Evolution of Calcutta (Kolkata)

India has a long history of urban architecture starting from the ancient cities of Indus valley through the Vedic and Mughal period. A new architectural style arrived with the advent of the colonialists, which was quite different from the traditional Indian styles and were own style of buildings which would be a permanent landmark .

In order to establish a permanent image of their supremacy, they took to “religions, languages, frames of mind, systems of law, manners and pastimes, tradition etc.” However, it was the material objects that expressed their intention more boldly

Calcutta’s rapid growth showed how the colonialists converted the three small villages of Sutanuttee. Gobindapur and Kalikata into a centre for administration, trade and commerce for the east india Company’s affairs for the whole sub-continent.



  • In the year 1690, Job Charnock, a company agent and chief of engish factory established the important centre for trade and commerce in Sutanti Village on the Eastern banks of the river Hooghly.This was the origin of the city of Calcutta.
  • During this time the Villages by connected by a route from the Chiptur in the north to the Kalighat temple, that was built in the 15th century,, in the south. The English bought Gobindapur, Kalikata and Sutanti Villages to establish their settlement.


  • The first major step they had taken in the procell is to shift the Bengalis from the area around the present Dalhousie square to further north because of the strategic location to build the for their security.
  • The battle of Plassey in 1757 was in a way a turning point for the growth of Cacutta. The supremacy of English in Bengal was established.
  • It was transforming itself from purely Garrison town to an administrative culture centre.



KOLKATA 1852-56

  • The great tank of Dalhousie Square was developed as an administrative centre. The Martha ditch got converted to be the Circular road all along the city as a city boundary till the mid 19th century.
  • The area, which is south of the Maratha Ditch, was full of ponds and ditches and spreads of jungles or “Hogla” Trees.
  • In the southern part it was mostly the Englishmen and the rich businessmen who started building up houses.



  • The British decided to shift the capital from Calcutta  to hide Delhi in order to control their territory more from a central position of the empire.
  • The capital got shifted in 1912 AD, and soon the British government set-up the improvement trust for the settlement of living condition in the city.
  • The only directions for Calcutta’s growth wore east and south. North was already congested and west was the river.



A Major change was marked by abandoning the old front on the river and taking up a new front facing the land: the south of the Esplanade.(The most important public buildings and private house were located on the northern side of the Esplanade  facing the Maidan on the south “all looking remarkable Neo-classical “.The eastward   thrusts along Dharamtala and Bou Bazaar streets were overshadowed by two parallel south ward axes – one along present day Chauranghi and Jawahar Lal Nehru road; the other across the Maidan and Alipur.

The eastward spread was inevitable, as the need to drain, the swamps was solved by making east-bound canals and a road along the canal. Later, these canals:-covered up to make wide roads, as they became very unsanitary. Tanks were also made to solve the drainage problem. All squares in Calcutta had a tank, for example college square, wellington square etc. Some tanks were later filled up to create more usable space. The urban space was created by other elements also, namely, street type, the avenue type, the circus type, the esplanade type, the garden type and the square type.

One of the earliest churches was the mission church of Beth Tephillah on mission row street , consecrated in 1770 A.D. This  church, by  M.B. de Mevell, was the first church to use St. Martin- in- the Field, London, as the base of design.  In 1835 A.D. a south transept was added  and the spire heightened.

This period saw the expansion and consolidation of the baroque Neo classical style in Calcutta, which had been implemented in Government House in the Old Fort. The most important public building of this period was the Government House, on the sites of the Council House and the old Government House. Designed by captain Charles Wyatt, this building displayed the Tuscan, Tuscan-Doric and Ionic orders. This building was well suited for the hot and humid climates of Calcutta as it was well ventilated through numerous  openings on the walls and a wide colonnaded verandah on the south. It established the element of the façade especially one with a pedimented porch. The most important element was the functionally divided vertical arrangement of space, “combining it with the traditional horizontal spatial spread….”

This idea influenced the future buildings especially, and was a significant step towards urbanization of building style.

One such bllilding was the St. John’ s  Church, consecrated in 1787 A.D. , designed by Liutenant James Agg. this building had its main entrance and porch transferred to the east. “This building dominates Calcutta among all the eighteenth and early nineteenth century buildings in terms of its design concepts).

Calcutta 1690 – 1757


  IN 1690 – 1773 A.D.

In 1709 A.D. a church was built near the fort, and dedicated to St. Anne. this church was damaged twice, in 1124 A.D. and later in 1737 A.D. the north east side of the square stood the Old Court house which was established  in 1727 A.D. Initially it was Ambassador’s residence. It was sold off in 1131 A.D. and functioned as a court house and, for some time as a jail.

