A model to cherish

August 07, 2022

In Lahore’s Model Town, numerous bungalows constructed during the British Raj are gracefully standing in contemporary settings, retaining their distinctive style

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vast, spacious garden, a guard at the gate to protect it and a large, lovely bungalow at the centre; in short, paradise. A sign of wealth and prestige.

The notion of bungalows that originated in the subcontinent during British rule, can still be seen in Model Town, Lahore’s upscale neighbourhood. There are still numerous bungalows constructed during the British Raj that gracefully stand in contemporary settings, retaining their distinctive style.

These Bungalows are a product of the British Raj. Only recently has systematic attention been paid to comprehending how various cultures influence their built environment and the spatial categories they employ. The culture contact situation of colonialism, in which the underlying cultural values of a metropolitan culture are manifested in the context of the conquered host culture, provides a perfect laboratory for analysing these concerns.

Anthropological fieldwork has occasionally included cultural studies of the perception and utilisation of space and the description of spatial categories in other cultures. However, such research has typically been conducted in non-Western, preliterate communities and has focused on settlement morphology or the perception of the external world. In recent years, architects, planners, and geographers have shown a rising interest in the impact of culture on use of space and the design of the built environment in housing societies like Model Town.

Given its precise geometric symmetry, Model Town is the exact anti-thesis of slow, impetuous and frequently chaotic urban expansion. The land, lay five miles southeast of Anarkali. The idea was first conceived a Lahore-based lawyer, Diwan Khem Chand. He first thought about it when he was 14 years old. The idea grew in his head while he studied in the United Kingdom until, at the riper age of 32, he eventually published the concept in January 1921.

Model Town was an acceptable enough name. Following an initial meeting in February 1921, layout planning was undertaken in earnest. The best layout was promised a Rs 1,220 prize. For a fortnight, 32 large-scale blueprints remained on display at The Mall. The prize was split between the final four. The second-place winner was then asked to create a final plan. He received Rs 500 for costs.

According to the Society’s bylaws, each plot could only have one dwelling and two-thirds of the space had to be open for lawns. The Society authorised a six-kanal plot for each A-type house, a four-kanal plot for a B-type house, and a two-kanal plot for a C-type house. Many designs were created by MC Khanna, the Society’s architect.

The idea of accommodating distinct places of worship for the many religious communities was the most delicate part of this attempt at communal integration. Eight locations were set aside for places of worship. The members included elites from Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities. The society was the first in the subcontinent to bring together two different cultures – the colonial culture of Anglo-India and the indigenous culture of India – in the same environment of a colonial city, responding to that environment in their basic dwelling unit, according to their values and determinants of their social and cultural systems.

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visit to an old bungalow in the Model Town Society still shows that when it was first built, care was taken to ensure that it could not be seen in isolation from the settlement. It had to be a component of a more extensive social and spatial system that connected the home, the way of life and the landscape. This often takes the form of a modest, one or two-storied, roomy structure that is internally split into distinct living, eating and sleeping areas, each with an accompanying bathroom. A verandah encircles a portion of the building as an intrinsic construction component or is affixed to the exterior walls. The bungalow has a separate, rear-facing kitchen, servants’ quarters, stables and a car or carriage space.

The bungalows were typical of colonial urban settlements, noted for their low density, horizontal, single or double-storey development patterns, and wide, tree-lined roads that provided access to a network of expansive compounds, each of which contained a roughly centrally located bungalow. The settlement was generally well-landscaped and open, with many trees and shrubs inside and outside the residential enclosures.

The Model Town Society was designed to be efficiently administered, with spaces for various playgrounds and games, a library, and a club that served as the society’s official meeting location. Some clubs dedicated a lawn or playground for kids, and while those areas aren’t in use by members, kids are typically welcome to enjoy themselves with some restrictions.

In recent years, architects, planners and geographers have shown a rising interest in the impact of culture on the use of space and the design of the built environment in societies like Model Town.

Model Town Society presents the thesis that the economic and technological forces that were reshaping cities’ physical forms at that time were also fundamentally altering society’s social and political framework. An urban-industrial proletariat was taking the place of the rural agricultural labourer. More significant for this analysis is the development of a sizable local upper class, whose housing expectations were shaped partly by the expectations of the ruler class elites residing in the city (the so-called Gora Log) and partly by the available techno-economic opportunities in the cities. Members of the officer class in the colonial community were drawn from this local upper class or from other social groups that used this class as a reference group.

A third shift brought about by industrialisation was the increasing specialisation of land use and building kinds in Model Town Lahore. This development is in addition to the simple physical growth of cities at the time and the changes in the social structure that went along with it. To comprehend this specialisation of land use in large cities of the subcontinent in the 1920s, it is important to remember that industrialisation brought about changes to both the spatial and the temporal structures of society across the British Raj.

Regardless of the cultural factors influencing family structure in indigenous and metropolitan societies, by the early 20th Century, the nuclear family – consisting of parents, children, and occasionally a distant relative – living in their own home, was a norm in the urban society in India under the British Raj - if not a fact. This contrasts with the traditional joint family residence in the subcontinent’s native towns like Lahore. In the Model Town Society, which developed concurrently with the city’s industrialisation, each home was expected to house a single family and have unique room functions. At least the upper-class natives have rooms divided into individual sleeping quarters, separate areas for eating, cooking, relaxing, and baths, each with specialised furnishings and equipment.

