Tag Archives: Public Works Department

I’ve recently published a paper in the Journal of Architecture entitled, ‘The architecture of the British Mandate in Iraq: nation-building and state creation’. You can read the full article here [ ], and the abstract is below…


Watercolour perspective of King Feisal’s Palace, Baghdad, designed by J. M. Wilson, courtesy of Wilson Mason LLP.

This paper seeks to examine and contextualise the architecture and infrastructure projects developed by the British during the occupation of Iraq in the First World War and the Mandate period that immediately followed. Relying heavily on military-political events for its structure and underlying narrative, the paper demonstrates how architecture, planning and ‘development’ were integral to the act of creating the new state and were very much part of the colonisers’ vision to create a nation in their own image. Works were deployed to imbue a sense of collective belonging and national identity through the creation of new town plans, as well as through institutions such as museums and universities. A certain dissonance emerges between the infrastructure and prestige projects, with the latter presenting an imagined and fabricated notion of Iraqi history, blended with a grandiose colonial style imported from India, and designed predominantly by James M. Wilson. The infrastructure projects began with sanitation improvements, road and rail installation, and expansion of the Basra docklands to attract international shipping and for the export of oil. Further building projects undertaken by the Public Works Department included a large number of administrative buildings called serais.


Watercolour perspective of Basra Airport, designed by J. M. Wilson, courtesy of Wilson Mason LLP.

Built at strategic locations, they were deployed as multi-functional centres for justice, taxation and land registration as well as places where local devolved empowerment was instigated. Iraqi architecture from this period has been largely overlooked in the emerging global histories of architecture, yet it offers an important view of the quandaries that faced late British colonial architecture in its attempts to respond to, and reflect changing and hostile political conditions.

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.


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



Caption: Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation, 2011
Photograph by Hari Prasad Nadig, available at

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.



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.



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.

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 14

’Yemi Salami, ‘Fry and Drew’s Influence on Colonial Public Works Architecture in Nigeria’

This study examines the influence of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew on the architecture of Nigeria’s Colonial Public Works Department (PWD).  Mostly referred to as Fry and Drew, literature provides accounts of their coming to work in West Africa as architects and professional advisors during the mid-twentieth century. They are also deemed to have pioneered alongside other private architects of the time, the climate responsive design that has come to be known as ‘tropical architecture’.

The literature equally provides a glimpse into operations by the Public works Department (PWD). The department had largely produced the country’s earlier colonial buildings, as well as a good number of its mid-twentieth century buildings. The period therefore experienced a blend of designs by the new private architects and by the PWD. But did the designs of the new entrant private architects generate an impact on colonial building? How did the PWD build before this time? Did it have a design tradition by which it operated? Was this tradition affected by the new influences, particularly from Fry and Drew?

To answer these questions, the study will examine two Fry and Drew buildings and their application of tropical design principles. It will then explore two building types done by the PWD – a courthouse and a post office. For each building type, the study will examine its design in the earlier colonial years, as well as during the tropical architecture trend.  Changes arising in the new design will then be identified and discussed, particularly those most likely based on fry and drew influences. The purpose therefore, is not only to establish if Fry and Drew influenced PWD designs, but to also know what features they had influenced.


Yemi Salami is a PhD student at the Liverpool School of Architecture, University of Liverpool. Her research investigates British colonial architecture in Nigeria between 1900 and 1960. Specifically, the research aims to understand the colonial administration’s Public Works Department (PWD), and the architecture which it produced within the period of study. Yemi held a faculty position at Olabisi Onabanjo University Ago-Iwoye, Nigeria, before enrolling for her PhD in November 2011.

Exports Only?

Export Architecture. To the casual reader, this phrase may come across as almost self-explanatory, devoid of any further need for clarification. Export, most will reason, literarily connotes the transfer of a product from its source of production to a foreign or external recipient, usually in exchange for a fee, charge or emolument. As for Architecture, the reader might almost think, well, we all know what architecture is! Caution is however advised, as such perceived ‘knowledge’ on architecture could often be very superficial.

