How Bauhaus Found Its Way to India

From Tagore to N.I.D.

Tagore Sw Robinoranath 1861-1941 Indian Poet Of AuthorLIFE Photo Collection

How did Bauhaus reach India?

As the West grappled with World War 2 and the challenges of Industrial Revolution, India was making its way out of colonial rule. Academic study in India particularly posed a problem; it was largely based on Western ideologies and European aesthetics and technique. Young students were either influenced by British schools or made their way overseas. Given the country’s need to find its own voice and help propel it towards growth and progress, minds like Tagore and Nehru sought to revitalise the Indian aesthetic and economy with progressive and effective institutes and industry.

LIFE Photo Collection

In 1913, Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore had set up Visva-Bharati University – a liberal arts school in Santiniketan, Calcutta, with the prize money from his Nobel Prize in Literature.

Edu Univ. Asia India Tagore Lahore Etc.LIFE Photo Collection

Viswa Bharati University at Santiniketan, north of Calcutta, was founded with a vision to not only integrate the fine and applied arts, but also the study of philosophy and agriculture.

Tagore’s approach was soon to find resonance with the ideologies promoted by the Bauhaus school.

Marjamshausen (1928) by Paul KleeThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Austrian art historian Stella Kramrisch, who taught Indian and European Art at Santiniketan from 1921 – 1923, invited the Bauhaus to send some representative paintings and graphics for a joint exhibition with leading Indian artists from the Bengal School.

The ‘Bauhaus in Calcutta’ exhibition in December 1922 has often been referred to as an entry point of modernism in India. It opened at the 14th Annual Exhibition of The Indian Society of Oriental Art in Calcutta.

Ghost of a Genius (1922) by Paul KleeNational Galleries Scotland: Modern

The exhibition featured over 250 works by Bauhaus teachers and students, including Bauhaus masters such as Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten...

Sketch 160A (1912) by Wassily KandinskyThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

and Wassily Kadinsky...

The House of the dead by Gaganendranath TagoreVictoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata

... alongside revolutionary Indian artists such as Gagendranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Nandlal Bose, Jamini Roy...

Artwork: Victoria Memorial Hall

Krishna Consorting Radha in a Guise of a Gopi (19th to 20th Century) by Sunayani DeviIndian Museum, Kolkata

...and Sunayana Devi

The Asoka Legend (about 1920) by Abanindranath TagorePeabody Essex Museum

This kind of cultural dialogue between two developing movements seeking inspiration from each other was unprecedented.

For Johannes Itten, Indian culture and spirituality could offer the West a model for infusing art with spirit, counteracting materialist tendencies.


Mask: Rabindranath Tagore (1929) by Abanindranath TagoreVictoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata

For Tagore, who gave his school the motto yatraviśvam bhavatyekanidam (where the world makes a home in a single nest), and conceived Santiniketan as a place for mutual exchange of ideas, it was an opportunity for India to share its wealth of tradition with the world, and where she would benefit from learning about international trends.

Artwork: Victoria Memorial Hall

Kanvinde at the JJ School by AP KanvindeOriginal Source: Kanvinde Rai & Chowdhury

Meanwhile, the Indian Institute of Architects in Bombay set up in 1920’s, was the only training institute for aspiring architects, preceded of course by the Sir JJ School in Bombay, under Claude Batley. Both of which prescribed a uni-dimensional education.

By 1947, newly independent India had only about 300 trained architects in a population of what was then 330 million.

Kanvinde at the JJ School (Mid Forties) by AP KanvindeOriginal Source: Kanvinde Rai & Chowdhury

Batch of 42, Sir JJ School

Claude Batley (Centre ) A.P. Kanvinde middle row, (3rd from Right). The professors in the front row. (L to R) Shivsagar, Khambata, Reuben, Parelkar, Batley, CM Master, Narwekar, GB Mhatre, Delima

Kanvinde, Gropius and Pei (Late Forties) by AP KanvindeOriginal Source: Kanvinde Rai & Chowdhury

Others, who had the opportunity, went overseas to study at Harvard or IIT Chicago in the US, where the faculty included Bauhaus heroes such as Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer who had emigrated from the closure of Bauhaus in Nazi Germany in 1933.

This photo from 1946, shows Walter Gropius (in the centre) with Achyut Kanvinde (left) and I.M. Pei at Harvard.

Rahman at New Secretariat (Mid Fifties) by UnknownOriginal Source: Ram Rahman

Habib Rahman studied at MIT, where he did both his undergraduate and postgraduate levels, returning to Calcutta after his masters in 1944.