Many buildings were damaged in 1156 A.D. when siraj-ud-Daulah captured this area. Later, when the British recaptured this area in 1751 A.D. A new fort was created after clearing away the area and resettling the inhabitants of the Gobindapur.  A new Governor’s House came up to the south of Dalhousie square on the Esplanade Row, which was also one of the magnificent “palaces” viewed from the maidan.

Calcutta 1757 – 1798

St. John’s Church and Churchyard


Writer’s Building

Calcutta Map

 IN 1773 – 1800 A.D.

One of first major buildings be constructed in this area was the Writers building. This was the first three-storeyed building in Calcutta. Built in 1780 A.D. on the site of the old court house and the church of St. Anne, this building stretched from the Clive street till the Old Court House street. the designer  was Thomas Lyon, a carpenter for the new fort William. it conveyed an image of a “civil barrack” or “hospital”. layout of the rooms was evident from the repetitive and monotonous series of windows on the front facade. In 1774 A.D. the declaration of Calcutta as the official capital of British India changed the attitudes of the designers and give more opportunities.

1800- 1850  A.D.

The beginning of the nineteenth century saw white Calcutta decked in stuccoed cotrture of Neo-Palladian or classical Baroque” with an emphasis on designing the external facades rather than a full treatment of the interior. Starting at the Esplanade, this architectural scheme for the city’s front  was pushed westward by the Town Hall, with the Government House becoming the centre piece of the arrangements.

The Town Hall was designed by John Garstin and completed in 1813 A.D. In main southern facade, a magnificent flight of steps leads up to the Palladian portico in Tuscan order.

At the centre of the city, the Doric Silver Mint (1831 A.D.; Major W. N. Forbes) was a fine exampleof the Greek  Revival style. The main portico on the front façade is placed against more collonades which were intended to give a feeling of airliness. However, the massive columns, compressed frieze and unusually weighty abacus leave a heavy impression typical of calcutta’s Greek Revival.

IN 1800 – 1850 A.D.

View of Government house from Eastward

View of Court House Street from gate of Government House

Another splendid building constructed here was the Government House based on the design of the Kedleston hall in derbyshire. The house was .located in a large garden, approached by large triumphal gateways. In 1798 A.D. the new Governor General Marquess Wellesley had desired a new government House “to suit the Governor General of India“. The site chosen was partly on the old Government House and occupied the sites of the old Council House and sixteen other private residences.

The Government House consisted of a large central block connected by curving corridors to four other smaller blocks. On the north, a huge processional staircase led to a Ionic portico. To the south, a softer, domed apsidal front looked over the gardens. The building was approached by splendid arched gateways surmounted by lions and sphinxes.


       The Palladian style flourished in other buildings also. One such building was the Town Hall, built in 1809 A.D. Designed by architect John Garstin in a Roman Doric Style, this building stood between the treasury and .the High Court. the funds for this building were collected from a series of lotteries.

 IN 1850 – 1911 A.D.

Post Office, Calcutta

Recently restored by the Post & Telegram Department

By the mid nineteenth century, an Italianate character was observed in the new buildings. One such building was the Bank of Bengal by Mackintosh, Burn & Co. which stood on the western part of the Dalhousie square, on the Strand Road.

Another building was the Eastern Railway Office on Fairlie Place which was said to be a direct adoptation of the Farnese Palace in Rome.

Classicism was also visible among many buildings. The general post office by walter granville was constructed in 1868 A.D. and displayed a corner Renaissance dome with huge rusticated pylons linked by Corinthian colonnades. The Returned Letter Office also one such building.

The end of 1890‘s saw the erection of many buildings on the eastern and southern regions of the square. Around this time, the Writer’s building also underwent refacing using terracotta made from Barrackpore clay. The central Telegraph office, a red brick structure, dominated the southern side of the square with its square tower.

1850- 1911

The High Court, (1864-72 A.D: Walter Granville) was an important building, following Gothic Revival, which was constructed in this period. The extensive use of stone on the richly carved capitals, preserves the spirit of Gothic revivaI more than any of the buildings of this period.

The Neo- classical or Georgian character of the White Town underwent a qualitative change during this period. The houses on Esplanade east shed their columns and put on a facial upliftment. This period also saw the change in the Dalhousie Square and the Esplanade West and was dramatically altered by the Neo-Gothic High Court.


The European buildings of the colonial era displayed the various elements of the European styles of architecture. In most cases, the design of the buildings was based on the design of existing buildings in Europe. The intention was not to copy the design but to create an image of the famous buildings of Europe.

