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Datch Factory by Hendrick van Schuylenburgh (1665) (from J.P. Losty, Calcutta)

Colonial architecture meaning a combination style of European and indigenous architecture is reflected more in the secular civic buildings than those of the buildings of religious character. The churches built by the European companies followed the church style built in Europe and the mosques and temples built by the locals followed their own traditional styles. Although there are some noticeable elements, as for example Tuscon columns and multi-foiled round arches of Roman type, their use has not changed the general appearance of religions buildings. In the tomb buildings of Companies agents, however, as for example the Tomb of Job Charnock in Calcutta and that of ‘Calombo-Saheb’ in Dhaka the local Mughal tradition is dominant. This was probably because of the absence of a traditional tomb-building pattern in Europe. The great tomb buildings of India must have inspired acceptance of local tradition which to the English did not seem unagreeable.


In the secular buildings the influence of European architecture, on the other hand, was current form the beginning. The first of the secular structures were the factories consisting of the residents of factors, production and warehouses, and their necessary adjuncts. Although examples do not survive form the earlier days, it is conceiveble that their architecture was of the make-shift type with both indigenous and imported materials such as timber and metallic sheets. The earliest description of a factory of which we have some knowledge is that of a Duch factory at Chinsura painted in 1665 by Hendrick van Schuylenburgh. The painting shows that the factory was a walled enclosure with building complexes of various sizes within entered by a main gate from the front. The entrance of the gateway is marked by three arched openings of Mughal desigh but the structure itself is not a Mughal iwan but a Roman gateway with a horizontal top. The architecture of the inner buildings appears to be mostly functional and is arranged in longitudnal layout with courtyards in front.

The first building worth the name of architecture appears to be the First Fort William in Calcutta built in the early years of 18th century between 1700-12, now survived in the paintings of George Lambert and Samual Scott drawn in c. 1773 and the paintings of Jan Van Ryne drawn in 1754. The Fort was built in an irregular tetragon of brick and mortar called pucka which is a composition of brick-dust, lime molassess and cut hemp. Within it was the governor’s house which according to Captain Hamilton is ‘the best and most regular piece of architecture that ever I saw in India’. The Fort stretched ‘700 feet along the riverfront ... . The walls were 40 feet thick and 18 feet high connecting diamond shaped bastions at the four corners each mounting ten guns ... the main gate on the east wall carried five guns. An additional lower curtain wall was built on the riverside ... No moat or ditch protecting the Fort was ever built. Within, a low building running east-west called Long Row divided the Fort. There were originally the brick buildings put up for the residences of the young unmarried writers within the compound’. The Fort has been further described as a ‘grand structure’ resembiling in plan the Dutch factory at Chinsura just described. Like the latter ‘it formed three sides of a quadrangle the opening side being to the east with a raised cloister round the inner court... . A portico in the centre of the west side gave access under a colonnade to the principal river gate’. From the paintings it appears that the Mughal features, noticed in the Dutch factory, are no more and instead all European elements such as pediments, long windows, tall columns are now predominating. The Fort may thus be described as the starting point of the Europeanization of building activity ushering a new era fully begun from the time of Warren Hastings (1774-85), the builder of his garden house popularly known as ‘Hastings House’ in southern Calcutta.

Hastings like a true ‘real estate developer’ did not only build for himself, but also built for others making him an architectural entrepreneur of uncommon ability. His House in Alipur (c. 1776) became the model or standard type of many such houses or bangalows as they were called because of their being developed from the Bengali or bangala vernacular style. The Houses has been described as a ‘perfect bijon’ a central hall with two flanking rooms, a carriage porch, an alignment designed to

catch the southern breeze, and a verandah to the southward. Tuscon columns dominate the elevation on the ground floor and superimposed Ionic columns with plain shafts on the first. It should perhaps be noted here that the terms bangalow and verandah became current from this time giving rise to a new idiom of Colonial conception of architecture.

