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Lakshminarasappa, Koenigsberger, Jaisim and Udaya: Architects of Bangalore

Rachel Lee.

For several years I have been visiting Bangalore, South India, on a regular basis. Originally my only goal was to research Otto Koenigsberger’s work in the city for my doctoral thesis, but recently my interests have widened to include other figures involved in the building of Bangalore’s past and present. Among these is Srinivasarao Harti Lakshminarasappa (circa 1885 – ?), Government Architect of Mysore State from 1935-1940, and an early twentieth century graduate of the University of Liverpool who was the subject of a previous TAG post by Iain Jackson.

Lakshmi and Tulsi

Caption: Lakshminarasappa and his wife Tulsi, date unknown. Photograph provided by Krishnarao Jaisim

Lakshminarasappa was close to retirement when Otto Koenigsberger arrived in Mysore State in April 1939. And, although he was initially given a probationary one-year contract, Diwan Mirza Ismail, the then first minister of Mysore State, had actually engaged Koenigsberger as Lakshminarasappa’s potential future replacement. The transitional period, during which both architects worked at the Mysore PWD, was strained. It appears that Lakshminarasappa did his utmost to prevent Koenigsberger from taking over his job, which he would rather have handed over to an Indian architect – “nationalism like everywhere”, wrote Koenigsberger, a victim of anti-Semitic German nationalism, in frustration.[1]

In fact, Lakshminarasappa was so opposed to Koenigsberger becoming his successor that he instigated a campaign of bullying and dirty tricks against him. This included burdening Koenigsberger with a massive workload, withdrawing all his draughtsmen and assistants, and rumour mongering. The campaign was to no avail, however, as Koenigsberger was instated as Government Architect of Mysore State after Lakshminarasappa’s retirement. The following excerpt from a letter to his mother in October 1939, makes Koenigsberger’s relief at Lakshminarasappa’s departure palpable:

The old Architect who used to cause so much annoyance to me and compelled me to work so hard in the last two months before my internment[2] –he is gone for good. […] I have reached the position for which I fought all these six months.[3]

Aside from his conflict with Koenigsberger, until recently I did not know a great deal else about Lakshminarasappa. However, on my last trip to Bangalore I was delighted to meet Lakshminarasappa’s grandson, Krishnarao Jaisim. Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Jaisim also became an architect and has received many awards throughout his long and distinguished career. He is the founder and director of Jaisim-Fountainhead, an architectural practice in Bangalore that lists its main influences as Buckminster Fuller, Otto Koenigsberger, Geoffrey Bawa and Ayn Rand. Indeed, every intern is given a copy of The Fountainhead on their first day at the office.

Jaisim

Caption: Jaisim at his desk in his Bangalore office.

According to Jaisim, Koenigsberger was not the only person to be unsettled by Lakshminarasappa. He was an intimidating figure, at least 6’4’’ tall and as strict and conservative in his personal life as he was professionally. Jaisim also informed me that Mysore PWD selected his grandfather to study architecture abroad because of his talent at drawing. Jaisim clearly inherited this skill, as this quick sketch of his grandfather made for me in lieu of a photograph shows.

Lakshmi by Jaisim

Caption: Lakshminarasappa as sketched by Jaisim, 2014

During the ocean crossing, and perhaps his stay in Liverpool too, Lakshminarasappa spent a lot of time performing pujas. He clearly did not feel comfortable away from home and was very glad to return to Mysore State after graduation in 1920, where he began working as an architect at the PWD. His architecture is characterised by precise classical detailing, as evidenced by the Puttanna Chetty Town Hall, built in 1935. Its austere classicism contrasts somewhat with the more relaxed eclecticism of the Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation (BBMP) building, constructed from 1933-36.

 

Town Hall

Caption: Puttanna Chetty Town Hall, 2014

 

BBMP

Caption: Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation, 2011
Photograph by Hari Prasad Nadig, available at
https://www.flickr.com/photos/hpnadig/5341902040/

Jaisim put me in touch with K. Udaya, current Government Architect of Karnataka, or Principal Chief Architect as the position is now called. In his office is a commemorative plaque listing in Kannada all the Government Architects of Mysore State, and later Karnataka State.

 

Plaque

Caption: The commemorative plaque in K. Udaya’s office listing the following architects: 1. Krumbigal [Krumbiegel], 2. Lakshminarasappa, 3. Kunis Burger [Koenigsberger], 4. Subba Rao, 5. B.R. Manickam, 6. V. Hanumantha Rao Naidu, 7. Chief engineer’s realm, 8. T.J. Das, 9. M. Venkataswamy, 10. Prof. Kiran Shankar, 11. K. Udaya, 12. K. Udaya.

Not only did Udaya generously spend time talking to me, he also invited me to give a lecture on Otto Koenigsberger’s work in Bangalore for his staff at the PWD, bringing the story full circle.

