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Beyond Alternative Modernities

Vandana Baweja

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  • 1 Gwendolyn Wright, The Politics of Design in French Colonial Urbanism, Chicago, IL: University of C (...)
  • 2 Anne Hardgrove, “Merchant Houses as Spectacles of Modernity,” in Community and Public Culture: The (...)
  • 3 Preeti Chopra, A Joint Enterprise: Indian Elites and the Making of British Bombay, Minneapolis, MN (...)
  • 4 Rebecca M. Brown, “The Cemeteries and the Suburbs: Patna's Challenges to the Colonial City in Sout (...)
  • 5 Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Contesting Space: Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment in Colonial S (...)
  • 6 Vikramaditya Prakash, Chandigarh's Le Corbusier: The Struggle for Modernity in Postcolonial India, (...)
  • 7 Duanfang Lu, Third World Modernism Architecture, Development and Identity, New York, NY: Routledge (...)
  • 8 Vandana Baweja, “Messy Modernisms: Otto Koenigsbergers Early Work in Princely Mysore, 1939–41,” So (...)

1Gwendolyn Wright’s work first demonstrated how the colonies and the metropole were intertwined in the shaping of paradigms of modernist architecture and urbanism through her analysis of French colonies—Indochina, Morocco, and Madagascar—as “champs d'expérience” or sites of experimentation, where modernist ideas were tested for their efficacy before they were implemented in the metropole.1 Wright’s book was crucial in recognizing the omission of the colonies in modernist architectural histories, but did not unearth the agency of the colonized in shaping architectural and urban discourses. Recent histories of indigenous modernities, in the case of Asian architecture and urbanism, such as Jyoti Hosagrahar’s Indigenous Modernities: Negotiating Architecture and Urbanism have proven how colonized subjects were dynamic actors in the domestication of metropolitan architecture and planning ideals.2 Through the lens of philanthropic architectural projects in Bombay (now Mumbai), Preeti Chopra demonstrates how colonialism was a collaborative enterprise in which the mercantile elite and colonial agencies formed ad-hoc alliances, which illuminate how the categories of the colonizer and colonized are not as distinctly delineated as we imagine them to be.3 Swati Chattopadhyay’s scholarship on Calcutta and Rebecca Brown’s history of Patna destabilize the “white town/black town” model of the colonial city.4 Brenda Yeoh’s work on Singapore documents how resistance to urbanism as a spatial tool for regulating cities validates how the colonized were never passive subjects of modernity.5 Recent scholarship such as Vikramaditya Prakash’s Chandigarh's Le Corbusier: The Struggle for Modernity in Postcolonial India and Sanjeev Vidyarthi’s book on Jaipur One Idea, Many Plans: An American City Design Concept in Independent India, reveal how citizens of newly formed nation-states were active agents in translating and transforming top-down modernist architecture and planning ideals.6 Duanfang Lu’s work has decentred modernist architectural and planning histories to reveal how architecture and urban planning projects in Third World countries developed their very own imagination of modernity.7 My own work on the German émigré architect Otto Koenigsberger (1908–1999), who arrived in princely Mysore in South India in 1939, has shown how impossible it is to grasp his work in India in terms of the categories of “local” and “global” architecture. The existing architecture in Mysore which was considered “local” at the time of Otto Koenigsberger’s arrival in 1939―such as architecture in the Indo-saracenic, neo-classical, neo-gothic, and art deco styles, as well as colonial bungalows―have a complex history of indigenization and circulation along the precolonial networks within South Asia, colonial networks of the British Empire, and global flows, all of which render the category of local extremely complex.8

  • 9 Arturo Escobar, “Worlds and Knowledges Otherwise,” Cultural Studies, vol. 21, no. 2, 2007, p. 179– (...)

