Constructing a Shared Vision: Otto Koenigsberger and Tata & Sons
Although Otto Koenigsberger (1908-1999) began working in India eight years before the country won independence, he was not part of the British Raj’s colonial enterprise. As Government Architect of the semi-autonomous Princely Mysore State and later as Federal Director of Housing, as well as through his private architecture and planning practice, Koenigsberger worked on building the independent Indian nation from within. In this paper I will argue that the high profile private commissions for Tata & Sons—a privately owned and hugely influential industrial corporation committed to nationalism and philanthropy—both forwarded Koenigsberger’s career and directly contributed to building the infrastructure of independent India.
As the basis for their sustained and successful collaboration, I will demonstrate that Koenigsberger’s notion of a locally rooted, research-based “scientific architecture,” overlapped with the Tata Group’s philosophy of advancing India through science and technology. Moreover I will shed light on the networks of India’s cultural elite, illustrating that connections in the international realm of physics were responsible for the initial contact between the refugee architect and the industrial concern. While showing that his work with the Tatas enabled Koenigsbergerto realise his architectural and planning goals more fully than his work as a government architect, I propose that the vision shared by Koenigsberger and the Tatas, and the projects they undertook, played a role in the dissolution of the British empire in India.
Geographical index :India, India - Maharashtra - Mumbai [Bombay] - Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, India - Mysore State
Subject index :Koenigsberger Otto (1908-1999)
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1Otto Koenigsberger (1908-1999) is best known for his pioneering work on architecture, housing and planning issues in places that, during his lifetime, were variously referred to as the colonies, the tropics, the third world and the developing world. These contributions were made in his capacities as director of the Tropical Department at the Architectural Association in London and the Development Planning Unit at University College London, as well as in his positions as advisor to the United Nations and the World Bank and to independent nation states. In contrast, despite its impact on his later work, the formative part of his career, undertaken in exile in India between 1939 and 1951, remains less well understood.
2Koenigsberger, a Berliner of Jewish background who studied architecture under Hans Poelzig, fled Germany in 1933, arriving in Mysore State in the south of India after assisting the archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt in Egypt and Switzerland for five years. Despite having only built a few small buildings in Germany, Koenigsberger was quickly made Government Architect of Mysore State and, less than a decade later, was appointed Director of Housing to the newly independent Republic of Indiain 1948. In that position he was responsible for providing housing solutions for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who had fled Pakistan following partition.They included producing a low-cost prefabricated housing system and developing a new town policy that was based on the principle of aided self-help and aimed to create sustainable urban communities in 'underdeveloped' regions of the country.Koenigsberger’s success in India is remarkable. And it raises the question: how did a foreign refugee with practically no reputation and very little professional experience before entering the country come to develop India’s national urban planning and housing policies?
3In this paper I will argue that an important role in Koenigsberger’s rise to the top was played by the projects he worked on with Tata & Sons, a pioneering industrial corporation that spearheaded India’s indigenous industrial development and, by the 1940s, wielded substantial political influence. In contrast to much of Koenigsberger’s work as Government Architect of Mysore State, the Tata projects were high profile and prestigious, and helped him expand his reputation as an architect and planner beyond the borders of Mysore State. Moreover, due to their shared commitment to science, technology and progress, Koenigsberger was able to fulfill his architectural ambitions to a greater extent with the private corporation than in his work for the more conservative Mysore State government. Although Koenigsberger worked for the Tatas as an architect and urban planner, only his architectural work will be discussed in detailhere. This paper will examine a selection of four projects—the departments of Aeronautical Engineering and Metallurgy, and the Dining Hall/Auditorium at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, as well as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bombay (now Mumbai). In addition to illustrating how Koenigsberger’s and Tatas’ professional approaches and philosophies overlapped, I will show that the initial connections between Koenigsberger and the Tatas stemmed from personal relationships in the international networks of science and not, as one might assume, architecture.
- 1 Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, London: Meridian, 1956, p. 306 (written 1942-1944, first (...)
- 2 “Mysore Indians Help Themselves”, Life, no. 94-98, May 12, 1941, p. 94.
