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The Bungalow in Twentieth Century India:
The Cultural Expression of Changing Ways of Life and Aspirations in the Domestic Architecture of Colonial and Post-Colonial Society

Ashgate Publishing Ltd., UK
By: Desai, Madhavi, Miki Desai and Jon Lang

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"The primary era of this study-the twentieth century-symbolizes the peak of the colonial rule and its total decline, as well as the rise of the new nation state of India. The processes that have been labeled 'westernization' and 'modernization' radically changed middle-class Indian life during the century.

This book describes and explains the various technological, political and social developments that shaped one building type-the bungalow-contemporaneous to the development of modern Indian history during the period of British rule and its subsequent aftermath. Drawing on their own physical and photographic documentation, and building on previous work by Anthony King and the Desais, the authors show the evolution of the bungalow's architecture from a one storey building with a verandah to the assortment of house-forms and their regional variants that are derived from the bungalow. Moreover, the study correlates changes in society with architectural consequences in the plans and aesthetics of the bungalow. It also examines more generally what it meant to be modern in Indian society as the twentieth century evolved."

(This book is based on a collaborative research study supported by a Getty Foundation Grant 2006-2009. It builds on a prior study, Architecture and Independence: the Search for Identity 1880 to 1980 (Oxford University Press, 1997) by the three authors and book, Modern Architecture in India (Permanent Black, 2003) by Jon Lang).


At the beginning of the twentieth century a wide variety of house types existed in India. Most rural houses were single family, detached homes. Urban houses tended to be attached in rows except in certain climatic zones. House types across India varied in layout and decoration by culture and geographic setting. The houses, indigenous and the British colonial version of the bungalow as a free-standing house reflected very different ways of life, gender roles, and the hierarchy of importance of family members, visitors and servants. Responses to climate differed. The bungalow, in particular, is a robust, resilient house form. The functions afforded by this house type shows why it was important to British colonial authorities, the business people and increasingly to the Indian middle-class.

The world of the middle-class changed dramatically over the course of the twentieth century. The rising age of marriage, changes in family structure and size, gender roles, the nature of servants and new technologies had a profound effect on house forms. The century saw the increasing adoption and adaptation of the bungalow type by Indian families. The term ‘bungalow’ itself began to have new connotations. Many kinds of house forms began to be called bungalows. They, however, remain single family detached buildings. The styles of the bungalows-the face they present to the world-underwent many modifications as fashions changed around the world. While the classical endured well into the century in New Delhi, in Bengaluru (Bangalore) it was Carpenter Gothic that held sway. Contemporaneously indigenous copy-books drew on the Indian heritage for inspiration. The profession of architecture emerged step by step during the century. In many parts of India Art-Deco seized the minds of Indian and British architects working in the country while from the mind-thirties onward Modernist forms began to influence both house plans and appearances, particularly amongst the elite. Build-contractors often followed suit. Although the same bungalow forms were used across India, in many cases there were specific responses to regional climatic and cultural variations, which can be seen most strikingly in the designs for the humid tropics and for the hot arid climates. Roof forms and distingtions in veranda types illustrate the impact of climate. Similarly distinct regional cultural differences were also there due to variances in religious beliefs; others to the lingering influences of colonial powers in place such as Goa. However, many differences had to do with the patterns of behaviour and aesthetic choices of indigenous regional cultures. While homogenising forces have resulted in a many similarities in built form across India, many architects sought to reintroduce regional difference in their designs during the latter part of the twentieth century.

The term ‘bungalow’ is now applied somewhat indiscriminately to many house types. The term ‘villa’ and bungalow are often used interchangeably. For the wealthy a new house type-the ‘farm house’ owes much to the traditional bungalow form. The early twentieth century bungalow is disappearing from the inner cities of India due to economic pressures affecting the price of land. Apartment buildings replace them. Some old bungalows are being converted to other uses and where development pressures are less some are being modernized. The single family detached home sitting in its own compound is becoming a home only for the wealthy. However, the bungalow as a cultural concept retains a significant place in the collective memory of the people of India.


List of Figures


  1. Introduction: The Bungalow: its Origins and Evolution in Twentieth Century India


  1. A Point of Departure: Residential Building Types in India in 1900 – Indigenous and Colonial
  2. The Utility of the Bungalow as a Precedent for Twentieth Century Residential Architecture


  1. Suburbanization, Cultural Change and Building Type Modifications
  2. Architects, Architectural Fashions and Stylistic Shifts
  3. Regional Climates and Cultures and House Form; Diversifying and Homogenizing Factors


  1. Apartments, Bungalows, Cottages, Villas, and ‘Farm’ Houses
  2. Conclusion: The Disappearing Bungalow?

Bibliography Index