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Bungalows and their Typology in the Colonial Town: Ambala Cantonment

Eva Prasher

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Bungalow, British, Evolution, Layout, Building typology

PUBLISHED DATE January 02, 2017
PUBLISHER The Author(s) 2017. This article is published with open access at

‘Bungalow’ has been the most representative element of the built environment of colonialism. It is associated with Europeans; although it developed in India, both in terms of name and form. The evolution of this Anglo-Indian residential typology shows how this indigenous mode of shelter, that was adopted and adapted by the Europeans, fulfilled the physical, social and political requirements of the mercantile and the administrative European officers. Among the urban centers established by the British in India, Ambala Cantonment was an important station due to geographical and political reasons. This Anglicized town that settled in 1843 bears the elements of a typical cantonment and is worth scrutinizing as it possesses all three residential types; the bungalows, havelies and shophouses. The bungalows that evolved a century and a half ago were resultant of cultural and social collaboration of the ideologies of the Europeans and the indigenous. It cannot be denied that the bungalows gradually brought about change in the lifestyle habits of the indigenous and impacted their understanding of health, cleanliness and hygiene. This paper, as part of the study, focuses on the bungalows of Ambala Cantonment with respect to their planning philosophies and elements. The bungalow had developed as a typology by the time this Cantonment was established. Primarily similar, these bungalows differ in terms of layout, largely in the arrangement of their rooms and this study categorizes the bungalows on this criteria.


During colonization, the Indian cities underwent a conspicuous transformation in terms of its architecture as well as urban fabric. These changes were due to the advent of modernization, which brought with itself the change in paradigms of urbanization. There are number of factors that contributed in defining the character of urbanization in Indian cities. These factors included the mission to project imperial notions of authority, role of military priorities, import- export trade, need to establish social stability and emergence of new imperial central theme. [6] With housing being an essential requirement, for a new settlement to function as an administrative base, an appropriate housing typology was required to be evolved that would answer the needs of the British officers. These residential buildings were supposed to measure up to the lifestyle of the Europeans backhome, be unique in design to clearly demonstrate the social bias, provide climatic comfort and provide hygienic and clean living environment to the occupants. The answer to all these requirements was the ‘bungalow’.

The bungalows evolved from vernacular style of cottage construction in Bengal. This is where the initial layouts and construction went through various stages of modification most of which were derivations from the various types of Bengali huts. [11]The initial forms of the bungalow involved kuchcha construction with thatch roof while the later verses being the pucca construction methodologies and materials. Ambala Cantonment was established in the year 1843. By then British officers had enough experience of constructing bungalows in North India. The bungalows were constructed for Europeans, thus were located in the British occupied area of the Cantonment town. The bungalows of this cantonment have typical elements that make them climatically comfortable, aesthetically appealing and environmentally sustainable. The type of planning was restricted for the British and rightly demonstrated the supremacy and social bias. Juxtaposed to this, were the residential buildings for the natives. The residences for the indigenous were the havelies and the shophouses. The layout and form of the shophouses varies tremendously but the havelies had certain features and layout inspired from the bungalows, although, the two are very different in many aspects.

Page(s) 151-164
ISSN Print : 2321-3892, Online : 2321-7154

In Indian context, the advent of bungalows brought in westernization of domestic architecture. People gradually developed transformations in their lives that were not only physical but also behavioral. It would be incorrect to deny the existence of detached or freestanding dwelling units outside the core of the town or the traditional town before the British created Bungalows, but these were for the nawabs and the wealthy families. Also, new housing typologies like kothies developed with the amalgamation of the elements of bungalow and haveli. The understanding of health, cleanliness and hygiene gradually evolved as a mandatory and basic concern, whereas living in traditional houses, eating with fingers while sitting cross-legged on the floor and other lifestyle habits gradually ceased to be part of the routine. Considering the area under study, the issues involved are little complex and need to be approached enduringly because they include policy and practice. The present policies ensure the preservation of the form and structure of the bungalow as well as the overall urban environment in which they exist. But these policies lack a long-term approach. Consequentially, future of these bungalows lies at mercy of the concerned authority. But because of the tremendous change in lifestyle in past 170 years, the bungalows do not suffice the needs in their authentic form. Bungalow owners modify interior of the bungalows without altering external form and structure. Bungalows are supreme illustration of sustainability. The agony is, we are unable to implement these key elements in modern day dwelling units. We need to cherish our past to enable next generations to look up to as a perfect example of livable and comfortable dwelling unit.

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