Otto Koenigsberger was chief architect and planner of Mysore State between 1939 and 1948, Rachel Lee shared his story at a talk in the city, where Sravasti Datta was present

Bangalore has seen many transitions, from being a Pensioner’s Paradise to a Garden City and now an IT city. In the process, however, little histories have been either forgotten or lost. Architect and scholar Dr. Rachel Lee revived the glory of the past of a great era in a recent talk, held at Max Mueller Bhavan-Goethe Institut last week.

Rachel’s talk centred on Otto Koenigsberger, who was the chief architect and Planner of Mysore State between 1939 and 1948, having been invited by the Princely Mysore State, under Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV.

The Dewan of Mysore State was Mirza Ismail, with whom Koenigsberger shared a good personal relationship, but didn’t always agree with professionally.

Koenigsberger designed several public and private buildings, including Victory Hall (now Bal Bhavan in Cubbon Park), Krishna Rao Pavilion (1940), the TB Sanatorium, the now demolished Bangalore Bus City Terminus (1941) and Bhatia House (1947). At the Indian Institute of Science (IISC) he designed the Aeronautics Department (1942), the dining hall and Auditorium (1946) and the Metallurgy Department (1947) for the Tatas.

Rachel’s extensive research on Koenigsberger led her to make a trip to Bangalore. “There was very little information about him, so I came here to understand his work,” says Rachel, who is Assistant Professor at the Technical University, Berlin Born in 1908, Koenigsberger made his journey through Egypt and then to India after he was exiled from Germany in 1933, because of his Jewish background. “Otto worked with Ludwig Borchardt in Egypt, but the climate didn’t agree with him as he suffered from tuberculosis, and so he came to Mysore in India in 1939.”

Koenigsberger’s approach to architecture distinguished him. “Instead of advocating domes and clock towers, he envisioned modern architecture in Bangalore. He asked to study the local conditions. He wanted to develop a scientific method to architecture. For ornamentation, he used a mixture of European and Indian styles.”

Koenigsberger famously stated that it is not so much the study of the needs of the Maharajas and other rich people that is the way forward, but the study of many millions in India who earn less than 100 rupees per month. He also stressed the importance of the study of materials locally available and the climatic conditions of India

“Koenigsberger saw great potential in local architectural features such as chajjas and jallis, which he incorporated in his work.”

The Tatas were Koenigsberger’s private clients and the German architect also shared a close friendship with the scientist Homi J. Bhabha. He prepared the Jamshedpur Development Plan for the Tatas and also produced the Bhubaneswar Master Plan.

Koenigsberger also produced a development plan for Bangalore.

“At the time he said Bangalore had already reached an optimum size to become a city. He said all future development should take place in satellite cities that are connected to Bangalore by road and rail,” informs Rachel.

Rachel says that Koenigsberger’s tradition was followed in the 1950s and 1960s, but stopped at some point. From 1948 to 1951, he came to the notice of Jawaharlal Nehru , and was made the Federal Director of Housing in Delhi. He also wrote articles on town planning and was the co-founder of the design and architecture periodical, Marg.

“He collaborated with Indian architects and town planners, maximised the capacities of the locals, rejected segregation, empowered women and children, engaged with refugees. He didn’t believe in standard solutions, he tried to understand the local architecture.”