A new book on German architect Otto Koenigsberger, traces his contribution to Bengaluru. Read an excerpt from the book describing his work on the KR Pavilion, City Bus Terminus and Municipal Swimming Pool.

In early September 2015, MOD Institute, an urban action and research institute based in Berlin and Bengaluru, and the German Consulate General Bengaluru, released the book, Otto Koenigsberger: Architecture and Urban Visions in INDIA. The books traces German architect Otto Koenigsberger’s time in India, and how his planning and design concepts continue to be relevant for urban development in India even today.

Koenigsberger in India

Story has it that Koenigsberger came to Bengaluru in the late 1930s at the behest of his uncle, German physicist and mathematician, Max Born (recipient of the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physics), who was a guest of CV Raman at the time. The Diwan of Mysore, Mirza Ismail had enquired about an architect, following which Koenigsberger was introduced. In 1939, he went on to become the chief architect and planner to the state of Mysore.

In the following nine years, Koenigsberger was at the helm of the design and construction of several public buildings. Notable among these are the erstwhile Bangalore City Bus Terminus and the Municipal Swimming Pool, the Krishna Rao Pavilion, and some of the buildings at Indian Institute of Science, including the dining hall, the Aeronautical Engineering Department and the Metallurgy Department.

Post independence, Koenigsberger was appointed as the first Director of Housing under Nehru’s government. He held this post from 1948 to 1951 and was mostly involved in planning for the housing of those affected by the partition. He was also instrumental in the town planning for Jamshedpur, Gandhidham and Bhubaneshwar. He left Indian shores for London in the early 1950s.

Rachel Lee, one of the editors of the book on Koenigsberger, states how challenging it was to gather information about Koenigsberger and his work, since hardly anyone recognised his name or his work. We share an excerpt from Maximising the Local, an essay from the book. This is republished on Citizen Matters with permission.

The essay talks about Koenigsberger’s attempt to create sustainable buildings that adhered to local building traditions and cultural practices. Of the three examples cited in the excerpt, one still stands today - the Krishna Rao Pavilion.

The book, OK – Otto Koenigsberger: Architecture and Urban Visions in INDIA, is available for purchase here.

Maximising the Local

Before setting foot in Bangalore, Koenigsberger had already begun considering the implications of the tropical climate on architecture, and analysing the solutions he encountered on his journey from Europe to India. Writing to his mother from a hotel room in Colombo, Ceylon, in April 1939, he pondered the advantages of the ceiling fan:

I have a large room, from the ceiling of which hangs a large fan with four 70cm long blades. The rooms are very high to allow the hot air to rise. The fan then pumps the hot air back down onto the unlucky resident below. This sounds very impractical, which it is, but without a fan it would be absolutely impossible to sleep in this humid heat.

Koenigsberger continued his contemplations in Bangalore, and articulated his approach to building in Mysore State in a series of lectures in 1940 and 1941. Addressing an audience at the Mysore Engineers’ Association, he defined the really modern architect as follows:

The really modern architect is only he who takes the trouble—and it involves a lot of work and trouble—to apply to his profession the principles of scientific research.[1]

Although he was clearly inspired by the concepts of European modernism, Koenigsberger had no intention of transferring internationally styled white cubes to India, or decking the Deccan plateau with Domino-Houses. Instead, Koenigsberger envisioned modern architecture in Bangalore to be climate-optimised and homegrown, founded on an understanding of the needs and habits of the local population and built of indigenous materials. By integrating the results of scientific research­ – in the climatic and social conditions of Mysore State as well as the locally available building materials – into architectural design, he believed buildings would become more efficient while embodying and expressing the local culture.