4Before his appointment as Director of Housing, Koenigsberger was employed as Government Architect of Mysore State. As such, he neither served the British Government of India, nor was he part of the British colonial enterprise, but was the employee of a nationalist Indian state government. In contrast to many regions of India that were under the direct control of the British Raj, as a “Princely State” Mysore enjoyed a degree of internal administrative independence. As the first state in India to introduce a representative assembly, provide electric power to rural areas and establish a compulsory education programme, Mysore was dubbed 'progressive.' Its hydroelectric stations, steel plants, chemical, soap, cement, cigarette and paper factories led Nehru to call it “industrially the most advanced” Indian state,1 while LIFE magazine described it as a “splendid bright spot in the total picture of India.”2
5Symbolically ruled by the Maharajas of the Wodeyar dynasty, it was an appointed diwan, or prime minister, who effectively ran the state government from Bangalore City. When Koenigsberger arrived in Bangalore in April 1939, Mirza Ismail (1883-1959) was the diwan of Mysore State. Ismail, a Muslim in control of a predominantly Hindu state of around 7.3 million people, was continuing the work of a predecessor, the engineer Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya (1861-1962), who had set Mysore on a modernization course earlier in the century with his motto “industrialize or perish!” In addition to pioneering industrially, Mysore State was also committed to forwarding education. In architectural terms, however, Mysore State was neither ambitiously modern nor progressive. Despite its “independence”, the colonial building practices of the British-governed Civil and Military Station in Bangalore had influenced the architectural aspirations of the local Indian political and cultural elite, who embraced the wide streets of the cantonment, the bungalow typology, and the picturesque fusion of European neo-classicism with Indian architectural elements, employing them in urban extensions and public buildings in Bangalore City. While Koenigsberger, who had been educated during the height of German modernism and considered himself a modern architect, admired the work of Lutyens and Shoosmith in Delhi, he deplored decorative, “dishonest” and ostentatious architecture and the gratuitous use of pompous architectural features such as porticos and domes. His work in Mysore, especially under Ismail, is marked by a conflict between the revivalist, dome-topped desires of the government and local investors, and his own striving for a more functional architecture based on an understanding of indigenous social practices, building methods and materials, and climate (fig. 1-2).
Figure 1: Bangalore City Bus Terminus, completed in December 1940.
Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive.
Figure 2: The Krishna Rao Pavilion in Bangalore, completed in 1941.
The Pavilion illustrates the awkward results of Mysore State’s demands for domes and symmetry, and Koenigsberger’s aim to create 'honest', functional architecture.
6Although kept busy by his work as Government Architect, Koenigsberger was committed to establishing a private architecture and planning practice and to becoming part of the local, and later national, architecture scene. He achieved this by writing articles for local publications and by giving lectures on architecture and planning-related themes. During his first six months in Bangalore, Koenigsberger gave two lectures, “Scientific Research in Architecture” at the annual meeting of the Mysore Engineers’ Association, and “Modern Architecture” at Mysore Engineering College, that reveal a great deal about his approach to building in India. Both lectures addressed the need for a science-based architecture, an idea that had been propagated by the CIAM network in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Victor Bourgeois summed up this scientific approach advocated by CIAM as follows:
- 3 Victor Bourgeois, “The Organization of Minimum Apartment Construction”, in Die Wohnung für das Exi (...)
As regards working method, Architecture may well be ranked with what is known as the exact sciences. In present times, Architecture, owing to its close touch with experimental science, favours the analytic method, which proceeds from the investigation of facts to the formation of rules. We hold that in the first instance we have to probe into the natural data, represented by the physical laws of the atmosphere, light, temperature and sound. In other words: we ought to look at building from the viewpoint of its relation to Man, that is to a living being that needs air, light, rest and warmth.3
7In his own lectures Koenigsberger further developed these ideas. After making an argument for functionalism he observed:
the really modern architect is only he who takes the trouble—and it involves a lot of work and trouble—to apply to his profession the principles of scientific research.
- 4 Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive (hereafter OKPA), “Scientific Research in Architecture”, lect (...)
8Indeed, Koenigsberger goes so far as to suggest that India could become a pioneer in developing “a new scientific architecture,” equating it to the creation of a national style.4In a third lecture, “The Problem of a National Style in Indian Architecture”, he set out a three-point plan of action towards achieving his vision:
First, the needs of our present generation have to be studied very carefully. It is not so much the study of the needs of the Maharajas and other rich people which will help us forward but the study of the many millions in India who earn less that Rs 100/month.
Secondly we will have to study the materials which are locally available. But we shall have to study and use them not in the manner of the craftsman who has inherited a few thumb rules from his ancestors and applies materials in the way he thinks best on the spot while doing the work. We shall have to use our local materials with modern scientific methods, that is after exactly testing their qualities in laboratories and drawing the maximum profit out of the minimum quantity of material.
