then instigated by British architect Claude Batley (1879-1956) during his post at the J.J. School of Art, an architectural school that modeled on the Ecolé de Beaux-Arts curriculum. This contestation of style in turn emanated an Art Deco modernism, followed by Batley's protégé G. B. Mhatre (R.I.B.A., 1902-1973) who became an avid protagonist. A local architect, Mhatre's works alone reflect the evolution of contemporary design in Bombay amidst the final days of British Imperialism. Indigenous designs were regarded as inferior when compared to imperial styles, and yet it was felt that the International Style, a later variant of modern architecture, counteracted the Indian propensity for surface ornament. Art Deco was thus not only a decisive reaction against Imperialism but a negotiation between tradition and modernity. A resonant "modern style" was also observed at the Empire's home prior her swansong, at the 1938 British Empire Exhibition in Glasgow, which was regarded as "uniformly and dramatically Art Deco". As a style extending from the Empire s heart to respective colonies, issues regarding built form, architects, and architectural institutions have yet to be addressed during the inter-war decades, and this research also builds upon colonial architectural discourse. Implications of Art Deco throughout the Empire will be analyzed together with the forces behind proponents of the style, ultimately concluding the consequent roles that architectural design played in shaping modernization in colonial British India. Copyright © 2011 the author.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-79
JournalThe International Journal of the Humanities
Volume9
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Fingerprint

Modern Architecture
1920s
Imperialism
British India
1940s
Colonies
Art Deco
Ornament
Propensity
Advocacy
Modern Style
Discourse
Architectural Design
International Style
British Empire Exhibition
Gothic Revival
Protagonist
Curriculum
Contestation
British Imperialism

Citation

Lau, L. K. P. (2011). Contesting imperialism in modern architecture: British India 1920s-1940s. The International Journal of the Humanities, 9(2), 73-79. doi: 10.18848/1447-9508/CGP/v09i02/58238

Keywords

  • British Empire
  • British India
  • Colonialism
  • Modern architecture
  • Art Deco
  • International style