Otto Koenigsberger

‘Otto Koenigsberger : Bringing Modernism to India’ Research Project

How did a German refugee become the first Director of Housing in independent India? How did the Indian environment transform European modernism in the 1940s? Who were the main players in shaping Mysore State’s urban development in the first half of the last century?

These are some of the questions that Rachel Lee is endeavouring to answer in her PhD thesis “Otto Koenigsberger: Bringing Modernism to India”. By using the biography of the German refugee architect and planner Otto Koenigsberger (1908-1999) as a critical research tool, she is analysing a defining period in India’s architecture and planning history.

In the run up to Indian independence, from 1939-1948, Koenigsberger was the Chief Architect and Planner of Princely Mysore State. From his base in Bangalore he designed a wide range of public and private buildings from bus terminals to theatres and hunting lodges to universities. In addition, he produced master plans for major industrial towns such as Jamshedpur and co-founded the architecture and design periodical MARG.

With independence, a period of nation building began, and Koenigsberger, who had been appointed Federal Director of Housing by Prime Minister Nehru in 1948, was in a highly influential position. In particular, he was responsible for addressing the problem of housing approximately 10,000,000 predominantly Hindu refugees flooding into India from Pakistan following partition. By the time he left India for London in August 1951, Koenigsberger had planned four new towns (including Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa State), supervised the development and planning of a further two, developed an affordable prefab housing system and designed its production process.

By focusing on Koenigsberger—the person at the centre of a diverse network of figures including Jawaharlal Nehru, Mirza Ismail, Jamshed Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Mulk Raj Anand and Rabindranath Tagore—Rachel Lee’s work will contribute to a much‐needed re‐evaluation of the post‐colonial architectural and urban development in a rapidly urbanizing country.

The results of Rachel Lee’s work will form the foundation of an exhibition titled “Urban Visionaries”, which is scheduled to be shown at the NGMA Bangalore in 2012. The exhibition will also showcase Gustav Krumbiegel’s landscape architecture in Bangalore and will be curated by MOD and the Visual Art Collective, Bangalore.

Rachel is a MODbug. Read more about her in the MOD team page.

Pre-fabricated Housing Factory

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OK - Otto Koenigsberger: Architecture and Urban Visions in INDIA (MOD 001).

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