9These ideas influenced the production of Koenigsberger’s architecture, especially the buildings he constructedwith the Tatas, to whom I will now turn.
- 6 The seven sectors are: communications and information technology, engineering, materials, services (...)
10Today, the Tata Group is a multinational conglomerate based in Mumbai. In 2011 its total revenue was $83.3 billion, 60% of which was generated outside India. With over 425,000 employees, 3.6 million shareholders and 114 operating companies in seven business sectorsin more than 80 countries, the Tata group is currently India’s most valuable company—worth an estimated $98.7 billion in 2011.6 Cyrus Mistry, the current CEO, is the sixth member of the extended Tata family dynasty to chair the company which was founded in 1868.
- 7 There are approx. 70,000 Parsis in India, the majority of which live in Bombay. Jesse S. Palsetia, (...)
- 8 For the relationship between philanthropy and architecture in particular in British India, especia (...)
11The Tata family belongs to the minority Parsi community and is descended from a line of Zoroastrian priests who originated in pre-Islamic Iran.7 As a group, the Parsis succeeded in preserving their identity within India through religious practice and endogamy, while speaking Indian languages, adopting Indian eating customs and wearing Indian dress, as well as transforming forms of social organisation, such as the caste system and the panchayat, to serve their own needs. Their assimilation continued under British colonial rule, during which they embraced certain British cultural values, particularly formal education. The Parsis gradually became incorporated into the economic and political world of British power, evolving from a provincial Gujarati minority into an influential, educated colonial elite in urban Bombay. Embedded in the Parsi culture is a commitment to improving the world through progress and philanthropy.8 In the Tatas’ case, progress was to be achieved through industrialisation founded in science and technology.
- 9 Frank Harris, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata: A Chronicle of his Life, Bombay: Blackie, 1958, p. 6–11. (...)
- 10 The mills were well ventilated and included automatic sprinkler systems and humidifiers.
12Jamsetji Nusserwanji (JN) Tata (1839-1904) created Tata & Sons as an East-Asian offshoot of his father’s Bombay general merchants business, accruing wealth through the “handsome profits” he made by importing Indian opium to China, supplying 16,000 Indian troops for their campaign in Abyssinia, and converting a failing oil press into a cotton mill.9 In 1874, JN Tata began revolutionising the Indian cotton industry. He invested his capital in state-of-the-art cotton mills in Nagpur, a cotton-growing region 500 miles from India’s fledgling cotton industry in Bombay, using the most contemporary technology and machinery imported from the UK and the USA. The mills opened on 1 January 1877, the day Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. In her honour, JN Tata called his enterprise the 'Empress Mills.' As well as trying to create a safe, hygienic working environment,10 JN Tata developed a rewards and welfare scheme for his workers, which acknowledged loyalty, and paid disability compensation and pensions. This perhaps marks the beginning of Tata&Son’s widely advertised commitment to corporate social responsibility. In 1895 JN Tata is quoted as saying:
- 11 Aman Nath and Jay Vithalani, Horizons: The Tata-India Century, Bombay: India Book House, 2004, p. (...)
We do not claim to be more unselfish, more generous or more philanthropic than other people. But we think we started on sound and straightforward business principles, considering the interests of the shareholders our own, and the health and welfare of our employees the sure foundation of our prosperity.11
13In 1886 JN Tata pumped the huge profits from the Empress Mills into bankrupt mills in Bombay, which he refurbished to produce fine quality cloth that could compete internationally. Twenty years later, the name of the mills, “Swadeshi,” meaning “self-sufficiency,” became the title of an independence strategy whereby imported British goods were boycotted. The name of the mills is indicative of a shift in JN Tata’s attitude towards both the British Empire and the inherent potential of the Indian nation.
- 12 Franck Harris, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, op. cit., p. 116 (note 9).
- 13 Aman Nath and Jay Vithalani, Horizons, op. cit., p. 29 (note 11). Tata built the Taj Mahal Hotel i (...)
- 14 Jesse S. Palsetia, The Parsis of India, op. cit., p. 60 (note 7).
