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Rachel Lee, ‘Engaging the Archival Habitat: Architectural Knowledge and Otto Koenigsberger’s Effects
Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (2020) 40 (3): 526–540; https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-8747502

Drawing on experiences of researching India’s architectural history, this article explores the affect generated by architectural archives as a source of knowledge. It traces the affective life of the archives and practices of a singular historical figure: Otto Koenigsberger, the chief architect and town planner of the princely state Mysore, the architect of Jamshedpur (a.k.a. Tatanagar, the “Steel City,” India’s first planned industrial town), the first director of housing of the federal government of India, cofounder and director of the Department of Tropical Studies of the Architectural Association in London, and architecture and planning consultant at-large to the United Nations.

Arguing that the affective archive has disruptive historiographical potential, the article posits that it exists fundamentally beyond the architectural object and archival documents themselves, and indeed fully in discourse with its users. The article argues for a more expansive and inclusive understanding of what constitutes an archive, designating the “archival habitat” as a place of active scholarly engagement.

Otto Koenigsberger & Global Histories of Modernism by Vandana Baweja

Thursday 28 November 6pm – 7.30pm

Room 106 – Birkbeck School of Arts
43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD

Koeningsberger_global_modernism_1-724x1024

Otto H. Koenigsberger (1908–1999) was a German émigré architect who worked as the state architect in princely Mysore in British India in the 1940s. Upon emigration to London in 1951, he subsequently became an educator of Tropical Architecture (1954–1971) at the Architectural Association School of Architecture.

This presentation by Vandana Baweja (University of Florida) examines how Koenigsberger’s career can illuminate “global” as a paradigm in modernist historiography.
Book Tickets (free)

Book Launch OK India – Otto Koenigsberger. Architecture and Urban Visions in India, by Rachel Lee

The much awaited book by Rachel Lee on Otto Koenigsberger is finally with us, and there will be a book launch celebration on 10th September in Bengaluru, see the poster below for more details. We’re delighted that the book has been jointly published by TAG / MOD and we’ll post more details of how you can get a copy in due course…

Book Launch Otto Koenigsberger

Architecture Tour: Otto Koenigsberger: Building Bangalore in the 1940s

Dr Rachel Lee will be leading a tour of Otto Koenigsberger’s buildings in Bangalore on 3rd September – a rare treat to learn more about Koenigsberger’s work in Mysore state. Dr Lee’s PhD was dedicated to Koenigsberger’s work in India and she is about to publish a monograph on her findings very soon- which we are very much looking forward to and will announce further details here…..

Otto Koenigsberger with Nehru, Amrit Kaur and Mountbatten

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Tour Start Point: 1:00 p.m. at the Pavilion in M. N. Krishna Rao Park

Tour End Point: 5:00 p.m. at IISc CCS

To register, contact: +919880347794 OR 080-49000812-ext 836  or email: cph@srishti.ac.in 

Last day for registration: 1 September 2015.

To view the poster and for more details see: Rachel Lee Walk

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.

International Planning History Society Conference, St. Augustine, Florida

20-24 July 2014, Rachel Lee

 

DSCF2348_St Augustine

The Castillo de San Marcos – St. Augustine has a tradition of transnational encounters

 

Following the 2012 conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the 16th biennial International Planning History Society (IPHS) conference was held in tropical St. Augustine last week, with the splendid campus of Flagler College providing the setting for the 3-day event.

 

DSCF2362_Flager College

Flagler College was originally built as a luxury hotel by the railroad magnate Henry Flagler

 

In addition to an entire session devoted to “International Exchanges and the Development of Planning” chaired by Steven Ward (Oxford Brookes University) and including the following speakers and presentations: Jose Geraldo Simoes Junior (Mackenzie University) “International Exchanges in the Beginning of the Modern Urbanism: The ‘Relevance of the First Conferences and Expositions of Urbanism Held in Europe and the United States, 1910-1913’”, Nuray Ozaslan (Anadolu University)“The Idea of ‘International’ and Local Planning Actors for the Development of Istanbul in the 1950s”, Shira Wilkof (University of California, Berkeley)“From Europe to Palestine and Back: Transnational Planners and the Emergence of Israeli Planning Thought”, Noah Hysler Rubin (Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem) “Planning Palestine: British and Zionist Plans”, Haiyi Yu, Fang Xu and Hua Wen, (North China University of Technology) “Learning Foreign Experiences and Building Local Systems: Duality of Modern Chinese Urban Planning History”, many of the other sessions included papers with transnational themes.

