Threat to Indian craftsmanship in 1913

A record of over one and a half centuries of architectural history, the RIBA’s Periodicals Collection holds news from a century ago warning that the British authorities were undermining traditional Indian craftsmanship…

Tomb of Humayan, Delhi. © RIBA Library Drawings and Archives CollectionsTaj Mahal, Agra, in the 1800s. © RIBA Library Photographs CollectionAgra Fort, Agra: Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque). © RIBA Library Photographs CollectionTomb of Itmad-ud-Daula, Agra. © RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections


On 20 June 1913 in Building News [1], Ernest Binfield Havell was quoted at length from his book Indian Architecture. The selected passages made clear his condemnation for the way Indian craftsmen were being ignored and how the Anglo-Indian authorities, refusing to support the traditions and skills native to India, were employing western architects who were simply applying inappropriate European ‘styles’ and copying ornament seen in pattern books. 

Havell points out that: “In India, it seems, there are still master-builders and craftsmen with an unbroken tradition of more than 2,000 years”. On the other hand, the modern architect sits in an office, in isolation and “detached from materials, craftsmen, and site.”

A few months before in a different article for Building News, published 25 October 1912 [2], Havell wrote – in relation to the building of the new imperial capital, New Delhi – that by refusing to take advantage of “the fact that India still has a living building tradition” and imposing foreign architecture, the British government was not creating harmonious relations between Britain and her Indian subjects. If built with Indian skills and knowledge, and using the pre-existing architecture of India as models, then New Delhi, according to Havell, “would be a more worthy capital of the Empire than any British one-man show” – a reference to the appointment of architect Edwin Lutyens to design the new city.

Fortunately, today in Britain the art and culture of India is appreciated as a source of inspiration.


  1. Building News, 20 June 1913, vol.104, pp.845-7
  2. Building News, 25 October 1912, vol.103, pp.567-70