With the coming of the British and exposure to Western influences, while the basic plan of the traditional house stood its ground the ornamentation was influenced to some degree and houses started sporting chandeliers and European furniture, ornate mirror frames, lithographs and stucco work. The Shekhawati houses even incorporated frescoes of the coronation durbar, cars and planes.

The houses of the Bohra traders of western India were examples of the extreme British influence on Indian residential architecture, particularly in Cambay, Kapadwanj and Siddhpur in Gujarat. The Bohras are a close-knit Muslim community and earlier had extensive trade with the African countries. In their new houses, built in the earlier part of the twentieth century, the courtyard more or less disappeared from their design and all that remained of it was a narrow air well in the house (avas), where the water pots would also be kept for cooling in the paniara. The wall-to-wall row house cluster pattern remained, though with a greater degree of consistency in floor and roof heights of adjoining structures. The streets were straightened and widened, and the rear entrance disappeared. The exteriors overlooking the street were splashed with a riot of rococo, baroque and art-deco elements combined with wrought iron grills. European shields, ribbon patterns and other symbols adorned the façades that were painted in pastel colours. The buildings do not have any Islamic character to show for their Muslim inhabitants, though the Indian mohalla idea could not be wished away as community security was necessary, more so since the men- folk would be out on commerce related tours for long periods of time. The high entrance plinth remained as well as a small sitting area in the front – a remnant of the haveli otla – for interaction with the street. Leaving the British ornamentation outside and entering the house one sees the other side of the schizophrenic personality of this home – a a plan attuned to the traditional requirements of the community and basically Indian, including the Gujarati jhoola or swing, amidst English artefacts with seating on a cushioned floor of European tiles!

Such homage to the Empire, as in the Bohra homes, was surprisingly limited. Perhaps the reason that the Bohras went overboard was that in the larger Muslim community they were on the fringe (being converts) and hence were easy subjects for newer influences. Interestingly, however, there was a reverse flow also that lead to the eclectic adoption of Indian architectural styles in the land of the Empire and even beyond. Before the Indian Civil Service was formally established in India by the British and its restrained administrators took over, there were the British 'nabobs' who mixed official business with private trade, through the seventeenth century till part of the eighteenth century. In between their plundering they took to Hindu and Muslim manners, curries, wives and mistresses.

The nabobs took this baggage with them back to England on their return - to Bath, Cheltenham and other cities. They also took with them architectural influences and thus sprang up some remarkable structures in England, like Warren Hastings' Daylesford house with a Mughal dome resting on a European structure, Sezincote and Brighton. Details of Indian architecture were also readily available from the paintings of the Daniels and photographers like Samuel Bourne. Architects who worked in India also returned and added their touch to this trend directly or through their books, like Col. Swinton Jacob and Charles Mant. Also active in this activity were exiled princes like Maharaja Duleep Singh who, in nostalgia, commissioned rooms in Elveden Hall with Indian details. Such influences were limited mainly to residential architecture in England.

In India the British had to do considerable experimentation to come to terms with the climate. Classical western models were inappropriate as they let in too much light and heat. The Indian courtyard style was also totally inappropriate for the British sensibilities. It is said that Sir Thomas Metcalfe, earlier British Resident in Delhi, even opted for a deserted tomb in which to retreat into during the hot summers of Delhi. He had bought the Muslim tomb near the Qutab Minar and constructed a number of rooms around it with the central coffin area serving as the dining room! One British Governor in Lahore also used a similar strategy to beat the intense summer heat. Generally natives were pressed into service to pull fans hinged from ceilings, tugged through a series of pulleys while sitting outside the sahib's room. Lucknow in the Nawabs' times was greatly influenced by the French, especially Claude Martin, and British architects who incorporated local elements like tykhanas.

After the nabob phase of the British in India, their civilian strength was essentially of staid surveyors, engineers, civil servants and other professionals. The more famous British architects who planned the subsequent palaces in India came later. While the earlier nabobs used their wealth to build in ornate and semi-vernacular styles, the practical style the British service class settled for in their cantonments, civil lines, hill stations and tea estates was the bungalow. Not all the British were comfortable in them and later Lutyens would call them “bungle-oh”. With a covered passage or shallow verandah around the home instead of a courtyard within, the bungalow is a style that is totally opposite to a courtyard house, though it often rubbed shoulders with courtyard houses and is now meeting the same fate. The bungalow was a trend of colonial residential architecture in the British Empire the world over and came to symbolize a pioneering spirit and the empire's architectural residential stereotype. Its origins are variously described as being based on a bangaldar hut, the English cottage or modified Palladian buildings.

The bungalow in India started as a single-storey structure and soon increased to two main floors. The thatch roof was replaced by tiles after the mutiny when it was found to be too easily flammable. The broad verandah insulated the rooms by preventing direct sunlight from reaching the rooms and kept out the heat and dust. Convective cooling in the commodious rooms was done by hot air escaping from the clerestory windows on the top of the high room walls, which opened between two roof levels (between the verandah and the main roof), almost like the effect of a courtyard. Connected by a covered corridor, the kitchen and the servant quarters were away from the main building (to keep the curry smells at a distance) with, perhaps, a bibikhana in bachelor homes where the native mistress could be tucked away. In contrast to Indian houses of that time, the bathrooms were in the main building, where they were attached to the bedrooms built around the central hall.

Even though the bungalow would be in a large compound enclosed by a high wall, the verandah, on a raised plinth, was the actual transition space into the bungalow. It was also the place where the cane chairs and hammock would be with trophies looking down from the walls. It was a zone for relaxing or dispensing with visitors and vendors, savouring the monsoon rains, or watching tennis and badminton being played in the compound. The verandah opened into a portico where the sahib could drive in on the gravelled driveway from the gate and alight, avoiding getting wet even in the pouring monsoon rains. The high roof was tiled and the gables had “monkey tops” and other ornamental features. In hill stations corrugate sheeting soon replaced tiles.

The bungalows in Assam were made on raised wooden floors on stilts, not unlike the Malay house in marshy areas. Regional variations existed and where domestic labour was neither cheap nor plentiful the kitchen was put back in the main structure instead of being in an outhouse. Eventually, one of the last journeys the bungalow style made was to England itself, towards the end of the nineteenth century, in the status of a second, leisure, home. Around that time it also spread to North America and gained considerable popularity at the beginning of this century, especially in California where a regular magazine appeared on this subject and a ready-made bungalow could be bought in portable form.

In the non-British colonies of India other styles mushroomed depending on the colonial masters - the French in Pondicherry and the Portuguese in Goa, apart from some other small colonies like those of the Danes in Tranquebar.

Excerpted with permission from Vernacular Architecture of India: Traditional Residential Styles and Spaces, Tejinder S Randhawa, Architecture Autonomous. For more information, click here.