The Great Houses of Calcutta

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Author: Joanne Taylor and Jon Lang
Publisher: Niyogi Books
(Pp 327, ISBN, 9789383098903, Rs 1,500)

Houses shown and described in The Great Houses of Calcutta are the ones built by the cream of the indigenous elite class of the society during the colonial era in the northern part of the city of Calcutta. Authors of the book, Joanne Taylor is an art historian who did her undergraduate studies on the history of India and PhD research on the same topic of the book at University of South Wales, while John Lang is an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales where he headed the school of architecture; his earlier studies completed in Kalimpong.

Apart from providing shelter and fascinating ways of life, a major function of the ‘great houses’ of Calcutta is to carry symbolic messages about the values of inhabitants, their social status and personalities to outsiders as every building/ bungalow acts as display providing, consciously or sub-consciously, meanings and aesthetic values. The mansions mentioned in The Great Houses of Calcutta are very much a reminder of how wealthy Indian landowners, bankers and traders who flourished financially during the eighteen and nineteenth centuries.

In addition to the meticulously researched and informative texts of the book are its fascinating photographs of some great palaces that are still standing tall and unique amid modern structures. Some of the patterns the buildings possess have antecedents in traditional architecture of Bengal and also with something imported from Europe or elsewhere in India and west Asia. It reflects the design ideas ranging from the embracing of Greco Roman art to modernist architecture. This book is highly recommended for architecture students.

– Jyaneswar Laishram

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