In spite of the lack of complexity to the reasoning described above, it does provide a basic insight to export as a means of product transfer. The ‘Product’ here, is however largely limited to a perception of manufactured (or material) goods, but which exportation clearly transcends. Culture, lifestyle, language, and fashion among other things, are immaterial endeavours also exported across borders. Architecture, possibly rated material in terms of the physical building components it employs, and immaterial with regards to construction methods, building forms and functional requirements – has been exported all through history by explorers, adventurers, and new settlers.

Lagos European Quarters

The architecture established in Nigeria during the British colonial era could well be assumed a classic example of export architecture, with features that reflected architectural traits from the heart of empire and were alien to the prevailing indigenous buildings of the time. It may however constitute a very hasty and almost erroneous judgement to assume that all British colonial buildings were export products. Could there perhaps, have been instances where indigenous architectural style and features were adapted, or even wholly copied in colonial building?

Writing on the building works carried out by European builders in Nigeria, Arthur M. Foyle in a 1951 The Builder Journal, had noted the character of early houses for government staff in Nigeria. He observed that while they were built of timber in the south, in the north and in the more inaccessible areas, staff housing were usually constructed of local materials and often by local labour using traditional methods of construction.


Hausa Built form, Northern Nigeria

This ‘Type Mud brick European quarters’ designed by Nigeria’s colonial Public Works Department presented here, was sourced from a 1933 technical paper of the department, and rightly corroborates Foyle’s observation. The European quarters’ adapted features may perhaps, be better understood if analyzed on surviving Hausa built form models of Northern Nigeria. Although its plan retains a European model with a garage, hall, pantry, store and dressing room on the ground floor, and features a bedroom and bathroom upstairs, the quarters design largely adapts local form and materials to accommodate the colonial lifestyle.


1933 Drawing of European Quarters at Katsina

Mad dogs and Englishmen

Following up Yemi’s post on the RWAFF, I noticed the uniforms of the African soldiers and reflected on how this apparently insignificant peculiarity has been a sign of the different methods with which Europeans confronted with Africa. The uniforms of colonial military force in Africa are a clear sign of the development of climate-adaptive sensibility, they played a major role in the history of Tropical Medicine that I see as the cultural base of Tropical Architecture. Noël Coward in 1931, while travelling from Hanoi to Saigon, wrote the famous lyrics “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun“. It’s amazing to see how the idea that tropical climate was unhealthy and dangerous was so deeply rooted in the European culture to even generate popular folk songs.

The solar topee (shown below) that “the simple creatures hope he will impale on a tree” was the most famous symbol of how scientific knowledge could help the Western man cope with the dangerous tropical climate. Yet we must avoid tracing the history of Tropical Medicine as the simple linear progression of reason over superstition. Even if significant progress were made, they did not sweep away the suspicion that climate itself was a biological harm for Europeans. In 1930s Nigeria one cadet refused to wear the hat until he got a letter from the government saying that if he become ill from not wearing the hat he would have to go back home and end is career. It is easy to imagine how the whole life of colonialists in early decades of XXth century were influenced by the concerns on tropical climate. The idea that black and whites needed different treatments opened up to the idea that they were biologically different which easily ended up in racial theories.

Towards a genealogy of tropical architecture: Historical fragmen

However the systemic approach to climate that many studies of Tropical Medicine show, one for all the monumental work by Aldo Castellani and Albert Chalmers, posed the basis for the development of studies on climate that were strongly influential on Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew’s work. It is perhaps possible to trace a history of the relation with climate that links together solar topees, military barracks and bungalows all the way to the tropical modernism. A history that will be able to recognize the debt that Fry and Drew had with previous experiences in Africa even in disciplines not immediately linked to architecture.

