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Structure, function and meaning

The British Empire contributed greatly to the globalising of western buildings, towns and cities across the world. The requirements of security necessitated the construction of forts and barracks everywhere, while the need for mobility and ceremonial led to the use of large numbers of tents. As towns and cities developed, building types required for imperial rule, the operations of colonial economies and the comfort and cultural edification of Europeans appeared everywhere. These included government houses, town halls, courthouses, assembly and parliament buildings, company headquarters, customs houses and hotels. As the white bourgeoisie became a major global class, their representative buildings, such as clubs, libraries, museums, theatres, religious institutions, mission stations and schools, also spread worldwide. Some of these were designed for the dissemination of European culture to indigenous peoples, as well as the proselytisation of Christianity. Imperial rulers, their officials and troops additionally required particular settlements for leisure, recreation and the restoration of health, and these included hill stations in many colonies. The new technologies of the age, such as the telegraph and railways, also generated significant structures, widely dispersed. In addition to the great public and civic buildings, residential accommodation was created for Europeans, servants and workers. The result was a striking built environment which offers many insights into the nature, character and social and economic development of imperial rule, not least in the patterns of racial and class inclusion and exclusion which such buildings represented. It is an environment which remains key to the understanding of the modern world, and one which has survived, often through the modern fascination with ‘heritage’ as well as through its incorporation into new postcolonial arrangements.

Religion and freemasonry

The global expansion of empire prompted the globalisation of The Christian religion and its buildings. In the British case, this has to be seen in terms of the ‘four nations’ of the British Isles. Throughout the empire there was a struggle between Anglicanism, which attempted to assert its authority as the English established Church, and the other denominations, notably the Church of Scotland, which was also established. The chapter examines the spread of Anglican cathedrals and churches, of Scottish churches and churches of other denominations, as well as mission stations, with their churches and many other buildings, including hospitals and schools. In addition to the Christian religion, freemasonry expanded throughout the empire, creating a large number of lodges of the various ‘rites’. The ‘friendly societies’ were also significant in this respect. The chapter surveys the various different styles in which these buildings were constructed as well as the struggles that attended their creation. As always, the racial dimension is central to the discussion, in the attempted conversion of indigenous peoples and of their acceptability within churches that were, in many cases, originally built for Europeans.

in The British Empire through buildings

As imperial authority was established, towns and cities grew and spread into the interior of continents. The morphology of such urban settlements was embedded in economic, social and racial requirements, in zoning and in the creation of buildings that would be climatically comfortable. This chapter particularly examines structures such as town halls and assembly and parliament buildings, as constitutional developments required them. While these were the characteristics of what is known as formal empire, settlements of Europeans pursuing economic objectives also created familiar buildings in settings of informal empire, for example in the Middle or Far East. Finally, the chapter examines the wholly new development of hill stations, designed for the comfort, recreation and health of Europeans. Generally associated with India, hill stations also appeared in South-East Asia, the Far East, Australia, Africa and the Caribbean.

in The British Empire through buildings
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Valletta, Rangoon and new capitals

This chapter seeks to take little-noticed examples of colonial cities to explore insights into the processes recounted in the earlier chapters. Valletta is taken as an example of an island colony in Europe with a remarkable history, which the British took over during the Napoleonic wars and significantly modified as a naval base and staging post on the route to India. Rangoon is a very special case, since almost nothing has been published on this city because of the particular conditions of the post-Second World War history of Burma/Myanmar, yet it presents a particularly illuminating instance of the foundation and growth of a city together with the manner in which it is presented today. The creation of new capitals was an extraordinary phenomenon of the late British Empire and the rest of the chapter examines three of them: Canberra for the Commonwealth of Australia (founded in 1901), New Delhi, and Lusaka in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). Canberra had a very slow and tortured origin and development, in some respects only coming into its own in the twenty-first century. New Delhi has received a great deal of attention, but it remains an intriguing case and some aspects of its creation and emergence as ‘heritage’ have been ignored. Lusaka is a highly significant case of an African new capital which offers many insights into imperial attitudes, the survival of extraordinary racial attitudes and the impractical belief in the continuing force of colonialism.

