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Though the footsteps of Victorian architecture began in England, it traveled to the world leaving a huge influence wherever it resided. One such pivotal footprint stays timeless in India. The ruling year for Queen Victoria marked the beginning of Victorian architecture that lasted from 1837 to 1901. Therefore, Victorian architecture can’t be defined as a particular design style, rather it’s referred to as the reign that witnessed various architectural styles.
Moreover, the Victorian period witnessed a hike in wealth and mass production through the Industrial Revolution. From the famous stained glass windows to aesthetic fireplaces, this era left an ever-lasting imprint.
These ornamental features hint at the elegance of structures. Victorian buildings were truly curated with a one-of-its-kind style.
Knowingly or unknowingly you’ve definitely come across Victorian architecture in India whether it’s through movies, magazines or during your travels The question is how did this begin in India? What was the key element influencing Victorian architecture in India?
As Britishers established colonial relationships with India, they tried to mould the architecture and style that could fulfil their needs. This brought a Victorian influence to Indian architecture. The construction of courtrooms, churches, forts, and stations was carried out by engineers and architects hailing from England who naturally had more Western features.
From the colonial homes in the South, the winter homes in Mussories and Himachal to the iconic buildings in the then “Bombay”, hints of Victorian architecture were found across the country.
The famous CST station of Mumbai is an architectural masterpiece designed by Frederick William Stevens. The enormous structure composed of sandstone takes pride in its statement-making ornamentation and resemblance to a secular cathedral. Even though the intricately crafted facade borrows elements from Victorian architecture, the carving follows Indian tales.
The exterior walls of Victoria Terminus features the face of prestigious people with diverse nationalities and backgrounds that aided in the structuring of the new city. The interiors are induced with elegance reflected by Italian marble along with Indian stone.
David Sassoon library designed by Col. J.A. Fuller is composed of Yellowstone and polychromatic ornamentation as in the Venetian-style Gothic Revival buildings. One of the noticeable features is its highly pointed gable.
Various Victorian characteristics like the use of iron, pinnacles at the gable, and verandahs can be witnessed. The strategic design incorporated a verandah to cater to Mumbai's humid climate. Even though it is sprawled on a small scale, its features and charm remain unmatched.
While the Victoria Memorial Hall of Kolkata is all about Victorian features and white marble, the Victoria Memorial Hall of Madras has a facade inspired by Fatehpur Sikri’s Buland Darwaza. The enormous building in red sandstone and heavy ornamentation was constructed to honour Queen Victoria.
The world-famous Gateway of India is a fine work of George Wittet curated in concrete and yellow basalt. It celebrated King George and Queen Mary’s visit to India in 1913. The design and construction were completed in 1927 after a lengthy process of 14 years.
This structure wasn’t only a gate, rather the design included domed spaces that served as the welcoming reception with a central hall. Massive domes and arches impart an Indian touch to this western design.
Lutyens Delhi house Rashtrapati Bhavan was proposed for the viceroy with architectural features combining the western and eastern styles. The grand residence has a feature dome in its centre giving it regal splendour.
Curated in Indian marble, the Victoria Memorial Hall of Kolkata was designed by Sir William Emerson and supervised by Vincent Jerome Esch. The proposal came forward during the times when Calcutta was the ruling centre. An attempt to bring European effect was made with this stately and spacious structure exuding a monumental appeal.
Clubs have always been regarded as a stop for the rich, elite and influential class of society. One of the first residential clubs in Bombay is the Byculla Club which housed the entertainment for the luxury-class officers. It Was defined as a space to highlight the prowess of the rulers. The clubhouse accommodated a race-course and dining area for the guests.
The Asiatic Society of Bengal is amongst the oldest institutions nestling about 15,000 volumes of manuscripts. The refined structure has now been replaced with brutalist architecture composed of concrete. The interiors were adorned with original paintings in the 1830s, the postcards of which are available now.
Richard Norman Shaw was the head architect accompanied by Jan Morris as a co-designer. The entire crafting of the structure was carried out by James Forsyth, a Scottish sculptor. Apart from this Victorian feature sitting at an axial point, the backdrop is composed of Gothic themes running through the city of Bombay. The entire picturesque area in the context is one of the finest works existing from British rule that is a major attraction even today.
Old Delhi nestles the Central Baptist Church that merges into the entire neighbourhood setting. The grandeur can be perceived in the neoclassical building with its porch and stout columns. Tiles have been adorned with floral paintings that set the interiors apart.
The Secretariat Complex in the North Block is situated on the banks of Yamuna. Agra fort is composed of red sandstone and offers Mughal influences on the building. The powerful structure is composed of various designated spaces for the rulers and a part of the building offers a view of the wonderful Taj Mahal.
Albert Hall and its intricacy is a task that took several years. The fine detailing in white marble and carvings on the exteriors and interiors speak of its splendid beauty. Each carving narrates a unique story with its superior craftsmanship and the purity of white marble.
Christ Church in Shimla– the second oldest church in North India was constructed in 1857 in neo-Gothic design language. The structure was designed by Colonel J.T. Boileau with one of the key elements of Victorian architecture – stained glass windows. There are five of these with each one representing Christian virtues.
The tall tower of the church makes itself noticeable from afar and the entire building is well-lit at night to make it a prominent landmark.
The building for the State Bank of Madras is an exemplar Indo-Saracenic hybrid design with assorted towers and covered verandahs. The entire masterpiece is the work of Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob and Henry Irwin’s final touches on the structure.
Thiruvananthapuram’s Napier Museum designed by Robert Fellowes Chisholm is amongst the oldest museums in India. The roofing and embellishments mimic Gothic style placed in an Indian setting.
The Victorian era was marked by the rule of Queen Victoria which began in 1837 and stayed till 1901.
Though the foundation for Victorian architecture was laid in England, the style spread across to international countries like India, America, Australia, etc.
If you feel it’s the time to take your property through Victorian restoration, you need to cater to the authenticity of the whole structure. Replace the original fenestrations with timber doors or windows to retain the original essence of the design.
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