European Architecture: How Can We Incorporate Some Of That Charm Into Our Landscape?

With its century-old buildings, Gothic designs, Renaissance elements and neo-classical appeal, European architecture offers a feast to the eyes. Anasua Mitra looks at how we can incorporate some of that charm into our landscape

When you think of architecture and Europe, the buildings you normally tend to visualise would be the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome, the Big Ben in London, the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, the Tower Bridge of London, the pensive castles of France, the austere cathedrals of Italy and perhaps more if you share a keen interest in architecture and had the opportunity to visit Europe.

What we know as ‘architecture’ in Europe is, by and large, situated within city limits. However, European landscape is dotted with pristine, tiled cottages made of clay or bricks, which are no less a visual delight, adding a special charm to the lush green, pollution-free surroundings of the stately European countryside.

Whether it is the rounded arches of the Romanesque School or the ribbed vaulting and pointed arches of Notre Dame, the classical order of renaissance buildings in Italy, France and England or the more recently seen modern and post-modern buildings which resonate the characteristics of the Classical and the Gothic,European architecture is a marvel – to see from the outside, and to experience from within.

The durability of the materials used in European architecture has proved to be marvellous, with century-old buildings being tourist attractions till this day.

Decoding the charm

One of the most integral constituents of European architecture are the clay roof tiles used in buildings, preferred for their ease of maintenance, durable nature and thermal insulation property. European architecture basically comprises:

  • Neo-classical elements
  • Romanesque elements
  • Gothic and Renaissance elements

The Romanesque era of European architecture gave the entire world the much used rounded (or sometimes slightly pointed) arches. The style has survived centuries, and is still used in buildings all over the globe.

The Roman style of architecture had the essence of practicality, a pre-cursor to modern engineering, a very organisational mindset of its creators.

The main aim for Roman architects was to demonstrate grandeur and power of Rome. To this end, they mastered a number of important architectural techniques, including the arch, the dome and the vault, as well as the use of concrete.

Gothic architecture, developed in the mid-12th century France, spread to other parts of Western Europe and became the predominant architectural style by the end of the Middle Ages. It succeeded the so-called Romanesque architecture from which it primarily distinguishes itself by extremely light and skeleton-likestructure.

The use of stained glass windows in Gothic European cathedrals introduced the concept of using the art to illustrate stories or scenes from folktales. The Renaissance in Europe awakened the world to ‘humanised’ architecture, where the proportions of the structure were premised upon the ideal proportion of the human body. This is best epitomised by the cohesive working of the various‘organs’ of the church in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Coming to India

Over the years, architecture has seen an effort to move back to the simplistic,utility-based structures of yore. Back to basics – but with the added advantage of cutting-edge technology and the latest information and tools.

A growing awareness about excessive energy consumption by buildings has lend a sense of urgency with regard to developing sustainable structures. This trend is evident in many nations, most notably perhaps in Europe, and is being fast imbibed by other nations as well.

India’s brush with European architecture has been mainly a response to the colonial heritage, from the Portuguese to the British. Some of the old bungalows dating back to the British occupation can be seen as an endeavour to tolerate and counter the high temperatures here, with high ceilings for ventilation, thick walls for insulation and a veranda or courtyard shading the main structure.

Europe experiences a host of weather conditions, from hot and humid to unbearably cold, with some cities even experiencing beautiful weather for most of the year. India’s immense diversity also extends to its weather, with the country having six major types of climate zones! Needless to say, the kind of weather experienced by certain European and Indian cities often overlap.

What’s more, there are many old structures in India that reflect the European way of building, such as the Kolkata’s General Post Office – which is a picture of the Classical and the Baroque; the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) in Mumbai is a perfect blend of Gothic Revival architecture; the Rashtrapathi Bhavan of New Delhi; the Vidhana Soudha of Bengaluru; Howrah Railway station in Kolkata.

All these provide exemplary European architecture right here on Indian soil. Most of the old buildings in hill stations of India reflect some style of Europe with conical roofs and stone houses…almost a picturesque postcard from Europe.

‘Responsive’ architecture derives its strength from primarily two aspects – the design and placement of the structure whereby the naturally available elements may be put to the best use depending on the topographical climate, and the ‘green’ materials used to build the structure. Since the weather in certain European and Indian cities is similar, their architecture can also be adopted, and perhaps India is now awakening to this understanding.

Back to basics

But the question to be asked is: How can Europe can be brought to Indian homes in an architectural way? Can our humble homes have some of the European charm? Certainly! Here are a few tips to do help us do that:

  • Construction of Iberian gallery patios, such as those present in abundance in Puducherry, adds that Spanish touch to buildings.
  • Romanesque and pre-Romanesque frontal arches (such as the one best evidenced at the Gateway of India in Mumbai, albeit smaller for buildings) that compliment the height of a structure.
  • Adding deep verandahs aligning to European architecture offers shade and functionality, imparting a sense of dignity and presence as well as providing a welcome respite from the severe rays of the sun.
  • Adding pediment centrepieces using clay tiles can give the soul of European architecture to your masterpiece.
  • Curved bays and arched windows are another element which must be added to nail the European charm.
  • Adding facades in the exterior adds grace to the building, supporting the European theme.

Authored By A Wienerberger Building Expert.

The article was originally published on Deccan Herald 

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