On the surface, Prakruthi restaurant at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore might seem to have little in common with the city of Faridabad, Haryana. ... What the two have in common, Prakruthi and Faridabad, is the mind that imagined them. Like the people whose cities he planned post-1947, Otto Koenigsberger was a refugee who never returned home. Koenigsberger found employment as a young architect in Bangalore on the eve of World War II, after being forced out of Germany by the Nazi Regime’s anti-Semitic policies. Over the course of twelve years in India, he honed his design skills building schools, bus stands, structures for the war effort, and designing cities and affordable housing for other exiles like himself post-Indian independence. He later moved to England, where he lived until his death in 1999.
Koenigsberger’s architecture, which combined Indian styles with European functionalist trends, is still clearly visible on the IISc campus. Although Koenigsberger’s connection with the Indian scientific establishment in the 1940s is now largely lost to public memory, a Scottish architectural historian named Rachel Lee has found archival traces of the man’s footsteps in the last decade. She posits that Prakruthi’s serving area once accommodated the loading dock of a hydrogen plant designed by Koenigsberger at IISc—commissioned by the Royal Air Force during World War II for reasons unspecified, but probably to supply hydrogen for airplane fuel. Koenigsberger also constructed the swooping curves of IISc’s present day hostel office, originally an auditorium cum dining hall whose vegetarian and non-vegetarian wings survive as Kabini canteen and Nesara restaurant. Although the seventy-year-old auditorium is used for little more than the occasional blood drive and orientation session today, its acoustics were once perfected by Koenigsberger and electro-acoustician N. B. Bhatt. Together, they devised structural innovations to compensate for wartime concrete shortages. Koenigsberger designed the old Aeronautical Engineering department as well, along with its closed-circuit wind tunnel—the first of its kind in India. As with the rest of his creations, Koenigsberger designed the Aeronautics building for natural climate control, a feature forgotten by the department’s current glass-intensive incarnation.
Koenigsberger extended the ideals of modernism during his time in India to argue for “scientific architecture”—architecture whose functionality is enhanced by scientific methods. He wanted methods, as well, that were adapted to local conditions of climate and resource availability. Consequently, Koenigsberger experimented with locally sourced materials such as teak during the resource-poor war years, and integrated naturally climate-controlling features of Indian architecture such as overhangs (chajjas) and grilles (jallis) into his designs. The result was a cultural fusion still evident in the structures that he left behind. Lee found a creative “playfulness” in the old dining hall/auditorium at IISc. “The wrap-around chajjas and large glazed openings are neither Indian nor European, but something new,” she said.