2These histories have problematized the fixity and stability of the categories of local/global, colonizer/colonized, western/non-western, black-town/white-town, centre/periphery, and modernity/alternative-modernity. The idea of alternative modernities suggests that there is a normative modernity associated with a single globalization process and that there are other modernities which are alternative to the dominant Euro-centric modernity.9 The notion of alternative modernity replicates the power hierarchies embedded in the western/non-western or centre/periphery dualities. Instead, it would be useful to think of multiple overlapping processes of globalization that operate diachronically and synchronically to generate networked modernities, which operate across diverse material, architectural, and urban registers. In her recent “Debate” essay, Ayala Levin calls for using architectural histories as a lens to examine independence as a political and epistemological break. She poses a compelling question—whether it is possible to produce postcolonial architectural narratives that theorize postcolonial along both temporal and theoretical registers. Such histories would definitely show how formerly colonized societies established cultural and political ruptures with their colonial pasts. The epistemological rethinking of modernist historiography can produce rich narratives through thinking about how multiple globalization processes have operated historically and how they overlap in the production of architecture and cities.

  • 10 See Waltraud Ernst and Biswamoy Pati, India's Princely States: People, Princes and Colonialism, Lo (...)
  • 11 Vandana Baweja, “Otto Koenigsberger and Modernist Historiography,” Fabrications: The Journal of th (...)
  • 12 Ibid.
  • 13 Amin Jaffer, “Indo-Deco,” in Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, and Ghislaine Wood (eds.), Art Deco 191 (...)
  • 14 Michael Windover, “Exchanging Looks: ‘Art Dekho’ Movie Theatres in Bombay,” Architectural History,(...)
  • 15 Eric Lewis Beverley, Hyderabad, British India, and the World: Muslim Networks and Minor Sovereignt (...)
  • 16 Prita Meier’s history of stone architecture in Swahili Port Cities focusses on the mercantile cosm (...)

3In South Asian architectural and urban histories four under-represented areas suggest the possibilities of thinking about networked modernities. First, histories of architecture and urbanism in princely territories; second, provincial territories that fall outside the major presidency cities; third, projects and actors that fall outside the colonizer/colonized framework, and fourth, the period after Independence. By the early twentieth century South Asian provinces known as princely territories under indirect rule comprised almost one-third of the territory of colonial India. The landed aristocracy, collectively called “princes” and self-identified as Maharajahs, governed these provinces. These territories, including the Rajput States, Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, Indore, and numerous others, were all governed through collaborative alliances with the British Crown. The extent to which the princes exercised autonomy and claimed sovereignty in various aspects of governance varied from state to state across the five hundred plus princely states in the early twentieth century.10 The princely states had different urban and architectural trajectories which have yet to be explored on a case by case basis. The princes often recruited planners, architects, and experts who were not British as a form of cultural sovereignty to realize architectural projects that distinguished them from the British. For instance, the Maharajah of Indore Yeshwant Rao Holkar Bahadur (1908–1961) recruited the German architect Eckart Muthesius (1904–1989) to design a Bauhaus modernist palace―Manik Bagh Palace (1930) in Indore. The princely state of Mysore in South India, governed by Maharajah Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV (1884–1940), routinely recruited German architects to improve the technological quality of buildings.11 Mysore state’s Public Works Department employed German architects G. H. Krumbiegel, U. G. Exener, and Otto Koenigsberger. Krumbiegel left Germany in 1888 to work at Kew Gardens in England. He came to the princely state of Baroda in 1893 and moved to Mysore in 1908. Krumbiegel headed the horticulture department in Mysore and was occasionally asked to work as an architectural consultant. Exener left Germany in 1928–29 to live in Holland. He moved to Mysore in October 1936 and began working for the Mysore government as an interior architect.12 The German émigré architect Otto Koenigsberger worked for Mysore state from 1939 to 1948 and acted as a consultant for other princely states. Likewise, the Maharajahs’ patronage of art deco buildings in Bombay and princely palaces indicated their desire to assert cultural autonomy and be part of newer global networks.13 The globalism and mobility of art deco during the inter-war years offers an interesting lens to view the cosmopolitanism of mercantile elite and princely patrons.14 These gestures cannot be dismissed as mere indicators of decadent princely taste, but can be read instead as a will to become cosmopolitan. Princely architectural histories have the potential to expose how different constituencies in South Asia participated in intra-continental and transnational networks that were outside imperial networks. Eric Lewis Beverley’s work on Hyderabad shows how urban planning of the city was tied with the princely regime’s engagement with Islamic networks.15 Global and intra-continental networks of architecture and urbanism that preceded nineteenth-century imperial networks can illuminate how the categories of local and global operated along multiple geographies across trans-oceanic trading networks.16

