And what do they tell us about post-independence Indian architecture?
After independence, many in the newborn nation were determined to find a unique architectural language and break away from the styles of the colonisers. The Church of Malabar Syrian Catholics in Kerala built its churches to reflect this desire.
“It seems to me that the Syro-Malabar Church wanted to find a new identity by employing an architectural style that was no longer neo-baroque or classical, as in colonial times,” said Zoche. “Obviously the church asked some architects to design these new churches in a more ‘modernist’ way and to give shape to the Christian iconography in the facades. I think this hybrid architecture can be seen as a new interpretation of Modernism and, in some ways, encouraging more modern ways of interpreting the Christian belief.”
Finding a new architectural vernacular was perhaps one reason for the unconventional shapes. Professor George Menachery, a historian of the Syro-Malabar Church, says the Gothic architectural style was quite popular for churches up until 1949. Slowly, after that, “the structures started becoming more and more utilitarian and cost-effective,” said the Thrissur-based scholar. “The architecture employed during the 1950s moved away from any classical styles and used the new construction material available to them, like concrete instead of laterite stone and wood, as they used to. They incorporated big rectangular or circular halls so that maximum people could be accommodated, so it was in the façade that they brought in the decorative elements.”