14The Tata business grew, allowing JN Tata to expand his horizons and lay plans for the “betterment of India.”12 While continuing to invest in Bombay, towards the end of his life he turned his pragmatic patriotism and constructive entrepreneurship to three new territories—steel production, electricity generation and higher education.13 After his death, these schemes—India’s first indigenous steel plant at Jamshedpur; a hydroelectric power station near Bombay; and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore—were realised by his sons. By the time Koenigsberger arrived in India in 1939, JN Tata’s business enterprise had long since “set the standard for industrial growth, technical innovation and economic self-sufficiency in India.”14 Under the leadership of JRD Tata, the company also expanded into aviation and politics. It was JRD Tata who instigated and steered the development of the “Bombay Plan” in 1944, an economic plan drawn up by leading entrepreneurs, including many connected to the Tata family, and technocrats as a basis for independent India’s economic development.
15Having established the background and potential suitability for collaboration between Koenigsberger and the Tatas through their shared beliefs in science and progress, it remains to be seen how the Government Architect of Mysore State in Bangalore came into contact with the Bombay-based industrial powerhouse. The answer lies somewhere between quantum mechanics and cosmic rays in the international networks of science of the 1930s, embodied in the figures of the physicists Max Born (1882-1970) and Homi Bhabha (1909-1966), and focused on the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore.
- 15 Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service.
16Koenigsberger’s maternal uncle was Max Born, an eminent theoretical physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1954 for his fundamental research in quantum mechanics. When new Nazi laws forced him from his professorship at the University of Göttingen in 1933, Born migrated to the UK, taking on a part-time, low-paying lecturing job at the University of Cambridge.15 In the winter of 1935, Born began a six-month visiting professorship at the physics department of the IISc. During his stay, Mirza Ismail inquired if Born knew a non-English architect who could help with Mysore State’s expansive building programme. Born recommended Koenigsberger, who arrived in Bangalore three years later.
17Homi Bhabha, who was born in Bombay, studied engineering and physics at the University of Cambridge from 1927-1938. It was here that he met Max Born. By 1934, Bhabha’s research on electron cascade showers had secured his reputation and he quickly became part of the European physics elite. Around the same time as Koenigsberger’s arrival in India, Bhabha, who could not find a permanent job in Europe, came to Bangalore on holiday. When World War II broke out, he was prevented from returning to Cambridge and began lecturing at the IISc. Through their mutual connection to Max Born, Koenigsberger and Bhabha met and struck up a lasting friendship, which was to prove vital to Koenigsberger’s career: Homi Bhabha was a doorway into the powerful realm of India’s industrial, cultural and political elite, and to the Tatas. Not only did Bhabha teach at a Tata-funded and governed institute, but he also came from a wealthy Parsi family. Through his family and the Parsi community, Homi Bhabha was incredibly well connected. As Robert Anderson puts it,
18Bhabha’s uncle was Dorab Tata, JN Tata’s eldest son.
Figure 3: Max Born (left) and Homi Bhabha (centre) at a conference at the Niels Bohr Institute in 1936.
Photograph by Nordisk Pressefoto, Niels Bohr Institute, courtesy AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, Margrethe Bohr Collection.
- 17 Malathi Ramanathan and B.V. Subbarayappa, “Indian Institute of Science: Its Origin and Growth, 190 (...)
19Considering the links to Max Born and Homi Bhabha, it is not surprising that Koenigsberger’s first architecture commissions involving the Tata family were at the IISc, India’s first post-graduate research institute and one of the three projects initiated by JN Tata before his death. Noting that the industrial progress of the West had run parallel with the development of scientific and industrial research, JN Tata decided to bequeath around half of his significant personal fortune to the foundation of a science university. Modelled on the John Hopkins University in Baltimore, it would educate the best graduates from India’s universities, which were at the time examining rather than teaching institutions. While the first documentation of his idea dates from 1896,17 the crux of his concept is summed up in the following quotation from 1899:
- 18 Quoted from the West Coast Spectator (9 February 1899), in Franck Harris, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tat (...)
What advances a nation or community is not so much to prop up its weakest and the most helpless members, as to lift the best and the most gifted so as to make them of the greatest service to the country. I prefer this constructive philanthropy which seeks to educate and develop the faculties of the best of our young men.18
- 19 As this quotation from a letter from T. Raleigh to Walter Lawrence (private secretary to the Vicer (...)