  • 17 Rebecca M. Brown, “The Cemeteries and the Suburbs: Patna's Challenges to the Colonial City in Sout (...)
  • 18 David Toppin, “Koenigsberger: Early Days Abroad (Otto Koenigsberger in a Biographical Interview wi (...)
  • 19 Otto H. Koenigsberger, T. G. Ingersoll, Alan Mayhew, and S. V. Szokolay, Manual of Tropical Housin (...)
  • 20 Amita Sinha and Jatinder Singh, “Jamshedpur: Planning an Ideal Steel City in India,” Journal of Pl (...)
  • 21 See Rachel Lee, “Constructing a Shared Vision: Otto Koenigsberger and Tata and Sons,” ABE Journal (...)
  • 22 Vandana Baweja, “Messy Modernisms: Otto Koenigsbergers Early Work in Princely Mysore, 1939–41,” So (...)
  • 23 Vandana Baweja, “Otto Koenigsberger and Modernist Historiography,” Fabrications, vol. 26, no. 2, 2 (...)

4Histories of cities beyond the presidency cities of Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras, such as Patna, can provide a case for examining the emergence of the colonial city within an urban setting that was part of Mauryan and later Mughal imperial trade networks.17 The work of actors who fall outside the colonizer/colonized categories remains vastly unexplored. A great example would be the German émigré architect Otto Koenigsberger who later became an Indian citizen. He is an actor who is impossible to classify into categories of either colonizer or colonized. Koenigsberger was a student of Hans Poelzig from 1927 to 1931 at the Technical University of Berlin and his mentors also included Bruno Taut and Heinrich Tessenow. He won the Schinkel Prize in 1933 for a design of a Sport and Recreation Centre. He was dismissed from his job by Hitler’s government in 1933. To escape Nazi persecution, he left Berlin to arrive in Egypt. While working as an archeologist there, he produced his doctoral thesis on the construction of the ancient Egyptian door; it was accepted in Berlin in 1935.18 Subsequently, in 1939 Koenigsberger arrived in Mysore as an émigré architect at the invitation of Sir Mirza Ismail, the Dewan (Prime Minister) of the Mysore State from 1926 to 1941. Koenigsberger was appointed as a consulting architect during the reign of Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV (1884–1940), who ruled Mysore from 1894 to 1940. Koenigsberger continued working in Princely Mysore after the death of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV in 1940 for his successor Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar (1919–74) who ruled Mysore from 1940 to 1950 and appointed Sir N. Madhava Rau as the Dewan of Mysore from 1941 to 1947. As the state architect of Mysore (1939–1948), Koenigsberger designed various buildings—schools, hospitals, offices, police stations, palace extensions, pavilions, colleges, factories, and bus shelters. Following Indian independence in 1947 and when Mysore State became part of the Union of India in 1948, Koenigsberger moved to New Delhi and became the Federal Director of housing (1948–1951) for the Ministry of Health in Nehru’s government. His work for Nehru involved both planning and architectural design projects to resettle partition refugees. In 1951, he emigrated from India to London and, in 1954, established the department of tropical architecture at the Architectural Association. His treatise on tropical architecture, Manual of Tropical Housing and Building (1974) offers a critique of modernization, which originated in Koenigsberger’s projects in India.19 Amita Sinha’s work on Jamshedpur (now in the state of Jharkhand), an industrial company town established by the industrial entrepreneur J. D. Tata in 1907, illuminates the agency of the Tatas as patrons of architecture and city planning who recruited Koenigsberger to implement the third phase plans of the city in 1945.20 Koenigsberger’s experience in India illuminates how multiple actors outside the colonial state apparatus―such as the Mysorean Maharajah’s regime with their sovereign ideals, and independent entrepreneurial clients such as the Tatas―were active agents who subscribed to particular ideas of architecture and city-planning based on their own ideological and modernizing agendas.21 His work in Mysore was dictated by the social, material, and cultural modernization program of the state and he was required to conform to the architectural ideology of Mysore, despite his disagreement with the regime.22 The agency of indigenous actors, such as the Dewan of Mysore Mirza Ismail and independent entrepreneurs such as the Tatas, shaped Koenigsberger’s ideas of modernism, which would inform his ideas of tropical architecture later at the Architectural Association.23 Therefore, his experience in India needs to be examined not as a white male European architect who worked in India, but in terms of how Indian clients transformed Koenigsberger’s ideas of modernization.

