Architecture would fulfil many functions for the British as they spread their empire throughout the world: whether to inspire awe, or to remind British functionaries and settlers of a sentimentalised Britain that they had left behind. However, imperial architecture would also be modified and influenced by the cultures, environments and peoples that it came into contact with. There was no single, unified architectural style imposed on the colonies. Odd hybrid building styles could be wildly different from one colony to another as the British sought to bring all of these disparate aims and influences together.

Indian Bungalow

Private Residences

The bungalow (A Hindu Word) provides an excellent example of how British colonists would try to mix together local building styles, adapt to the local environment and yet still try to remind the occupants of 'Britain' and of 'British values'. Initially at least, bungalows would have been built with local materials by local craftsmen who were familiar with the traditional building techniques that had been used for generations before the British arrived. These bungalows would have large, airy rooms and a wide verandah to help combat the oppressive heat found in the tropics. Some bungalows might even be built on a wooden stilt frame - to increase ventilation and also to make it harder for the local wildlife (snakes and insects) to enter the building. Over the years however, wooden frames gave way to more stone or brick buildings as the British gradually imposed their own tastes and building preferences on the local craftsmen. Window and door fittings would be imported from factories from the mother country. Classical columns might replace the wooden verandah supports as the owners tried to reconnect with Europe's classical past. And yet, for all of these developments, the essential elements of bungalow architecture would remain the same throughout the imperial experience; the wide verandahs, the large rooms, the stilts would all confirm that British building techniques were not always applicable to the environments in which the British settlers found themselves in.

The white settler colonies could be a different story. Settlers in New Zealand, Southern Australia and Canada often built in styles that were reminiscent of the building styles common in Britain. And yet these colonies did go through a similar developmental process as settlers upgraded their wooden shacks to larger structures before building in stone and brick a la Britain. These settler colonies were more likely to be influenced by a nostalgic and sentimentalised view of the mother country. Unlike the planters in their bungalows, these settlers knew that they were unlikely ever to return to their home country. Therefore, architecture could play a reassuring role in colonies whose environments could appear hostile and intimidating.

The settler colonies in Southern Africa would have their own unique influences. Not so much African so much as the austere Dutch Boer architecture that preceded the British arrival in the colony. This simple, puritanical style would influence the building styles of farms and towns throughout Britain's involvement with these colonies.

Official Buildings

Official buildings could suffer from the same kind of schizophrenic aims as private residences did. British officials certainly came into contact with some awe inspiring and imposing examples of local architecture: From the Taj Mahal to the Mosques of the Middle East. For the British to claim to represent a higher form of civilisation meant that they had to respond to the challenges presented by these impressive structures. It is interesting that the British did not oversee a massive building programme of temples and churches as most civilisations had done before, rather, they oversaw the construction of the cathedrals of the industrial revolution: Railway Terminals, Factories, Exchanges and Administrative buildings.

Once again, the competing aims of local vis-a-vis British building techniques and materials would further collide with the ideals of complementing the local architectural styles and reminding westerners of European civilisation. The complex weaving of these aims and ideals are probably best illustrated by the post Indian Mutiny building style which has been characterised as Saracenic-Byzantine. The very name itself shows the clash of Muslim and Eastern Roman styles. Derided by many contemporary European architects as a hybrid mixture of styles at discord with one another, it nevertheless provides an example of a unique colonial architecture that tries to mix the familiar (to Europeans at least) classical roman styles whilst paying respect to the local traditions and styles of the host culture. Roman columns and arches might sit uneasily with Islamic style domes and hindu style ornamentation. For the British, this new style was a way of showing a continuity of rulership over the Indian sub-continent as they borrowed and (in their own minds at least) improved upon the Moghul Empire's impressive architectural record.

New Delhi
Eventually, the scorn heaped on the saracenic style by European architects (many of whom never saw the buildings in person) led imperial architects to become more and more classical in nature. Edward Lutyen's rebuilding of New Delhi best illustrates this trend as he sought to create a huge government complex fit to rule the greatest colony in the greatest empire on earth. Unfortunately for him, this architectural conservatism was running against the sands of time. The lack of local sensitivity and the aloofness exhibited by this government compound reaffirmed many Indians' beliefs that the British did not have their best interests at heart. And worse than that, they were wanting to impose their own European values on to Indian society and culture.

Canada's Parliament
Again, the settler colonies were more interested in reminding the settlers of a familiar world that they had left behind. Melbourne in Australia would be built in a an impressive Georgian style that would not have looked out of place in the centre of London. Canada provides an alternative European style from most other settler colonies. The parliament and other government buildings were all built in a very High Gothic style - not unknown in Europe but not overly common. The reasoning for this particular architectural abberation is almost certainly the Canadian officials' desire to differentiate themselves from their neighbours to the South. Government buildings and styles in the United States unabashedly used classical Greek and Roman styles; The White House and the Capitol building are excellent examples of classical architecture. The Canadian government needed to connect with their European heritage and tradition and yet did not want their architecture to be confused with their great rival of the United States. Therefore, its architects plumped for the distinctively European High Gothic style.

Suggested Reading
Building Lagos
by Kunle Akinsemoyin
History of Indian and Eastern Architecture
by James Ferguson
The old buildings of the Cape:
A survey and description of old buildings
in the Western Province

Hans Fransen
Indian Summer: Lutyens, Baker and Imperial Delhi
by Robert Irving
Herbert Baker: Architecture and Idealism,
1892-1913 - The South African Years

by Michael Keath
Colonial Urban Development:
Culture, Social Power and Environment

by Anthony King
The Bungalow: The Production of a Global Culture
by Anthony King
An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and Britain's Raj
by Thomas R. Metcalf
European Architecture in India, 1750-1850
by Sten Nilsson
The Oriental Obsession: Islamic Inspiration in
British and American Art and Architecture,

by John Sweetman
Building a City: 100 Years of Melbourne Architecture
by Granville Wilson

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