An Inquiry into Gender and Architecture of the Colonial Bungalow Form in Gujarat, India: 1900 to 1970
by Madhavi Desai
Women are closely associated with domestic architecture/environment as the notion of a 'home' is intricately intertwined with the self-image of the woman of the house. Along with ritual, caste, and kinship, gender plays an important role in the negotiation of space in India. The spatial divisions are the result of complex settlements and negotiations being not only fluid but also mostly invisible. In fact, these are cognitive boundaries that are different from the physical ones. These deal with the social idioms of pollution and purity, with notions of morality and safety. Gender rules affect a woman's mobility, use of common spaces and notions such as inside/outside and public/private.
Towards the turn of the twentieth century, the bungalow emerged as a new urban dwelling form on the domestic and cultural landscape as an alternative to the medieval system of largely wall-to-wall housing that existed in the dense and over-crowded inner cities of India. The early bungalow was a simple, utilitarian, and symmetrical single-storied structure in military components. Set in a well-defined compound, it typically had an extensive garden that evoked the environment of "home" for the Britishers. It was modified and adopted first by the elite of the society and later by the middle classes heralding a historical revolution in plan, form and structure. As the twentieth century progressed the type gradually grew more sophisticated, opulent and was regionalized/Indianized. Finally it took on a modernist expression in response to the international scene from 1960s onwards in the western state of Gujarat as well as other parts of India.
During this century several structural changes took place in the social set-up in Gujarat. The role of the woman underwent a slow but definite transformation during this period, more specifically due to public participation in the freedom struggle against the British rule, increase in education and impact of Gandhian thoughts. Families began to move away from the tradition of a joint family to nuclear one while also limiting the number of children. The spatial organization shifted from clear gender segregation in social interaction and inclusion of a designated "women's room" to more open floor plans with living/dining as a combined space.
This ongoing research attempts to study this critical relationship using the construct of gender by examining the evolution of the bungalow typology from the simple one-story structure to the colonial mansion and finally to the modernist house within the specific cultural milieu (the urban middle class) in the state of Gujarat in western India.