  • 24 Mark Crinson, Modern Architecture and the End of Empire, Aldershot, Hants, England: Burlington; VT (...)
  • 25 See Jiat-Hwee Chang, A Genealogy of Tropical Architecture: Colonial Networks, Nature and Technosci (...)
  • 26 See Balwant Singh Saini, Architecture in Tropical Australia, New York, NY: G. Wittenborn, 1970 (Ar (...)

5Mark Crinson, Hannah Le Roux, and Ola Uduku inaugurated the histories of tropical architecture, an area which still remains vastly unexplored.24 Detailed histories of tropical architecture have potential in chronicling the careers of students who graduated from the Architectural Association and the role of prevailing colonial architectural cultures in shaping ideas of climatic design.25 There were also other routes to tropical architecture, like those followed by the careers of transnational agents such as Balwant Saini (1930–), an Indian architect who emigrated from India to Australia. Saini was trained as an architect in Australia (1954), returned to India to teach in New Delhi (1956–60), and subsequently went back to Australia to get a doctorate at the University of Melbourne in 1967.26 In fact, the role of Australia in the development of tropical architecture remains under explored. Other histories of tropical architecture for specific locales could determine how they contributed to the development of the discourse. Of course, this is a daunting task given the global scope and complexity of the endeavor in terms of archival research and travel.

6So far, histories of tropical architecture have been written with reference to the Architectural Association and institutions in England such as the Building Research Station, and with a heavy emphasis on the continued circulation of tropical architecture along the nineteenth-century imperial networks. Tropical architecture in the postwar world emerged out of the older discipline of tropical housing, which was then professionalized into architecture and planning. This change occurred in the context of Cold War geopolitics and new institutions such as the United Nations with their new networks of circulation of modernism within the emerging Third World. Histories of tropical architecture along networks that bypassed older imperial centers such as London are yet to be written. The question then is whether architectural histories can transcend the idea of alternative or negotiated modernities and chronicle the richness and complexity of architecture and urbanism produced through multiple intersecting global networks.

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Notes

1 Gwendolyn Wright, The Politics of Design in French Colonial Urbanism, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

2 Anne Hardgrove, “Merchant Houses as Spectacles of Modernity,” in Community and Public Culture: The Marwaris in Calcutta, c.1897–1997, New York, NY; Chichester: Columbia University Press, 2004; Jyoti Hosagrahar, Indigenous Modernities: Negotiating Architecture and Urbanism, London: Routledge, 2005 (Architext series); Siddhartha Raychaudhuri, “Colonialism, Indigenous Elites and the Transformation of Cities in the Non-Western World: Ahmedabad (Western India), 1890–1947,” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 35, no. 3, 2001, p. 677–726; Vikramaditya Prakash and Peter Scriver (eds.), Colonial Modernities: Building, Dwelling and Architecture in British India and Ceylon, London: Routledge, 2007 (Architext series).

3 Preeti Chopra, A Joint Enterprise: Indian Elites and the Making of British Bombay, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

4 Rebecca M. Brown, “The Cemeteries and the Suburbs: Patna's Challenges to the Colonial City in South Asia,” Journal of Urban History, vol. 29, no. 2, 2003, p. 151–72; Swati Chattopadhyay, “Blurring Boundaries: The Limits of ‘White Town’ in Colonial Calcutta,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 59, no. 2, 2000, p. 154–79.

5 Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Contesting Space: Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment in Colonial Singapore, Kuala Lumpur; New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1996 (South-East Asian social science monographs).

6 Vikramaditya Prakash, Chandigarh's Le Corbusier: The Struggle for Modernity in Postcolonial India, Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2002 (Studies in modernity and national identities); Sanjeev Vidyarthi, One Idea, Many Plans an American City Design Concept in Independent India, New York, NY: Routledge, 2015.

7 Duanfang Lu, Third World Modernism Architecture, Development and Identity, New York, NY: Routledge, 2011.

8 Vandana Baweja, “Messy Modernisms: Otto Koenigsbergers Early Work in Princely Mysore, 1939–41,” South Asian Studies, vol. 31, no. 1, 2015, p. 1–26.

