Geometric shapes in their simplest configuration colliding with the truest forms of materials, devoid of elaborate ornamentation, honest and unafraid- the Bauhaus style proclaimed the revolution of humble significance.
The end of World War I proposed the need for a fresh start in all aspects that persuaded the German architect, teacher, and visionary, Walter Gropius to establish a new design school, Staatliches Bauhaus in 1919 and its new teaching program in 1920. This led to the decline of the Art Nouveau extravagance and was replaced with simple lines and curves, grey and white surfaces, flat roofs, and industrial finishes.
The unification of art and technology, and the merger between multiple disciplines such as painting, industrial design, and typography with architecture created a radical change in the period’s approach towards the fields.
The Grand Entrance into the Subcontinent
While the West faced the tantrums of World War II, India faced its battles with colonial rule. The anglicized educational scenario of the country brought about the dire need to find an indigenous voice, which was predominantly brought about by Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru. Tagore’s establishment of the liberal arts college, Visva-Bharati University, was instantly identified by the Bauhaus for its new artistic approach and eventually became the gateway towards modernism in India in 1922.
As the influence of the newfound style began to spread far and wide, two Indian architects created the spark of the Bauhaus style in the country’s buildings.
The Early Modernists
Achyut Kanvinde of Delhi and Habib Rahman of Bengal were drawn into the Bauhaus movement by Gropius during their time as his students at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The duo not only brought one of the most influential movements into the country but had also surpassed Corbusier in bringing about modernism into the mainstream architecture of the period with their projects, Gandhi Ghat, and the Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association. The spark led to them creating hundreds of structures, eventually changing the course of India’s architectural pattern.
The Bauhaus-inspired building models by Rahman were quickly adopted in lakhs throughout the country. Other projects by Rahman such as Rabindra Bhawan, the Calcutta Secretariat, and the University Grants Commission of India also caused a significant impetus to the Bauhaus movement in India. His works varied from colleges to government housing units and even the first steel-framed skyscraper in the country.
The Bauhaus philosophies seen in The Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Nehru Science Centre by Kanvinde inspired thousands of buildings towards a bold yet simple evolution. Kanvinde’s rejection of symmetry at the cost of function and his strict policy to not incorporate mild Indian elements in his designs were quite evident in the master plan of Dronagiri Node, design of campuses, dairies, schools, stadiums, and entrepreneurial residences. Together, their efforts stimulated India’s architecture into an unforeseen tangent.
The Prominence of Style
The spread of Bauhaus led to the creation of a modern landscape to the country’s façade. Strong monolithic geometry, raw finishes through exposed concrete, extensive use of steel, open plan structures, and fenestrations that persuade the inclusion of light and space led to the redefinition of India’s architectural quality. All Bauhaus buildings are different in several aspects, be it linear, curved, or angular, and yet they have some salient features that define the school of thought.
Rational and functional designs were brought about by omitting ornamentation, favoring asymmetry, using simple geometric shapes, using modern materials such as glass, steel, and concrete, incorporation of flat roofs, glass curtain walls, and smooth facades. Pioneers such as Rahman also installed slim jaalis, domes, and chhatris in his Bauhaus structures to reconnect with the context’s roots.
The Cities of Bauhaus
The nudge towards establishing substantial Bauhaus influence in the country in terms of modernized education, art, and architecture was brought about by the progressive and wealthy textile and trader families of Ahmedabad. Bauhaus’ modest tactic towards living, thinking, and doing resonated with the people of Ahmedabad, which is quite evident from the city’s landmark Bauhaus structures. Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association Building (ATIRA) and the Mehsana Dairy by Kanvinde pioneered for their new design elements such as waffle slabs, open plans, activity zones, and generous fenestrations.
Calcutta’s Bauhaus art exhibition is considered as an entry point for modernism into the country that persuaded Habib Rahman to shape its cityscape. Structures such as the Gandhi Ghat Memorial in Barrackpore and the New Secretariat exemplified the Bauhaus reductionist approach through the application of linear geometry, overhanging roofs, steel-framed high-rise buildings, and the focus towards the quality of light.
Although the heart of Bombay was focused on locally developed architecture, the industrial boom and the establishment of multiple institutions led to the decline of the highly celebrated Art-Deco style and began to be slowly replaced with Bauhaus influence. These new buildings portrayed the higher use of multi-storeyed development and slab blocks through the use of advanced technology.
Not just architecture, furniture design with exposed steel and simple forms were also evolving in the public eye. While the Bauhaus style began to redefine a modernized nation, India’s cultural and climatic factors demanded a vernacular integration, and this hybrid style can be explicitly seen in New Delhi. Rahman’s Mazaar of Maulana Azad and the Mazaar of Zakir Hussain witnessed the Bauhaus interpretations of traditional arches, jaalis, shallow domes, curved walls, and even scale and volume.
The cities today stand proud with this rich phase in their evolutionary process consisting of loud minimalism and strict functionality and yet staying true to its roots. The style, although despised by many, was truly inspiring for future nation builders in terms of its honesty and ease and will continue to mark its simple lines upon the skyline of the country.
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