Miki Desai Publications{.mr-2}|Madhavi Desai Publications{.ml-2}

Architecture and Independence:
The Search for Identity, India -1880 to 1980

Oxford University Press, New Delhi (1997)

The architecture of the colonial period has often been left to languish in the shades of post-imperial mindset. The focus of this book is on the time period between 1880-1980, from noontime of the Raj, through the struggle to eject the British, to Independent India and the present-the story necessitating substantial preliminary chapters on architectural semantics and the subcontinent's architectural history before the Europeans arrived. The book concentrates on the ideological conflicts and accommodations that were involved, and on the paradoxes that resulted, both for the colonizers and the colonized. It examines Indian architecture in the context of the fight for and attainment of Independence. It traces the patterns of architecture since the founding of the Indian National Congress on the 1880s, exploring the impact of political ideology on the built environment. The authors provide the antecedents as well an idea of the impact of architectural work in newly Independent India on subsequent work.

Deliberate attempts to exert an Indian identity through the built environment began primarily with the growth of Indian nationalism under British rule, attempts that had to combat imperial ideas, both political and architectural, as well as international movements in architecture. With the attainment of Independence certain questions clamored for solution. How could a new world be invented and how could architecture strive to reflect it? Should it reject or embrace the past? Two basic trends have been discernible throughout:one of looking forward to the creation of a new future largely rejecting the past, and the other of looking to the past for inspiration.

The primary concern in this volume is with the iconography of the signs and symbols of a culture. In a study of the role of architecture as a cultural phenomenon, various aspects become important. The book thus examines ordinary buildings (which generally would not qualify as 'architecture') rather than simply the architectural monuments. Several issues are explored: universalism and regionalism, modernism and revivalism, the impact of master architects from the West, the complexity of Indian culture as well as the colonial will for imposition, the rise of the architectural profession, the transformation of the aesthetic styles and the overall impact of buildings on the urban landscape. The concepts are introduced in a manner that broadens the academic approach, by presenting them with a historical perspective thereby helping the reader relate to them and understand the complex evolution of architecture.

This profusely illustrated book depicts the extraordinarily rich architectural antecedents in India as well as the independence of spirit that is beginning to show in recent architectural work. The authors address the recent dominance of commercial imperatives and the inconsistency of architectural styles as well as the emerging identity and collective confidence of architects in India as the century draws to a close. This challenging encyclopedic work is of great interest to architects, historians, social scientists and general readers.

The premise of the book: politics shapes architecture. It explores the impact of political ideology on the built environment. It is about four clashes reflected in the structure and character of the built environment in India; between the aspirations of the Indian people and the British colonial culture before1947; between those aspirations and the international architecture community's value after Independence; between architects' aspiration or efforts to express Indianess through design as a reflection of their political identities; and between the values of architects who attract national and international attention. The book was a result of the authors' concern for heritage and is an attempt towards a systematic analysis of the symbolic nature of architecture. It goes beyond the discussion of styles, and traces the growth of the profession, varieties of 'housing' and other 'mere' buildings.


  • Exhaustive study of the iconography of the signs and symbols of a culture
  • Examines ordinary buildings in addition to architectural monuments
  • Addresses the recent dominance of commercial imperatives and the inconsistency of architectural styles
  • Provides insight into emerging identity and collective confidence of architects in India
  • Explores inner such as universalism and regionalism, modernism and revivalism, western influences, complexity of Indian culture, colonial imposition, the uses of the architectural protection, transformation of aesthetic styles and urban landscaping
  • Covers the work of leading architects like Batley, Gregson, Mathews, Herbert Baker, Chitale, Gajjar, Pathak, Le Corbusier, Sudlow, Ballardie, Thompson, George, Shoosmith, Koenigsberger, Pithavadian, Narayana Rao, Dudok, Raymond, Kahn, Rahman, Kanvinde, Rana, Benjamin, Jhabvala, Stein, Doshi, Raje, Correa, Jeanneret, Fry, Drew, Prasad, Bhatia, Kohn, Rewal, Gujral, Patel, Kapadia, Laurie Baker and many more.


Jon Lang is Professor, School of Architecture, University of New South Wales, Australia and Director of Urban Design, Environmental Research Group, Philadelphia

Madhavi Desai is an Adjunct Faculty member at the School of Architecture, Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), Ahmedabad, India

Miki Desai is Professor at the School of Architecture, CEPT, Ahmedabad, India