Rahman’s work impacted Calcutta where he worked initially, followed by New Delhi where, at Nehru’s bequest, he worked at the Central Public Works Department CPWD

This photo from 1954, features Architect Habib Rahman in front of India's first high-rise, the New Secretariat, designed by him in Calcutta

Kanvinde at CSIR (Late Forties) by AP KanvindeOriginal Source: Kanvinde Rai & Chowdhury

Achyut Kanvinde graduated from Sir JJ School, and worked at Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, in Jaipur, in 1945. This led to his visiting United States and staying back to study at Harvard from 1945-1947. An arduous journey saw him back home and to CSIR, where he remained until 1955.

The influence of Bauhaus to modern architecture in India (often referred to in the Indian context as 'The First Generation of Modernist Architecture') can be best seen through the works of Achyut Kanvinde who trained under Gropius at Harvard and Habib Rahman who studied at MIT.

Mehsana Dairy (Late Sixties) by AP KanvindeOriginal Source: Kanvinde Rai & Chowdhury

From the 1940’s, a host of prominent buildings began being built in strong monolithic shapes, exposed concrete, with open plan structures that had a significant impact on the landscape of modern Indian architecture.

Bauhaus-influenced Indian architectural forms included contemporary versions of the jalis as horizontal and vertical fenestration, chajjas as larger overhanging roofs, and monolithic geometric shapes including the ubiquitous domes.

Staircase by Habib RahmanOriginal Source: Ram Rahman

The early entry of Bauhaus paradigms through Walter Gropius’s students, cross-pollinated with Indian culture and climate, along with modernist strains from Frank Lloyd Wright, and from the 60's of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, resulting in the expressions of – Brutalism, Modernism, Utilitarian Modernism, Tropical Modernism.

While some were indigenous interpretations and others directly imported, all were created as a result of the architect’s response to his individual surroundings and to his influences.

The Library at IIT Kanpur (Early Sixties) by J.C. DuaMuseum of Design Excellence

Others who contributed to the International style propagated by Gropius, or to the design philosophy of the Bauhaus were Durga Bajpai - which is evident in his design for Jehangir Art Gallery, which also reflected the spirit of Alvar Alto for whom he worked.

Kuldip Singh, BV Doshi, Raj Rewal, Gautum and Gira Sarabhai who worked under Wright, Vanu Bhuta who attended the Institute of Design in Chicago, Ram Sharma, Hasmukh Patel who studied at Cornell, Piloo Mody who studied with Eric Mendelsohn, and Charles Correa who studied at Michigan and MIT, were amongst the other architects who helped shape Modern Indian Architecture.

They remained an eclectic group, whose language evolved with their own individual forms of expression.

By Walter SandersLIFE Photo Collection

Ulm School of Design

As post war Germany rebuilt itself, HfG was founded in Ulm, in 1953, with an intent to take forward the Bauhaus approach of integrating arts, crafts and technology through a focus on multi-disciplinary and humanistic education. The ‘Ulm Model’ was a significant influence not only to some of the key design institutes in India, but remains one to international design education, even today.

Max Bill, one of its founders and first rector was a former student of Bauhaus. He, along with co-founders Inge Aicher-Scholl and Otl Aicher, succeeded in winning the former Bauhausers - Walter Peterhans, Josef Albers, Helene Nonné-Schmidt and Johannes Itten as lecturers for the HfG Ulm.

(Source: HFG-Archive)

National Institute of Design by NIDMuseum of Design Excellence

By the 1960’s, India’s first industrial design institution was being established in Ahmedabad. National Institute of Design (NID), IIT Bombay and CEPT were amongst the several specialist institutions being created by free India to ensure that its youth were at the frontiers of knowledge; harnessing it for the developmental needs of a nation mired in postcolonial poverty.

NID was amongst the first to adopt the teaching principles of the Bauhaus through the Ulm Model, as a tool for national regeneration.

HfG Course (Mid Fifties) by Eva-Maria Koch. Hans G. ConradOriginal Source: HfG Archive

Kumar Vyas started the Product Design Program at NID in 1966 after spending 11 months understanding the curriculum at HfG Ulm shortly after Hans Gugelot's visit as a guest lecturer at NID in 1965.

Sudha Nadkarni also studied at HfG Ulm from 1962 to 1966 and came back to India to work at NID 1966 to 1969 and then went on to set up the Industrial Design Centre at IIT Bombay in 1970. Kirit Patel who worked at CEPT University had apprenticed in Frei Otto's studio in the 80's.

(Source: Design for India, MP Ranjan)

Seen here is the Basic Course at HfG with Josef Albers (R) and Otl Aicher (L)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Bauhaus Everywhere
Traces of a design school in everyday life
View theme
Google apps