9 Arturo Escobar, “Worlds and Knowledges Otherwise,” Cultural Studies, vol. 21, no. 2, 2007, p. 179–210.

10 See Waltraud Ernst and Biswamoy Pati, India's Princely States: People, Princes and Colonialism, London; New York, NY: Routledge, 2007 (Routledge studies in the modern history of Asia (2005), 45).

11 Vandana Baweja, “Otto Koenigsberger and Modernist Historiography,” Fabrications: The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, vol. 26, no. 2, 2016.

12 Ibid.

13 Amin Jaffer, “Indo-Deco,” in Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, and Ghislaine Wood (eds.), Art Deco 1910–1939, Boston, MA: Bulfinch Press; AOL Time Warner Book Group, 2003, p. 382–95.

14 Michael Windover, “Exchanging Looks: ‘Art Dekho’ Movie Theatres in Bombay,” Architectural History, vol. 52, 2009, p. 203–34.

15 Eric Lewis Beverley, Hyderabad, British India, and the World: Muslim Networks and Minor Sovereignty, c. 1850–1950, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

16 Prita Meier’s history of stone architecture in Swahili Port Cities focusses on the mercantile cosmopolitanism and the mobility of architectural ideas across the India ocean network, which existed prior to the nineteenth‑century European Empires. See Prita Meier, Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere, Bloomington, IN, Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2016 (African expressive cultures).

17 Rebecca M. Brown, “The Cemeteries and the Suburbs: Patna's Challenges to the Colonial City in South Asia,” The Journal of Urban History, vol. 29, no. 2, January 2003, p. 151–172.

18 David Toppin, “Koenigsberger: Early Days Abroad (Otto Koenigsberger in a Biographical Interview with David Toppin),” Architect's Journal, vol. 176, no. 27, July/August 1982, p. 36–37.

19 Otto H. Koenigsberger, T. G. Ingersoll, Alan Mayhew, and S. V. Szokolay, Manual of Tropical Housing and Building, London: Longman, 1974.

20 Amita Sinha and Jatinder Singh, “Jamshedpur: Planning an Ideal Steel City in India,” Journal of Planning History, vol. 10, no. 4, 2011, p. 263–81.

21 See Rachel Lee, “Constructing a Shared Vision: Otto Koenigsberger and Tata and Sons,” ABE Journal [Online], vol. 2, 2012, URL: http://abe.revues.org/356. Accessed 24 October 2016; and Rachel Lee and Kathleen James-Chakraborty, “Marg Magazine: A Tryst with Architectural Modernity,” ABE Journal [Online], vol. 1, 2012, URL: http://abe.revues.org/623. Accessed 24 October 2016.

22 Vandana Baweja, “Messy Modernisms: Otto Koenigsbergers Early Work in Princely Mysore, 1939–41,” South Asian Studies, vol. 31, no. 1, 2015.

23 Vandana Baweja, “Otto Koenigsberger and Modernist Historiography,” Fabrications, vol. 26, no. 2, 2016.

24 Mark Crinson, Modern Architecture and the End of Empire, Aldershot, Hants, England: Burlington; VT: Ashgate, 2003 (British art and visual culture since 1750, new readings); Hannah Le Roux, “The Networks of Tropical Architecture,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 8, no. 3, 2003, p. 337–54; Ola Uduku, “Modernist Architecture and ‘the Tropical’ in West Africa: The Tropical Architecture Movement in West Africa, 1948–1970,” Habitat International, vol. 30, 2006, p. 396–411.

25 See Jiat-Hwee Chang, A Genealogy of Tropical Architecture: Colonial Networks, Nature and Technoscience, New York, NY: Routledge, 2016 (Architext series).

26 See Balwant Singh Saini, Architecture in Tropical Australia, New York, NY: G. Wittenborn, 1970 (Architectural Association (Great Britain); paper).

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References

Electronic reference

Vandana Baweja, « Beyond Alternative Modernities », ABE Journal [Online], 9-10 | 2016, Online since 28 December 2016, connection on 18 November 2017. URL : http://abe.revues.org/3138 ; DOI : 10.4000/abe.3138

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About the author

Vandana Baweja

Assistant Professor, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
La revue ABE Journal est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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