The evolution of housing in India has gone through immense transformations over the years, owing to its vast history and diverse geographical, social, and cultural settings. They give an insight into the reforms and the developments that the society has undergone, the structure and fabric it has achieved, and the architecture that has evolved through the process.

Housing Types in India

The earliest settlements in India dates back to around 3000 B.C.E. during the Indus Valley civilization, recognized for its comprehensive urban planning. Built out of stone and mud bricks, and a framework of timber, all the houses were uniform and identical in their characteristics and circumscribed the citadel in the center of the city. The houses were one to three-storeyed with courtyards in the center, connected to a common drainage system.

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Influence of ancient urban planning in Mohenjo-Daro’s construction ©

With the end of the Indus Valley civilization and the rise of different empires and dynasties throughout the country, the evolution of housing in India began reflecting the use of rock-cut architecture and stone construction by 1000 BCE. The carved walls of these structures exhibited the values and traditions of the community. The caves accommodated houses, gathering spaces, verandas, monasteries, and several community spaces, and had an optimal spatial dispositioning. Several such rock-cut architecture examples could be found in various regions of the country such as Kanheri Caves, Karla Caves Bhaja Caves in Maharashtra, Udayagiri, and Khandagiri caves in Orissa, Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, etc.

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Kanheri Caves, Maharashtra ©
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Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves, Orissa ©

Further during the 1000 A.D., the country witnessed a rise in dominance by the Mughals, Rajputs, Marathas, and the Sikhs. Though the typical features of the architectural styles of these empires were evident in the public structures, such as the Indo-Islamic style of Mughals, Indo-Aryan style of Rajputs, Wadas of Marathas, the style limited itself to the wealthy section of the society, the urban areas, and the rulers. In the rural areas, the people had their houses made by wattle and daub techniques, with provisions of basic needs while the commoners depended upon timber, mud bricks, and stone and their houses adopted fundamental features of the then existing architectural style.

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Agra main street in 1858 ©
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Vishrambaug Wada, Pune ©

Following the Mughals, several European powers such as British, Dutch, Portuguese and the French invaded India and introduced their native style of architecture to the regions they ruled.

Indian House Types

The influence of the Portuguese style of architecture could be identified in the evolution of the housing typology of Goa and Daman and Diu made of laterite stone and mud walls painted with colors made of natural dyes. The residential areas exhibit the bright-colored facades of the houses and the covered porches. On the contrary, the French established their societies in Pondicherry and some parts of the Malabar Coast and West Bengal. They used local resources and materials for construction, took into consideration the climatic conditions of the site, and supplemented the composition with their native style of facades, consequently creating a Franco – Tamilian housing style.

The Dutch influence was mild as compared to the Portuguese and the French, and could be found in parts of Kerala and Gujarat acknowledged by timber framework, tiled sloping roofs, and open veranda.

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French Quarter Area, Pondicherry ©
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A House in Pondicherry ©
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A Portuguese House in Goa ©
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Portuguese Mansion in Goa ©

However, a major shift in the evolution of housing in India and settlements in the country was marked in British rule due to the rise in trade and a new cultural setting. Initially, the colonials introduced their conventional bungalow, a one-storeyed structure built from bricks and given a white plaster finish, having a sloping roof. These prototypes of bungalows were also used for housing provided to the government workers and people higher in the hierarchy in the workplace.

Later, with the increase in trade, there was also a development in the infrastructure; as the colonials started establishing major port cities in the country, Mumbai, Madras, and Calcutta, and thus led to the onset of urbanization. With an expectation of better job opportunities and lifestyle, several people started migrating to these cities hence, resulting in the need for more residential spaces. Initially, the open spaces and verandas around the bungalows started lessening and then the size of the bungalows until it outreached the limit.

Thereafter came the apartment system, with a three-storeyed building providing residential blocks for the inhabitants in the evolution of housing. Throughout this process of evolution, the colonials experimented with various architectural styles such as Neoclassical, Art Deco, Indo – Gothic, Indo – Saracenic, Baroque, and Modern. The newly emerging residential buildings weren’t independently built, instead, were built in colonies owing to a particular community or workplace.

A Colonial bungalow in Bangalore ©
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Art Deco Residential building in Mumbai ©
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A residential building in Dadar Parsi Colony ©

These colonies were in correspondence to the rich or the middle-income groups of the society. For the lower-income groups, to meet the needs of their daily life was also a task almost impossible to achieve due to the constant rise in the migrants and competition. This sector of the society started living in ‘Chawls’ a housing typology known for having ‘kholis’ or rooms for the tenants connected by a single passage on one side of the structure and having shared sanitation facilities per floor.

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Chawl system ©

After independence, there was a rise in migration and disorganization in the settlement patterns of the country, especially in the urban areas due to the partition and the country was in need to generate new housing facilities for the citizens. The government of India thus came up with several Housing schemes to deal with the issue such as LIG Housing Scheme, MIG Housing Scheme, Slum Clearance and Improvement Scheme, etc. and also emphasized developing planned cities.

Simultaneously, with the advancement of technology and industries, a rapid rise in the number of Industrial townships throughout the country was visible. These townships provided housing in India for the workers of the industries, with correspondence to the hierarchy of their work, along with other essential facilities such as schools, markets, recreational spaces, and gathering areas.

By the 1990s with the onset of liberalization and the entry of the private sector into real estate, there was a mass development into the urban areas of the country. Since then, the size of the houses shrunk, the stories of the apartment buildings grew, the cost of living increased, and also led to the growth of several illegal settlements, ‘slums’ in the urban areas. On the contrary, the houses in rural areas have also started adopting the materials used in the urban context, concrete, and glass.

Jamshedpur Industrial township ©
Aerial view showing high rise structures in the center and slums on both the ends ©
Aerial view of Bangalore showing high rise structures ©

In the present time, India contains a rapidly growing population that has been unevenly dispersed throughout the country due to the social, technological, and economical dissimilarities in the country. This irregular disintegration of the population has also led to the adoption of varying housing patterns in the country, however with a very mere reflection of the architectural style unlike earlier.


Manasi prefers writing over talking to express herself. Being an architecture student, she believes that designs and their resulting comprehensions are a mirror to look within oneself. She is an optimist who is considerate towards her surroundings and more so people. Structures, their stories and photographs fascinate her.