Mrs Kindersley’s Letter from the East Indies in 1777 speak of number of very pretty houses on the model of Hastings’ which she calls ‘garden-houses belonging to English gentlemen’. Mrs Kindersley’s writings echoed in several other buildings of the period through the magnificent view of a number of splendid houses in the Garden Reach ‘the residences of gentlemen of the highest rank in the company’s service’. It is at this time in 1992 that Thomas Twining described ‘the magnificent buildings’ of the Garden Reach as ‘palaces’ which eventually gave the epithet ‘City of Palaces’ to Calcutta. Warren Hastings’ another contribution beside his being the builder of beautiful residential buildings was his plan for marking the city area as South, North, East and West and of erecting some office buildings including the Writers Building in 1777. Along with the demarcation the city then started to develop on barrier lines such as the ‘White’ and ‘Black’ towns. The Black Town with the traditional housing pattern lay to the north of the English settlement in the villages of Sutanuti and Chitpur and to the south in Govindapur. The White Settlement with the new version of architecture was restricted to Kalikata, mostly on the northern side of the old fort. The city’s dual architectural character however, could not be maintained for long because of the rise of a middle moneyed-class who in imitation of their benefactors started to build their own houses as ‘status symbols’ with European character in the Black Town. Notable example of this style is the residence of Gobindaram Mitra in Kumartuli with giant columns of the Tuscan type, a cheaper and plainer version of the Greco-Roman fluted order with Doric, Ionic or Corinthian capitals. The columns here are plain and raised to the top of the second storey in poor imitation of Classical model but with crude entablature of local type which mares the beauty of the composition. This unhappy combination has been described as ‘a distinctive feature’ of Calcutta’s growing architecture. Restriction of the Whites except those who are attached to the Army to build within the vicinity of the Fort William further broke the city’s planned settlement and architecture-scenario. The imigration of Wajid Ali Shah, the deposed nawab of Oudh, in 1856 to the White area finally broke the barrier giving rise to a mixed settlement pattern wherever lands were available.

Another building of Hastings’ time exercised a strong influence on subsequent

architecture, particularly in the zamindarbaries still survived in a number of places. This is the Government House now known as the Amherst House in the new Fort William built between the years 1757 and 1773. The Government House started in the early years of the occupation has undergone much change with the passage of time, but the ‘Palladian temple-front in the north facade is still there’. The building according to Professor Dhritikanta Choudhury ‘establishes many features of standard

Calcutta Neoclassic: the three cube-division of the Neo-Palladian front, the central temple part on the first floor, forwards of the other two, and surmounted by a pediment supported by half-columns; the lower storey or basement clearly separated from the top; the large casement windows with double shutters; and the fanlights on windows framed in keystone arches’ (Calcutta, p. 161). In the Kitchener House built about the same time in the fort, there seems to be a merger of the Mughal and Italian features in the formating of the open verandah and the rounded chhatris. By the end of the century there thus appears to be a complete merger of the Indian and Western elements to form what has been described as the present Colonial architecture, the Western features dominating in the secular buildings and the traditional Indian or Mughal in the religious ones. A number of drawings by contemporary English painters such as William Baillie, William Hodges and Thomas Daniell give a general view of the architecture of the time with all the features narrated above. The view of the Old Fort, the Council House, Old Mission Church, St. John’s Church, Govindaram Mitra’s Black Pagoda etc speak only of a few individually known fascinating buildings. They depict not only of their own traits but also of the conception which dominated the entire architectural arena. The important secular buildings are generally of two storeyed heights but grouped in a horizontal outline broken occasionally by the verticality of the spires of churches- a true conception of contempory European architecture. Gobindaram Mitra’s Black Pagoda shows the retaining of the vernacular style with horizontality of dochala roofs and the verticality of the ratnachuras.

If 18th century was thus the formative period of Colonial architecture, the 19th century was the time of it’s full fruition and achievement. And in this period the patron per excellence was Lord Wellesley (1798-1805), the ambitious and perhaps the most artistic Governor-General of India. The spirit behind his enthusiastic movement must have been the writings of Stuart and Revett who after visiting Greece wrote a book (1762) called Antiquities of Athens glorifying the architecture of Greece and it’s following in Rome. The book was followed by another History of Ancient Art by Winckelmann (1764), a best seller glorifying the ‘noble simplicity and quiet grandeur’. The ideas expresses in these books must have caught the imagination of Wellesley who like the British adversary in France Napoleon Bonaparte accepted the architectural principles of Greece and Rome through Italy where Neo-Classicism became the order through the creations of Michellengelo, Sansovino and Palladio (hence Palladian). Not content therefore with what had been built before he gave directions for various improvements and alterations on the Italian Models to be immediately carried into effect, not only within the town of Calcutta itself, but also in the environs. Within his scheme was included a palace suitable to his magnificent ideas, and such one as would be proper for the residence of the British Governor- General of India. This palace he built (1799-1802) to the designs of Captain Charles Wyatt on the site of the old Government House and the adjacent Council House (1788), a great building built a few years earlier. The main features of the palace