 

Otto Koenigsberger

Map showing location of Otto Koenigsberger’s planning projects in India, 1939-1951

 

Amongst these papers, there was a focus on examples from India. Kristin Larsen and Laurel Harbin (University of Florida) studied Albert Mayer’s influence with their paper “American Regionalism in India: How Lessons from the New Deal Greenbelt Town Program Translated to Post-World War II India”, Rachel Lee (Technical University, Berlin) concentrated on Otto Koenigsberger in “From Static Master Plans to ‘Elastic Planning’ and Participation: Otto Koenigsberger’s Planning Work in India (1939-1951)” and Ray Bromley (University at Albany – SUNY) presented a paper on “Patrick Geddes’s Plan of Indore: The Inside Story”.

 

Abuja Presentation Slide

Part of the transnational team involved in the planning of Abuja, Nigeria

 

Another geographical zone of transnational planning interest was sub-Saharan Africa, with papers by Tiago Castela (University of Coimbra) “Peripheries in a History of Urban Futures: Planning for the Government of Informal Spaces in Late Colonial Mozambique” and Rachel Lee (Technical University, Berlin) “Beyond East-West: GDR Development Planning Transfer – from Oil Presses in Ghana to the Master Plan for Abuja”. Examples of transnational planning from China included a paper titled “Richard Paulick and the Import of Modernism in China” by Li Hou (Tongji University), and Benyan Jiang and Masaki Fujikawa (University of Tsukuba) investigated the German and Japanese influences on green spaces in Qingdao – “Conflicts and Continuity: The Development of Green Spaces in Qingdao, China (1898-1945)”.

 

After 3 intense days of papers and roundtables, the IPHS conference went out with a bang with an “after party”, with music provided by the conference organiser Christopher Silver’s (University of Florida) rock band In Crisis.

 

DSCF2356_Conference After Party

Planning historians rock St. Augustine

 

As well as the great papers and partying, thanks to Planning Perspectives editor Michael Hebbert (University College London), I was delighted to find a copy of the Appendix to the Volta River Project Report at Anastasia Books, St. Augustine. The Volta River Project provided the impetus for several transnational UN planning missions to Ghana (formerly Gold Coast) with team members including Albert Mayer and Otto Koenigsberger.

 

DSCF2360_Volta River Project

An unlikely find at a St. Augustine used bookstore

 

The abstracts of the abovementioned papers can be downloaded from the IPHS conference website http://iphs2014.dcp.ufl.edu/documents/Abstracts-IPHS2014.pdf and a revised version of the conference proceedings will be online soon.

 

Designing Buildings in 15 Minutes: A day in the life of Otto Koenigsberger, Government Architect to the Govt. of H.H. the Maharaja of Mysore

by Rachel Lee

The following extract is from a private letter written by the architect, planner and educator Otto Koenigsberger (1908-1999) to his family in 1940.  He probably typed it in his small room in the bungalow he shared with the Brinitzer family at 42 Infantry Road, Bangalore, India. Like the Brinitzers, Koenigsberger, a native Berliner with a Jewish background, was in exile.

  1948_Koenigsberger and colleagues at the PWD

Due to a fortuitous family connection, in 1939 Koenigsberger had been contracted to work as an architect in Princely Mysore, a South Indian state with a limited amount of independence from British colonial rule. Thus his boss was not a member of the British Raj, but the ambitious Dewan (Prime Minister) Mirza Ismail, whose favourite pastime was building. In November 1939 Koenigsberger was promoted to Government Architect, the highest position for an architect in the state. As the humorous extract reveals, although his job kept him very busy, it did not prevent Koenigsberger from trying to build up a private practice or enjoying himself in his new home . . .