 

UdayaPWD

Caption: Rachel Lee with Principal Chief Architect K. Udaya and his team at the PWD Bangalore, 2014

[1] Koenigsberger Papers/Jewish Museum Berlin: letter from Otto Koenigsberger to Susanna Koenigsberger dated 12 August 1939. Translation from original German: You know that I have had great difficulties here during the last weeks and have had to and still have to fight with all my strength for my position. They want to prevent me from becoming permanently employed, and would rather put an Indian in my place (nationalism like everywhere) and have put a refined system of intrigues into action, which I, simpleton, only realised much too late. One of the tricks was to withdraw all the draughtsmen from me, so that I had to do all the work myself and thereby lost an immense amount of time. In order to not fall behind, everything else, even the letters to Mum and you, had to be left aside. The battle continues, but at least I now know what’s going on and can defend myself.

[2] As a German citizen and “enemy alien”, Koenigsberger was interned for 6 weeks after the outbreak of WWII

[3] Koenigsberger Papers/Jewish Museum Berlin: letter from Otto Koenigsberger to Käthe Koenigsberger dated 27 October 1939.

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Herbert Rowse Research Project, funded by the RIBA.

Iain Jackson and Peter Richmond have been awarded a research grant from the RIBA to investigate the work of Herbert James Rowse (1887–1963). He was without doubt one of the most outstanding architects of his generation and through his work on a number of high-profile commissions he shaped the inter-war cityscape of Liverpool in a way that no other architect has done since. Whilst the trajectory of the evolution of his stylistic preferences can be clearly traced in the work he undertook in Liverpool, his output was not confined to the city and in the course of his career, he worked on major projects in Britain, Europe, Asia and North America. After local pupillage, in 1905 Rowse entered the school of architecture at Liverpool University, where Charles Reilly had just been appointed Roscoe professor.

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Mersey Tunnel Ventilation Shaft, Liverpool, 1931-

Gaining a first-class certificate in 1907, Rowse was also the joint winner of the Holt travelling scholarship, which took him to Italy and started a lifelong interest in Italian Romanesque and Renaissance architecture. A set of measured drawings arising out of his Italian studies won him an honourable mention in the silver medal competition of the RIBA in 1910. In the same year he became an associate of the RIBA whilst employed as an assistant to Frank Simon, who in 1912 had won the competition for the Manitoba parliament building. Rowse worked in Simon’s Winnipeg office in 1913. He also travelled extensively throughout North America and worked briefly in Chicago and New York. On his returned to Liverpool, Rowse opened his own practice in 1914 and during the First World War he worked for the Admiralty designing ‘purely functional buildings’.

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Woodside Tower for Mersey Tunnel, Birkenhead, 1931-

Following the War, he re-launched his practice with a commission for the Fairrie sugar refinery in Liverpool. Rowse’s competition-winning design for the Liverpool shipping office (the India Buildings) in 1924 was the first among a series of large-scale commercial commissions in the city, often carried out in partnership with other individuals or firms; these included Martins Bank (1927–32), Lloyds Bank (1928–32), and the Bibby Shipping Line offices (1930). The Lloyds Bank branch in Church Street was in Italian Romanesque, while for bigger buildings Rowse used a rich, eclectic classicism, often with a distinct American Beaux-Arts flavour – a style that was simultaneously being promoted by Reilly at the Liverpool School. In 1931 he was appointed consultant to the Mersey tunnel authority, and designed the tunnel approaches, arched entrances, and ventilation towers. The largest tower housed the tunnel authority offices, and was a distinguished addition to the group of tall buildings at Liverpool’s pierhead; whilst the Woodside tower on the Cheshire side of the Mersey won Rowse the 1937 RIBA bronze medal. His tunnel authority schemes featured low-relief sculpture and art deco work, leaning towards the stripped classical style favoured by both European totalitarian regimes and American New Deal designers. At this time Rowse was working closely with Tyson Smith, Liverpool’s leading modern sculptor.

The Philharmonic Concert Hall (1936–9), with its simplified brick massing and its restrained decoration, was much closer to mainstream European modernism, and is apparently inspired by W. M. Dudok. It was this approach which informed his designs for the British pavilion at the Empire Exhibition, Glasgow (1938), the Pharmaceutical Society headquarters in Brunswick Square, London (1937), and the Pilkington Glass Company offices in St Helens, Lancashire (1938–9) all of which displayed similar Dudokian influences combined with American Streamline Moderne styling. War again frustrated Rowse’s professional career just when he was beginning to win substantial commissions outside Liverpool. In 1947 he completed the Pharmaceutical Society building (now London University’s pharmacy school) and secured the Woodchurch cottage housing scheme, in Wirral, upstaging his mentor Charles Reilly with a scheme ‘traditionally English in character … modified to suit contemporary limitations and resources’. Woodchurch was one of the biggest regional projects in the era of post-war austerity, and won Rowse a bronze medal for housing from the Ministry of Health. However, the architect resigned before completion, following a dispute with the client. Rowse designed diplomatic buildings at Delhi and Karachi in 1951. He also advised the Belgians on post-war reconstruction, and was awarded the Order of Leopold II in 1950. However, he took no further recorded part in British practice until he won the competition for the renovation of the ‘Rows’ in Chester (with Thomas Harker) just before his death in 1963.

http://www.architecture.com/RIBA/Becomeanarchitect/Fundingyoureducation/Researchfunding/ResearchTrustAwards/2014Recipients/IainJacksonandPeterRichmond.aspx