Calcutta Madrasa (1781) (from Sukanta Choudhuri

Ed., Calcutta)

beside it’s being ‘monotonous Palladian’ were the breaking pediment on the north front with a long flight of steps and the Roman dome on the south with the decorating sculptured stork placed at the parapet above each of the facades. The storks occupied the earlier positions of the company’s coat-of-arms vindicating the symbol of power the Governor-General could have welded. A further feature of the palace was it’s magnificent south-eastern gateway designed in the form of a Roman triumphal arch topped by a powerful lion. The arch and the lion needless to say symbolized the power of the Company, later on the British Raj. The palace and the gateway were later on emulated in Dhaka and in the zamindarbaries throughout Bengal where the zamindars played a similar powerful role on the ryots as did the Company on the native zamindars. Not content with having works of ‘such magnitude and unbound expense’, Wellesley commenced a second palace at Barrackpur, ‘almost rivalling in magnificence the Calcutta one which he intended as a country residence for future Governor-General’. The ambitious plan however went only upto the first storey before Wellesley was recalled for his unsanctioned extravagance. Despite Warren Hastings and Wellesley’s facing of charges to the Court of Directors- one for political reasons and the other for loud expenses, the two Governor-Generals remained in history as the pivots of Calcutta city building and it’s architecture. Suffice it to say that what we call Colonial architecture got momentum because of the genius of these


two administrators who defined and shaped the style blending the local and the exotic giving a sense of direction destined to last for the next one hundred and fifty years. Some of the most remarkable monuments of the time recalling a Classical revival point to the Calcutta Madrasa (1781), the Ochterlony Monument (1828) now Shahid Minar, Rajendra Mallick’s Marble Palace (1985-40), the original building of Medical College (1835), and the Indian Museum (1875) to speak only a few of a large number seen within the heart of Calcutta. Walter Grandville’s GPO (1864-68), a spectacular monument gives somewhat a different look because of the Renaissance dome and it’s simple outline. The simplicity is in marked contrast to the flanking monuments executed in the Venetian Baroque mannerism, but more detailed to be appellated later ‘Victorian’. It is interesting that the style has not yet died out even after the British left the country more than fifty years back. Many a connoisseurs of building art of the present time follow the building of those days to satisfy their ego at historical continuity and artistic refinement.

Calcutta: Governor­ General’s Residence (Govt House) east gate by Charles D’oyly Bart (1848) (from J.P. Losty, Calctutta)



Calcutta: Govt House by James Baillie Fraser


(from J.P. Losty, Calctutta)

Besides imitating the new classic order of Italy created by the great masters3 Calcutta saw in this century a Gothic revival in some of the monuments such as the St. Peters Church (1835), St. Paul’s Cathedral (1844), the High Court Building and the Municipal Market (1874). It appears that the Gothic revival with it’s elongation and sculptural effect did not find much favour as that of the Greco-Roman order with pediment, colonnade and long stairs giving a horizontal character of most of the monuments of the time. Despite the verticality of the spires of old Mission Church (c. 1786), St. John’s Church (c. 1788) and Scotch Church (1811) the addition of the pediment in the approach of the churches diminished the value of the beauty of spires seen at Notre Dame in Paris or at the cathedral of Charters (north-spire rebuilt in 1507­ 1513). In one aspect, however, there is a marked similarity. This is in the external making. In both the Greco-Roman and the Gothic style the external facade was more important than the interior and there is a clear manifestation of this character in the buildings of both the orders.

After Warren Hastings and Wellesley, the Governor-General who took much interest in building activities of Calcutta was Lord Dalhausi (1848-56) whose name is still borne by ‘Dalhausi Square’. Dalhausi’s main contribution lay in the lay out of streets and consequently also of building designs in relation to the streets. He centralised the postal system, and the great postal building (GPO) built a few years later after his departure must have been the result of his vision. The number of Calcutta buildings in the 19th century is so much that it would require an exclusive volume to enumerate and prepare an inventory of key monuments. The most important name after the three Governor- Generals was that of Lord Curzon (1899-1905) who like his famed predecessors had interest in the stability of the empire as well as in the artistic development of the capital. There however, seems also to be a difference. Whereas Hastings, Wellesley and Dalhausi followed mostly the Classical order through New-classicism of Italy and


3. The two great buildings designed by Sansovino and Palladio- Library of St. Mark (1536) at Venice and Villa Rotonda (1553) near Vicenza respectively, are regarded as the models of future Baroque not only in Italy, but also in France, England and elsewhere.


France, Lord Curzon tried to satisfy the local sentiment through much of the adoption

from the traditional Mughal order. The creation of all-marble Victoria Memorial,

(proposed by him, but executed after his departure between 1906 and 1921) marks the

culmination of Colonial architecture whose blending of ‘local and exotic’ is now so

perfect that the viewer is always confused to regard it as a Mughal or a European

monument. To speak of some of it’s features, as for example, the main dome is a

following of Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the corner domes and

the subsidiary ones around the main dome are Mughal, the fronton is of the Mughal

iwan type, the arcades and tall windows are of the European variety. The assimilation

of all these features is so flawless that it stands out as a unique monument by itself and

certainly in the words of the great imperialist “a fitting memorial to the ‘Great and

Good Queen’ and a standing record of our wonderful history”.

