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Colonial Interpretations

Updated: Nov 11, 2022

As a resident of Bangalore Cantonment, I often drive past fragments of old buildings, bungalows, and churches, admiring stone masonry, lattice screens, and Venetian windows and noticing the many details of pediments, arches, and cornices in the passing. Although contemporary forms dominate the visual landscape today, these colonial structures hold their own, in terms of detail and old-world charm. I often look at this backdrop (colonial & pre-colonial) for Architectural inspiration, rootedness, continuity, and evolution of a more authentic language defined more than merely the confines of our times in terms of material, technology, lifestyle, and aesthetic aspiration.

The colonial that broke away from compact, dimly lit, and poorly ventilated vernacular dwelling forms has often crossed my mind, providing brooding ground, especially for usable transition spaces like our verandahs and colonnades. The Colonial seems a transition in itself, facilitating more modern conveniences, from the use of furniture, and functionality of rooms to space volumes and light/ventilation requirements something than can be readily related to contemporary living.

Given this background, I wasn’t averse to the idea of re-looking at colonial as inspiration for a farmhouse requested by a client. The design brief as we saw it looked at the ‘grandeur’ of colonialism as a basis to create a milestone building for this affluent family, a statement of their stature. I toyed with abstractions from the colonial, forms, volumes, spaces, and experiences that could be more evidently translated, breaking away from the cooped-up boxes of today, looking at space and volume of space as grandeur and luxury. After a few rounds of discussions and design iterations, we encountered the need for a more direct mimicking of the colonial, with elemental representation: such as columns, cornices, railings, pediments, etc. This got us on the back foot and hesitant to limit ourselves to literal representations. It also set me in panic, with thoughts on how to proceed, whether to back out or continue, especially given the prestigious client involved.

It is often a challenge, to hold out for what we believe in as professionals, despite pressure from the clients to accommodate their aspirations. Coming from a strong belief in participatory design, alignment of the professional and the client seems primary without which the product would be compromised and either one party grossly unhappy. In this case, the design team has been left wanting, after trying our best to work around colonial elements with a superimposition of vernacular flavors, exposed stone masonry, refractory brick, and country tile roofs to ground the structure to the rural setting. The best we would do is given the impossibility of exiting the project at the given stage, considering tight timelines and the immediate start of construction. Now with construction in full swing, we eagerly wait to see how this juxtaposition of colonial, vernacular, and contemporary pans out, which in hindsight seems an apt response to our current setting with the kitsch visual imagery that surrounds us.

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