• Modernization before the Modernists: The Rise of Concrete in Early Twentieth Century India
    Gauri Bharat

The Concrete Association of India, illustration of a water tank built in reinforced cement concrete from volume on “The Municipal Uses of Cement,” 1939. Courtesy of the Indian Concrete Journal.

Modernism in India is largely imagined as beginning in the 1950s with the iconic works of Le Corbusier, Doshi, Correa, and Kanvinde. This project reconsiders the trope using construction history, and offers the rise of concrete between 1920–50 as a counter narrative. Using unusual archives of material catalogs, association yearbooks, technical journals, and advertisements from this period, the project identifies a widespread network of professionals familiar with concrete, a developed market for raw materials and concrete products, and patrons who embraced new aesthetic possibilities it offered. It also delves into skills and knowledge transfer among the historically informal body of construction workers, to evoke a labor force capable of working with this new material. The research will culminate in a book on how, between 1920–50, concrete spread as a technology of everyday use, thus reimagining modernism beyond iconic works and as a shifting ecology of practices and popular aesthetics.

Gauri Bharat is associate professor and head of the Architectural History and Theory Program at CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India. Working in a context with limited archives, she explores other windows into history. Her PhD, at the University of East Anglia in the UK, employed an ethnography of building practices to develop a history of indigenous architecture and was awarded the Best Social Sciences Dissertation at the International Convention for Asian Scholars in 2017. It will be published as book later in 2019. Bharat continues to combine ethnography with unusual archives to develop new frameworks for architectural historiography. She has, for instance, researched cattle and roadside shrines, and uses these everyday networks for theorizing Indian urbanity. Bharat’s research feeds into undergraduate history teaching and an innovative postgraduate research program she developed and leads. She engages with academic and nonacademic audiences through workshops, exhibitions, and publications in books, newspapers, and online journals.