Nigerian Public Works Department Troop Quarters, designed for the Royal West African Frontier Force

While recently going through archival materials on Nigeria’s colonial Public Works Department, I came across a troop quarters design for the RWAFF. The abbreviation sounded familiar, but I could not readily remember what it stood for and had to do a google search for further insight.  Results returned from the search brought it all flooding back to my memory; RWAFF is the abbreviation for Royal West African Frontier Force. To gain an initial casual understanding about the force, I took a quick look at Wikipedia and was able to obtain this excerpt – “The West African Frontier Force (WAFF) was a multi-battalion field force, formed by the British Colonial Office in 1900 to garrison the West African colonies of Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Gambia. In 1928 it received royal patronage, becoming the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF).”

13.3.6 GeorgeV

Soldiers on Parade for Visit by King George V and Queen Mary.

In a 1952 paper entitled “The story of the Royal West African Frontier Force”, published by the Royal United Service Institution journal, Brigadier F.A.S Clarke (DSO) however attempts to give a more scholarly account of the origins, services and numerical composition of the Force. In telling the RWAFF story, he sums up his account of its activities with this assertion: “though the force habitually wore a scarlet suave jacket, fez, and cummerbund on ceremonial parades, it has never been merely a ‘picturesque constabulary’ as some would now have us believe”. He gives instances of laborious and painstaking operations,expeditions and invasions conducted by RWAFF units in their bid to capture enemy territory. More importantly, he provides the organizational structure of the force, as well as its numerical composition. According to him, the force consisted of a Headquarters Company, a Raffle Company, platoons and battalions.  He equally notes that the total strength of a 1938 WAFF battalion, apart from British personnel, was 591 African troops and 219 carriers (those who bore the WAFF’s heavy loads of ammunition and supplies), with Nigeria providing the major quota.

13.3.6 Troops

RWAFF troops boarding a military plane.

The availability of such data might suggest a basis on which P.W.D architects developed accommodation schedules for RWAFF troop quarters designs. One of these designs was what I had sourced from my archival search, and is presented below:

13.3.6 Quarters

Drawing of RWAFF Quarters by the Nigeria PWD.

The troop quarters consisted of a ten-room block with an external measurement of 108’3”. It was fronted by an open veranda, and surrounded by an open drain which conveyed waste water to a surface disposal system. Each room had an internal measurement of 18’6” by 10’0”, and was accessed through a doorway from the open veranda. Although each room had a rear window, the space between the top of the door and the wall plate was also fitted with an expanded metal ventilator. This enabled cross ventilation and adequate air flow within each room. The roofing favoured a deep gable design to facilitate rain water run-off during the frequent tropical rain storms.

Research Seminar Presentation

Wednesday 13th February was the PhD research seminar day at the Liverpool School of Architecture. I gave a 15 minute presentation on the recent progress of my research. My research had started out by examining the development of Nigeria’s architectural profession during the mid-twentieth century. Findings made in the course of the research, however, revealed an outstanding level of architectural output by the country’s colonial Public Works Department (PWD), yet to be the subject of any known research.

This translates into an apparent gap in the studies done on Nigeria’s architectural history as a whole, and its British colonial architectural history in particular. My research’s new line of investigation is therefore centred on British colonial public works architecture in Nigeria, with the aim of bridging this gap in literature. In a bid to provide a fuller understanding of the department’s output as well, the research’s focus of investigation now covers the period from 1900 to 1960.

As my presentation discussed, one issue raised from literature is that private sector architecture tended to blaze new trails and to produce more innovative designs than the PWD. I therefore employed these images from the West African Builder and the Architects’ Journal to analyse this argument.

13.2.18 Lagos

13.2.18 Lagos2

The first is the 1959 General Post Office, Lagos, designed under the supervision of Charles Stevenson, PWD Senior Architect.  The other image is the 1960 Nigerian Port Authority Headquarters, also in Lagos, designed by W.H. Watkins Gray & Partners. With both buildings featuring a similar modernist approach to their designs at that time, the ‘less innovative’ view to public works designs may need to be further questioned.