“I shall give you a short review of one day in the life of the Government Architect to the Govt. of H.H. the Maharaja of Mysore.

My boy appears at 6:30 am in my room in order to wake me up. This has the result that I go on sleeping till quarter to or quarter past seven. Which of the two depends on the situation whether I must go and see the Dewan in his Bungalow or not. He belongs to those immorally hard working people whom I thoroughly dislike and has already one hour of hard work finished when I come to see him at 7:30. The next item is an enormous breakfast at 8 and instruction of my private draughtsman at 8:30 – Yes I have a private draughtsman and ‘secretary’. He is an Angloindian with the nice name Eric J. Crane, is rather shy, not too bright, and of course very unreliable. He comes for three hours in the morning and three in the afternoon and tries hard to learn how to do architectural drawings, so that I may be well armed and prepared when the great wave of private work comes of which I am daydreaming.

If there are no other inspections (on most days there are, my average is about 30 miles a day inside Bangalore only) I go to the office between 9 and 10 in order to have some quiet hours before my six men arrive at 11.

1940_Serum Institute

The morning post brings about 5 to 6 requests for designs per day, say one hospital, one bungalow for an officer, one railway station, one cinema, and a number of smaller tasks and alterations. In addition comes a tray full of files, for all building plans, small or big must go through my hands before they can be sanctioned by Govt. In Europe I would have worked about a week to design a hospital and about another week or fortnight to prepare the drawings. Here the main idea and the sketch must be ready in ten to fifteen minutes and then the assistant or draftsman must prepare the plans within two to four days. Of-course these designs cannot be so well worked out as mine were at home. To keep up at least a certain standard of exactness and efficiency I must permanently go round from one to the other to correct the plans and to tell them what they must do. In the intervals between my wanderings from one drawing board to another I try to attend to my files, to answer letters, and to make a number of sketches and small plans which I can finish myself in less time than it would need to explain to somebody else how to do them.

1940_Dispensary Bangalore

At 1:15pm I go home for lunch and for new instructions for my home-draftsman and back to the office at 2 or 2:15. The afternoon is usually filled with visitors who want all sorts of technical instructions or come discussing of new building schemes. Of-course only a very small percentage of our many designs will be built, and if they are it will take at least half a year or a year till they are started. That gives the Dewan who plays the role of ‘Bauherr’ [client] in this game ample time to ask for new schemes and accordingly revised designs.

Usually I am home at 6 in the afternoon. I sit down for a late but very big tea which usually takes about half an hour, not because I eat so much, but because I am just lazy and enjoy my rest. Every second day a Kanareese lesson follows from 6:45 to 8 or 8:15. If there is no lesson this time should be spent with learning what we had the day before, but so far I have always found an excuse not to learn so that the result of a fortnight of lessons with a very good teacher is very poor.          

1939_Municipal Swimming Pool

Dinner is celebrated from 8:30 to 9:30 when we hear the news from England. As it usually is a very good and rich dinner you can imagine that there is not much energy left for letterwriting in the evening.          

This description of my life is unadequate in two points: (1) it sounds boasting and at the same time complaining. But it is certainly not meant to do so. I thoroughly enjoy my work. I only tried to explain that a day of permanent designing is somewhat exhausting. (2) It gives the picture of rather a dull and narrow (English for ‘spiessig’) life. But actually I am meeting interesting new people nearly every day, studying a most interesting country, reading a few good books (for instance the latest Aldous Huxley ‘After many a Summer,’ which I enjoyed very much), seeing a film once in a while and hearing a good deal of Indian and European (gramophone) music.”[1]

Note: Although Koenigsberger’s native language was German, the outbreak of World War II forced him to communicate with his family, who were by then living in the USA and UK, in English – letters in German were censored or confiscated.

 The images are reproduced with the permission of the Koenigsberger family.

Email Contact: rachel.lee@gmx.net


[1] Koenigsberger Papers at the Jewish Museum Berlin: Extract from a letter from Otto Koenigsberger to Kaethe Koenigsberger dated 7 February 1940