THE WRITERS BUILDING :The facade was plain with no ornamentation except in the centre here a projection is articulated with Ionic columns. Apart from that the flat roofline was broken up by a rising attic above the projection. the Ionic columns in the central projection have plain inflated shaft. The repetitive windows could be seen on the facade of the Basilican church, Rome.

BAROQUE OR NEO CLASSICAL STYTLE : the Baroque style evolved when the True renaissance had succumbed -to the “formal rules and monotonous regulations of schoolmen and classicists”. These buildings were marked with excessive ornamentation and use of classical orders.

In Dalhousie square, the Baroque Neo-classical style was active for ,a long time from the old government house and old Council House (1770’s) which were later demolished, to the St. John’s Church (1787) and the Government House (1803). In many places, the Tuscan order dominated the columns. St. Martin-in-the Fields(1724) church exhibited the neoclassical style of architecture with a portico on the short side and a row of high pilasters and columns on the long sides and flight of steps as wide as the building. It reflected the image of a Roman temple. The St. John’s Church in Calcutta was based on the same concepts.

Evolution of the city

The Indian Quarter of the city 


The European Quarter of the city 



GOVERNORS HOUSE : One of the major building during this period. The architect (engineer) was Captain Charles Wyatt who designed the building with “Robert Adam’s Kedleston Hall (1761) in Derbyshire as the “inspiration”. The design concept for the structures were similar; a main central block connected to four smaller blocks by curving corridors. In the case of the Kedleston Hall, the southern, smaller blocks intended for music gallery. the southern blocks for the private rooms and kitchen and services framed the larger central‘ block. the lower height of the side block and the crowning dome of the central dome, accentuate the scale and importance of the central block.

Comparatively, the Governor’s House is a more slackened. The major change in design was the formation of the four smaller blocks compared to the two in Adam’s buildings. the ionic portico replace by the Corinthian portico and the face of the official centre to the city in the north. Government House was three storied compared to the two storied Kedleston Hall. The sloping roof of Adam’s building was converted into flat roof. The building was also punctured at various points in order to circulate the maximum amount of wind through the building.

 Governor’s House

GOTHIC REVIVAL: The High Court; The 1860’s saw the arrival of a new style – the Gothic Revival. In Europe, this was felt in Britain only. In Calcutta the high Court symbolized .the supremacy of justice in its huge, majestic form. The design was based on the Ypres Cloth Hall (Town Hall) in Belgium (1621).

High Court Building

 Town Hall

VICTORIAN STYLE : (1870-1890) By the 1870’s, a Victorian character was created with the construction of the Treasury Building, the Imperial Secretariat, the East India railways office and the culmination of the style, the Calcutta collectorate. such eclectic style can be seen in the East Indian railway’s Office (1882-84) in Koilaghat Street. This building especially the projecting eaves and the principal cornice are believed to be a direct adaptation of the Farnese Palace (A.D. 1534) in Rome. The corner blocks decorated in Italian sgraffito work can be traced back to the Italian Renaissance buildings such as the Palazzo del Consiglio (1476) in Verona.


As they firmly established themselves in India as a colonial power, the British commissioned statuary and structures to commemorate their sovereign and other luminaries of their empire. Memorials to the dead of imperial wars were also common. Architectural extravaganzas, these buildings celebrate milestones in the political and art history of India.


The Victoria Memorial, Calcutta

  • The Victoria Memorial has been called the most potent symbol of the British empire the world over.
  •  Commissioned by Lord Curzon in 1906 to rival the Taj in grandeur {which it never did), and to mark over 300 years of British presence in India and their growing might, it was a monument built in tribute to the Queen Empress.

  • Lord Curzon specified that the building be designed either in the Classical or the Palladian style and also built of the same white Makrana marble as the Taj Mahal, to rival the beauty of the magnificent Mughal monument.

  Lord Curzon’s statue stands in front of an arch of the Calcutta Victoria Memorial (below), and is inscribed with the royal coat of arms.

  • A gigantic-statue of Queen Victoria seated on a throne greets you long before you reach the entrance of the gleaming white museum.
  • The plan of the building consists of a large central part, flanked by two chambers separated from it by colonnaded corridors.
  • The central chamber is roofed by a high dome and each corner of the building with smaller domes. In­side is a statue of Queen Victoria as a young girl.
  • The dome is surmounted by a 5-meter-high bronze revolving statue of the Angel of Victory, symbolizing British power.
  •  The entire building is placed on a low marble plinth surrounded by reflecting pools and 26 hectares of gardens.
  • The two open courts on each side also contain statues, one of them of Lord Curzon. The atuary was made in Italy and the building completed in 1921.


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