in The British Empire through buildings

Buildings are shown to lie at a complex intersection of ideas and economic imperatives, technical innovations and cultural and religious yearnings, all reflecting patterns of class and racial inclusion and exclusion. The objectives and methods of construction are surveyed, together with the development of engineering and architectural professions, both in Britain and throughout the empire. There is also an examination of the emergence of Public Works Departments and their influence, together with the nature of the workforce and its racial dimensions. Destruction is examined from the point of view of the destruction of many indigenous settlements and structures, as well as the various forms of damage inflicted through warfare and appropriation, as well as natural causes such as eruptions and earthquakes.

in The British Empire through buildings

Imperial and colonial settlers and sojourners (temporary residents) required places to live. Their residences were built in an extraordinary hierarchy of scale and quality, well represented by the great gulfs seen in plantation economies. Elsewhere, urban residences sprang up in large numbers, often reflecting the universalising of the bungalow style originating in India, and more rarely, terraces in inner colonial cities. As the nineteenth century progressed and the great explosion in many colonial economies occurred (for example, though the exploitation of gold in Australia and southern Africa), cities grew to a considerable extent, particularly after the development of transport systems – railways, trams and later, buses – stimulated the creation of suburbs. In many places, inner cities became crowded and the notion of the City Improvement Trust was created in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in order to alleviate some of the problems this caused. This idea appeared on several continents, but sometimes introduced as many problems as it set out to alleviate, particularly when applied to the zones of indigenous residents in India and elsewhere in Asia.

in The British Empire through buildings

The nineteenth century was the era of the massive expansion of the middle classes. This became a global phenomenon and the ‘bourgeoisification’ of the world called into being a whole range of institutions that were being created contemporaneously in Britain itself. These included libraries, museums, clubs, markets, banks, commercial buildings, hotels, theatres and cinemas. The new technologies of the age were served by striking buildings, including dockside waiting rooms, railway stations and posts and telegraph offices. Railway stations spread across almost the entire empire and introduced new issues of class and racial zoning. Posts and telegraphs were representative of the new communications of the era and often stimulated the building of exceptionally impressive structures to represent their centrality in the new imperial age.

in The British Empire through buildings
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This opening chapter examines the manner in which imperial convictions in the cultural superiority of the dominant people are expressed through the built environment, as well as the ways in which built and natural environments of empire ultimately reflect its social class and racial dimensions. The book’s objectives are laid out, specifically in indicating the manner in which the attempt to cover the entire British Empire in all its varied colonial forms – territories of settlement, India, dependent empire and island colonies – helps to offer significant insights into imperialism. The background to the book in terms of the past research and publications of the author is laid out and there is a section on the scholarship which has contributed to its material and ideas.

in The British Empire through buildings

The extension of empire involved the militarisation of landscapes everywhere. Fortresses of various types became the principal expression of the imperial presence on almost every continent, notably in North America, India (already a country of indigenous forts) and elsewhere in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean islands. Forts came to represent the baleful horrors of the slave trade and also the struggle among European imperial powers for conquest and economic gain. But empire always illustrated the tension between stasis and mobility. Forts were replaced by major military barracks, while the supreme illustration of mobility lay in the extensive use of tents, by the military, administrators and in early settlements. Tents were also vital in ceremonial and diplomacy, particularly in India. Government houses eventually became the major expression of the dispersal of Crown authority since they were, in effect, royal residences (for the representatives of the monarch), created everywhere and performing a whole range of vital functions in diplomacy and the expression of power.

in The British Empire through buildings

This chapter introduces the concept of the ‘aesthetic turn’ to describe the gradual broadening of the meaning of aesthetics after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 and the greater openness of the USSR to the outside world that followed. The aesthetic turn resulted in the formation in the USSR of what philosopher Jacques Rancière calls an ‘aesthetic regime of arts’ – a mode of identifying different arts as equal and valuable in their specificity. The chapter analyses the new aesthetic regime of arts by highlighting its key concepts: realism, contemporaneity and taste. These concepts acquired new meanings during the 1950s–early 1960s: realism was now seen as a specific quality of things, not depictions; contemporaneity appeared as a measure of social relevance of an object’ and taste became a tool for probing the limits between authenticity and appearance.

in Comradely objects