These broad assumptions about the layout of an industrial community like Model Town Society have been important for two main reasons. Members of the colonial community were first chosen from a society in which these transformations had already occurred. Here were immigrants whose metropolitan-based norms mandated that they live in separate homes with space devoted to specialised room functions. Additional specialised space for leisure activities, and with the whole thing situated in a functionally specific “residential” area, apart from their place of employment.

Second, it’s necessary to make one more comparison between British society and the indigenous society. This is related to the nature of knowledge in the two cultures, particularly information dealing with health-related issues and how people interact with the physical world. During the subcontinent’s rapid urbanisation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, metropolitan areas like Lahore had developed more faith in their capacity to manage the medical, social and physical issues that urbanisation brought about, particularly high mortality rates and the more frequent manifestation of social disorganisation. Beginning in the early Nineteenth Century, there was a growing focus on finding solutions to these issues, which resulted in the creation of new urban technology, such as water, gas, and waste disposal distribution systems, as well as new or modified institutions like local governments and new modes of political representation. A new corpus of environmental science has grown due to this development.

The easiest way to understand the history of the bungalow as the standard style of colonial home is to look at the name “bungalow”. The term initially referred to a particular indigenous construction from this region of the Indian subcontinent. It was derived from the Hindi or Marathi word “Bangla”, which means to be from or to belong to Bengal. Like the word, the house shape was modified for use by the new society. The name had taken on its Anglicised form by the late Eighteenth Century, and the building had evolved into the standard residence style for Europeans living in India.

The Anglo-Indian bungalow was by this time of more substantial construction and had adopted the external features of decoration from the urban culture generally referred to as Classicism. While maintaining the three primary characteristics of the bungalow – the detached or isolated structure, one storey in height and a verandah – it was also by this time of more substantial construction. By the standards of the urban society, it had also acquired the internal divisions of functionally specialised space and the outward provision of recreational space. As a result, unlike in urban culture, the usual dwelling for colonial community members and their families was called a “bungalow” instead of “a house in a garden”. (The phrase is still used in modern Indian English.)

There are some differences. The bungalow signifies a completely distinct culture, way of living, set of values, and behaviour from either the indigenous or the urban community in which it was located. Additionally, there needed to be enough space around the house to provide a visual cue for the residents that they were securely within their class domain.

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ince its early foundation, the amount of space contained within the bungalows at Model Town Society varied, both in quantity and its division. However, certain features continue, permitting the construction of a fictitious, descriptively useful ideal type. This had a verandah on either one or two sides and frequently all-round the house; a large sitting room, a dining room, sleeping or bedrooms, each of which usually had its own attached room for bathing. The house consists of the usual one or two storeys. A long verandah runs in front, separated from the plateau’s edge by a narrow strip of the neglected flower garden. The hall is tolerably large; on the left is the dining room, and on the right is the sitting room; each has a small suite of two sleeping rooms and one bathroom attached to it, filling up the quadrangle of the bungalow. There is a long row of stone rooms at the back and numerous small rooms for servants.

As with the drawing or sitting room, the dining room was much larger than in the urban society. Because of limited means of recreation, the demands of the occupational community and the availability of servants, entertaining was a frequent activity. The dining areas were large and accommodating - in the Twentieth Century, anything from ten to thirty guests. Unlike eating practices in the indigenous culture, which required little equipment for sitting, holding dishes or transferring food from utensils to the mouth, the colonial culture-inspired elite needed special dining chairs, a table, utensils with which to eat and receptacles on which to keep the food. Such equipment had to be maintained and stored in purpose-built sideboards or cabinets.

The verandah was used for reading and writing. Here the guests were received and children were allowed to play. It was a place for the pursuit of hobbies, whether this was painting or stuffing birds. The chowkidar (watchman) and occasionally other servants slept there; it was a place for market transactions and the activities of the darzi (tailor) and dhobi (washerman). It provided the setting for exchanging gifts between servants and employers. On the steps of the verandah, group photographs were taken. Most importantly, the verandah was a place to cultivate, whether in climbing or potted forms, the flowers and plants which figured so prominently in the modified environment of the colonial-inspired community.

The inherent advantage of studying the colonial bungalow as it exists within the contrasting indigenous culture of India is that it demonstrates how responses to the environment are determined by social, cultural and political factors. Ultimately, these responses are affected by the worldview of a particular culture and the cognitive categories and schemata with which its members perceive the physical world.

The metropolitan and colonial source materials used in this article represent a minute proportion of the records. These indicate a long-range, cultural continuity in a man- environment relationship that dates back at least to the Sixteenth Century. There is evidence of a process that includes acts of perception, recording, record preservation, and the interpretation and application of these records. The process is itself evidence not only of an attitude towards the physical spatial world. It is also indicative of its temporal, historical dimension.


The writer is an educationist, cultural studies scholar, local historian and film director. She is currently teaching at the Lahore School of Economics and can be reached at naeemaarchadgmail.com



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