Post 374 –by Gautam Shah
During the colonial period (of British and also Dutch, French, Portuguese) in India, the residential building designs were refashioned to suit the perception, attitudes, functional requirements, climatic understandings and responses of the occupiers. In many instances vacant Kothis were renovated, altered and refurbished for the new occupants’ lifestyle. The changes and new constructions were executed by the local skills, materials, and techniques. The Kothis or Bungalows as result were in style and manner similar to that built by minor royalties and ministers of Indian states of the time.
New styles of buildings were, however, required for religious buildings like churches, and clubs, administrative offices, schools, judiciary courts, barracks and garrisons. The Indian examples were not available, or not suitable for the colonials’ requirements. Such utility spaces were usually part of the palace complexes or royal precincts. Many were sited in busy localities, which from a strategic point of view was not suitable. Many such activities were sited in existing buildings of the Indian states, with due alterations and additions. When colonists began to administer politically, the changeover to new constructions for administrative facilities was very gradual. Their preferred locations were outside the towns. Few new constructions like churches, clubs, and schools had distinctive ‘foreign’ ethos. Here the architectural form, style, elements and finishes were distinctly different.
One of the major differences in the local’s and the colonist’s lifestyle was the perception of privacy. The privacy was an issue of visitors and staff members moving around the house. In Muslim houses, the female section was beyond the entry of male visitors but these were nearly open to female visitors. In Brahmin and other marzadi families, members of the same cast had nearly unrestricted access. The sense of privacy in Indian dwelling was more of the enforcement of the rituals for sanctimony of the various spaces. The Europeans, mainly the British were strict about visual and audio privacy.
Within the tropical dwelling with many openings and with large retinues of local servants, the neat distinction of private and a public domain, was difficult to enforce. The tropical verandah was ideal space well suited for the climate. It was not just extension of drawing room for the visitors, but a house in its own. All meals, social and business meetings, children’s nursery, ladies kitty party and crafts were conducted in the verandah. The tall verandahs were covered at top half with a wood lattice or woven mats, which allowed air movement. The same were, in later period replaced with glass. The door opening to the verandahs had an extra shutter with wire mesh to keep off insects and occlude the view of interiors. French doors were used for connecting drawing room to the verandah. One of the most important detail was louvered slats within door and window shutters. This seems to be an adaptation, back home, from other European buildings. The louvers of fixed type have been extensively used for covering the top half of office verandahs in Eastern India.
The double windows were one element that solved problems of privacy and aeration. This was a period when across the Europe and USA double-hung sash windows were a rage. The Indian version had top and bottom sections, each with double leaf shutters, instead of single panes sliding (up or down) shutters. The lower section of the window was stretched close to the floor so served the efficiency of a Dutch door. Tall windows reaching from floor to ceiling level had to be avoided for reasons of rain and solar gain. However, windows were masked with Venetian shutters -with fixed but open louvers on exterior face such as in Chettiar houses of Tamil Nadu and Government offices of Calcutta, West Bengal, to curtail the glare while allowing the breeze. The intricate wood joinery did not work well with the long and heavy monsoon. Similar Venetians shuttered windows were used in Eastern India, Neighbouring Burma and other countries of SE Asia.
The double windows became a standard feature of many Indian residences and public buildings. The upper section was sufficiently sun shaded and rainwater protected by the awning or Chhajja, and so could be kept open in all seasons. The lower section was opened in the evenings for the breeze over the floor level activities. It also allowed one to look out while seating on the floor or resting on the bed. The shutters were shelf-pivot hung or sides hinged, mostly opening to the outside. It also had another set of folding type fly mesh shutters, opening on the inside, but accommodated within the wall thickness. Nowhere in India, the sash windows have been exploited.
Store and other minor rooms were provided with higher sill level openings but with a tapered ledge on the outside or inside. The outside tapered ledge allowed clear view of the street below, whereas the inside sloped sills allowed more light. Across Northern India, rooms had ceiling level ventilating apertures, with an awning casement shutter or a shutter less latticed opening. Doors and windows also had transom lites, with a top hung awning casement shutter in square headed openings and arched heads fixed panes of coloured pieces of figured glass with radial muntins were used.