Pune stands out as a vibrant metropolis on the map of India. Established at the junction of the Mula and the Murtha rivers, Pune displays a baffling mixture of capitalism and culture. Popularly known as the “Cultural Capital” of Maharashtra and the “Queen of the Deccan”, this city has gone through innumerable transitions. The Architectural saga of the city has been shaped by various cultural, social, and political dynamics. The architecture of the city along with its planning and demographics has resulted in the development of the city in its present form.
Pune first gained importance as a city under the rule of Peshwas in the 18TH Century. The Peshwas while developing the city, added a unique Brahman character to its architecture. They constructed more than 25 temples, including the temple on the Parvati temple. The Parvati temple is a fortified temple on the Parvati hill, which provides mesmerizing views of the city. Intricately carved with stone, the Shikharas of the Parvati temple is built in a stepped form unlike the conventional temples of its time.
As trade expanded under the Maratha and the Peshwa rule, various communities started settling in Pune. These communities settled in clusters based on their occupation. This led to the birth of various streets or Alis, where each Ali was inhabited by people following a particular occupation. Gradually with time, the traditional core of the city, which now forms the heart of Pune developed with its unique architectural characteristics. The Wada houses were the prime binding element of this traditional core. Influenced by Martha, Mughal, Rajasthani, and Gujarati architectural styles; the Wadas was built using local construction techniques. Each Wada was home to multiple families and was built along with a central courtyard, inspired by the traditional chowk system. These courtyards provided excellent light and ventilation in the tropical climate of Pune. The walls were made exceptionally thick with a minimum number of windows to keep the interior of the building cool. But as the 19th Century witnessed the decline of the Peshwa rule, these Wadas lost their traditional importance. With the British invasion and the population growth that came with industrialization, the importance of the inner core of the city also dissolved. The city expanded its boundaries in the form of concentric circles, dividing it into the Old and the Modern Pune. While Old Pune reflects a traditional ambiance, the outer areas have a cosmopolitan outlook.
Under British rule, Pune served as one of the major military bases. This led to the development of the British Cantonment area away from the heart of the city. Over the next century, this British Cantonment thrived with the expansion of roads, bungalows, and social and recreational facilities. As the indigenous city started deteriorating, the newly developed Cantonment areas flourished into a well-planned garden suburb. This suburb developed in a culturally specific environment, which consisted of a system of built forms and spatial arrangements organized by a particular culture, for a particular purpose and at a particular time. Thus, although it was geographically situated in India, the architecture of this area was mostly European. The sophistication offered in this society led to the establishment of various educational institutes in Pune, in the coming decades. The Fergusson College and the Pune College of Engineering, inspired by the Gothic and the Gothic- Revival architectural style respectively and are some of the few European architectural marvels in the country. Other important landmarks in this area include the National War Memorial Southern Command and the Armed Forces Medical College.
As the Pune Cantonment town thrived, many wealthy Parsi and Gujrati families settled in the buffer zone between this new town and the old city. They constructed massive bungalows of varied architectural styles in this area. With time, more than a dozen Peths also developed in these buffer zones, giving a unique character to Pune. Peths were localities that were home to various artisans and traders. As trade flourished in this region, the Bhavani and the Nana Peth developed adjacent to the British area thus bridging the gap between the Cantonment and the rest of the buffer area. By the time of independence, squatter settlements of the working class developed on the periphery of the highly sophisticated British area. During the time of Swaraj Pune was an important center of the nationalism movement. The resistance in the city compelled the British to construct the Yerwada Jail in 1871. The Aga Khan Palace in which Gandhi Ji was placed under house arrest is a major historic landmark of the city.
Post-independence, the city has come a long way, transforming into a prominent center of education and capitalism. In the 1990s it emerged as one of the major IT Hubs in India. The architecture of the city has become the epitome of modern architecture with industrial buildings such as the Infosys office, Eon IT Park, and the Tata Technologies Campus. Although the rapid modern development in the city has led to better job opportunities, it has also converted it into an urban sprawl with more population than its capacity. Due to overpopulation, the city has begun an inevitable transition to a saturated urban settlement. The lack of housing for all its settlers has led to the encroachments, squatting on public lands, and uncontrolled settlements. This has in turn adversely affected the existing public utilities and community facilities in the city. Today Pune stands at a very crucial point where the future of the city lies in the hands of its architects and planners. Will they be able to come up with sustainable innovations shortly or will the city end up being consumed by its ever-growing population? Who knows?