Gwendolyn Wright’s work first demonstrated how the colonies and the metropole were intertwined in the shaping of paradigms of modernist architecture and urbanism through her analysis of French colonies—Indochina, Morocco, and Madagascar—as “champs d'expérience” or sites of experimentation, where modernist ideas were tested for their efficacy before they were implemented in the metropole.1 Wright’s book was crucial in recognizing the omission of the colonies in modernist architectural histories, but did not unearth the agency of the colonized in shaping architectural and urban discourses. Recent histories of indigenous modernities, in the case of Asian architecture and urbanism, such as Jyoti Hosagrahar’s Indigenous Modernities: Negotiating Architecture and Urbanism have proven how colonized subjects were dynamic actors in the domestication of metropolitan architecture and planning ideals.2 Through the lens of philanthropic architectural projects in Bombay (now Mumbai), Preeti Chopra demonstrates how colonialism was a collaborative enterprise in which the mercantile elite and colonial agencies formed ad-hoc alliances, which illuminate how the categories of the colonizer and colonized are not as distinctly delineated as we imagine them to be.3 Swati Chattopadhyay’s scholarship on Calcutta and Rebecca Brown’s history of Patna destabilize the “white town/black town” model of the colonial city.4 Brenda Yeoh’s work on Singapore documents how resistance to urbanism as a spatial tool for regulating cities validates how the colonized were never passive subjects of modernity.5 Recent scholarship such as Vikramaditya Prakash’s Chandigarh's Le Corbusier: The Struggle for Modernity in Postcolonial India and Sanjeev Vidyarthi’s book on Jaipur One Idea, Many Plans: An American City Design Concept in Independent India, reveal how citizens of newly formed nation-states were active agents in translating and transforming top-down modernist architecture and planning ideals.6 Duanfang Lu’s work has decentred modernist architectural and planning histories to reveal how architecture and urban planning projects in Third World countries developed their very own imagination of modernity.7 My own work on the German émigré architect Otto Koenigsberger (1908–1999), who arrived in princely Mysore in South India in 1939, has shown how impossible it is to grasp his work in India in terms of the categories of “local” and “global” architecture. The existing architecture in Mysore which was considered “local” at the time of Otto Koenigsberger’s arrival in 1939—such as architecture in the Indo-saracenic, neo-classical, neo-gothic, and art deco styles, as well as colonial bungalows—have a complex history of indigenization and circulation along the precolonial networks within South Asia, colonial networks of the British Empire, and global flows, all of which render the category of local extremely complex.8

  • 1. Gwendolyn Wright, The Politics of Design in French Colonial Urbanism, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991.
  • 2. Anne Hardgrove, “Merchant Houses as Spectacles of Modernity,” in Community and Public Culture: The Marwaris in Calcutta, c.1897–1997, New York, NY; Chichester: Columbia University Press, 2004; Jyoti Hosagrahar, Indigenous Modernities: Negotiating Architecture and Urbanism, London: Routledge, 2005; Siddhartha Raychaudhuri, “Colonialism, Indigenous Elites and the Transformation of Cities in the Non-Western World: Ahmedabad (Western India), 1890–1947,” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 35, no. 3, 2001, p. 677–726; Vikramaditya Prakash and Peter Scriver (eds.), Colonial Modernities: Building, Dwelling and Architecture in British India and Ceylon, London: Routledge, 2007.
  • 3. Preeti Chopra, A Joint Enterprise: Indian Elites and the Making of British Bombay, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
  • 4. Rebecca M. Brown, “The Cemeteries and the Suburbs: Patna's Challenges to the Colonial City in South Asia,” Journal of Urban History, vol. 29, no. 2, 2003, p. 151–172; Swati Chattopadhyay, “Blurring Boundaries: The Limits of ‘White Town’ in Colonial Calcutta,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 59, no. 2, 2000, p. 154–179.
  • 5. Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Contesting Space: Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment in Colonial Singapore, Kuala Lumpur; New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • 6. Vikramaditya Prakash, Chandigarh's Le Corbusier: The Struggle for Modernity in Postcolonial India, Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2002; Sanjeev Vidyarthi, One Idea, Many Plans an American City Design Concept in Independent India, New York, NY: Routledge, 2015.
  • 7. Duanfang Lu, Third World Modernism Architecture, Development and Identity, New York, NY: Routledge, 2011.
  • 8. Vandana Baweja, “Messy Modernisms: Otto Koenigsbergers Early Work in Princely Mysore, 1939–41,” South Asian Studies, vol. 31, no. 1, 2015, p. 1–26.