As for his project in Dhaka, the proposed capital of the new province of Eastern

Bengal and Assam, he went further to satisfy the sentiment of the Muslims. In the

Curzon Hall, the design was more Mughal and even Moorish with the insertion of horseshoe arches, unnoticed in the architecture of Calcutta, and the intricate jali

Dhaka: Bangla Academy (Bardhaman

works. The Old Government House (now the Supreme Court building) is both



Dhaka: Government House (1905-06), (Courtesy The

British Library) Photograph, 1938

European and Mughal, and the Secretariat Building (now the Medical College and Hospital) is also the same with however a difference in the making of the dome, a flat Ottoman structure on a Byzantium model. Some of the residential buildings of the city, as for example, the residence of the Vice-Chancellor and the Burdwan House (now Bangla Academy) are however typical of the Colonial order of the last century. Other buildings of the time in the Civil Line or ‘Civil Station’ as it was called in the documents were created around the Government House in the north-east (Minto, Bailey and Hare Roads) and south-east (within the University area). These are also of the same type but with simpler design and cheaper materials. These buildings in general are of the bangalow type, two stroyed in height, with a carriage-portico and loggia in front and a verandah in the first floor. The balustraded staircase of the houses are of wood, and the verandahs in some cases are covered by hanging roof of deep eave or chala type. The north-east banglows are placed in east-west line on the side of the roads named after there distinguished British administrators- Lord Minto, Lancelot Hare and Charles Bayley. Much is not known about the ‘Governor House’ presently known a the Bangabhavan except that it was originally built with timber as a temporary official residence of the British Viceroy of India. It seems that it was not much debated as a structure as was done in case of the Governor’s Residence the ‘Government House’. An important fact however emerges from the construction of this wooden building. Wood became henceforth an important material in the building of such banglow type structures such as the residences of high officials in Divisional or District Headquarters, or Circuit Houses, quite a few of which still survive. In cases corrugated tin sheets were used in consideration of their availabity, cheaperesss and durability. Within ‘Curzon’s Dhaka’ two important buildings in the Colonial style were created after the foundation of Dhaka University. These were the Salimullah


Muslim Hall and the Fazlul Huq Hall two academic cum residential institutions mentioned in the previous chapter. Most of the Colonial buildings were built in brick, painted or plastered over, and only occasionally in consideration of their importance paved with marble. The builders were generally construction companies of British origin, as for example Mackintosh Burn in Calcutta, Messrs Martin and Company in Dhaka. Occasionally local firms such as R.P. Bhattacharjee and J.C. Dutta for Dhaka Government House were also employed.

An important feature of Colonial architecture in Bengal is the expansive use of various structure-types hitherto unknown. With the expansion of Government’s administrative functions buildings were erected for all official purposes including residences of the public functionaries. It should perhaps be mentioned here that important residence and office buildings followed definite stylistic pattern and were painted or plastered red in order perhaps to emphasize the power and distinctiveness.

The government structures were followed by local zamindars and also moneyed classes who constructed buildings principally for their own comfort and prestige-value.

To vindicate their power and authority they also occasionally erected structures of public interest such as schools and colleges, museums, public libraries, assembly halls and the like. It will perhaps be not out of place to point out a repetation that all such buildings were erected in the prevailing Colonial style. Not perhaps a single district town would be found without such structures, now unfortunatelly all decaying, encroached upon or vanished.

The marked features of the Colonial structures are their functional plan, raised foundation with long flights of steps, colonnaded loggia of the Italian renaissance type, the pediment of Greco- Roman order, the round arches of Roman and Venation types mostly in the form of key-stone and traciodal variety, Classical dome of the Roman type or Wren’s version of the Michellengello’s creation at St. Peters, the tall double shuttered wooden doorways and windows, parapet pinnacles of sculptured human and bird forms, wooden balustrated stairways- all European in conception and shape. Of the traditional Mughal and other Muslim features the bulbous domes, the chhatries, the oriel windows, pointed arches including of the horse-shoe variety, the brackets, the jali works in plaster predominate. Two important features of the Egyptian obelisk order and Buddhist trefoil-arch appear to be exceptional. The deep-cut mouldings seen mainly in the zamindarbaries may be a combination of Hindu art of India and the Rococo of 17th to 19th century Europe. The essence of Colonial architecture is to looked upon not in the individual character of architectural components but in their assimilation which gave vise to a new style. In Bengal the Colonial architecture was an aristocratic style, created by the ruling class as a symbol of power, dignity and artistry. Because of it’s fanciful and romantic character the style even persists today in the minds of those who love history and tradition. In an age of mechanized architecture, such a hand-made creation is expensive, but an expense is trivial when connoisseur looks for beauty and satisfaction two of the achieving goals of human life.

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