20Implementing JN Tata’s vision proved difficult, not least because the British Government of India did not immediately embrace it. Not only were they unwilling to invest in the project, they were not convinced that Tata’s concept was viable.19 In reaction to the scheme, and in complete opposition to JN Tata’s sentiment, Viceroy Lord Curzon stated disparagingly:
- 20 David Dilks, Curzon in India: Achievement, London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1969, vol. 1, p. 244.
To start with polytechnics, and so on, is like presenting a naked man with a top-hat when what he wants is a pair of trousers.20
- 21 Kim P. Sebaly, “The Tatas and university reform in India, 1898‐1914”, History of Education: Journa (...)
- 22 Quoted from the Francis Simon Papers, Royal Society of London, Letter from Max Born to Francis Si (...)
21The Tatas’ struggle to implement the university scheme eventually forced the British Government of India to re-evaluate and change its education policies.21 Finally, in May 1909, after around 13 years of protracted, perplexing and complex negotiations, the colonial government passed a resolution in favour of the institute. Later that year, with additional contributions from Mysore State, the IISc’s foundation stone was laid in Bangalore on a leafy 370-acre campus. By the 1930s the IISc boasted physics, chemistry, and electro-technics departments and, with the Nobel laureate CV Raman as its first Indian director, had developed an international reputation impressive enough to attract figures such as Max Born and Homi Bhabha. According to Born, the IISc was a focus of national attention, “visited daily by politicians, journalists, etc. and plays a great role in the public.”22
- 23 B. V. Subbarayappa, In Pursuit of Excellence, op. cit., p. 79 (note 19).
- 24 Robert Anderson, Nucleus and Nation, op. cit., p. 101 (note 16).
22Koenigsberger’s buildings at the IISc represent an expansion of his architectural practice and a move into more experimental terrain. With supporters such as Homi Bhabha, an influential and senior member of the esteemed physics department whose grandfather had been a member of the first IISc Council,23 and the Tata family, who were committed to modernisation and progress, the conditions at the IISc were perhaps more conducive to architectural experiment than in projects controlled by Mysore State. Although the Tatas were well represented on the IISc Council and “the institute’s governors were strongly allied to the Tata Group of companies,”24 they did not commission the buildings alone. However they were involved in the decisions regarding the architecture of the institute. I posit that Koenigsberger had a freer rein at the IISc than in many of his other projects, and that the architecture he created expresses that.
23Under the directorship (1939-1948) of CV Raman’s replacement, JC Ghosh, and in line with what the National Planning Committee was attempting to achieve at a national level, the IISc embarked on a course of planned development and expansion. As part of the first four-year plan, which was drawn up in 1941, the IISc committed to advanced instruction and research in, amongst other subjects, aeronautical engineering.
- 25 Pradip N. Khandwalla, “Generators of Pioneering-Innovative Management: Some Indian Evidence”, Orga (...)
- 26 Sujan Kumar Saraswati, “Civil Aviation Environment in India”, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. (...)
- 27 B. V. Subbarayappa, In Pursuit of Excellence, op. cit., p. 161 (note 19).
- 28 The aircraft factory project was co-instigated by William D. Pawley, a US entrepreneur who Hiracha (...)
- 29 B. V. Subbarayappa, In Pursuit of Excellence, op. cit., p. 162 (note 19).
24In 1940 the application by Walchand Hirachand (1882-1953), “one of the foremost Indian pioneering entrepreneurs,”25 to set up an aircraft factory to assemble and repair aircraft was sanctioned by Mysore State.26 Due to the outbreak of the Second World War, the British Government of India was prepared to join with Mysore State in investing in the project, and in July 1941 Hindustan Aircraft Limited produced India’s first aircraft—the Harlow trainer—in Bangalore. Analogous to the manufacturing project, and also due to the war, the British Government of India offered the IISc an initial investment sum along with recurring grants to establish an Aeronautical Engineering Department for “training purposes.”27 Again Mysore State agreed to co-finance the project, and WD Pawley, chairman and cofounder of Hindustan Aircraft Limited, made the training more appealing by providing four-year scholarship grants for selected students to continue their aeronautical studies at an American institution.28 Walchand Hirachand donated his own plane to the institute to aid “practical teaching and demonstration.”29 Koenigsberger was tasked with designing the building.
- 30 Ibid., p. 192.
25The most ambitious element of Koenigsberger’s design is undoubtedly the 30m long elliptical low-speed closed circuit wind tunnel (fig. 4). The wind tunnel loop, which has a test section of 2.2m x 1.5m, and a maximum wind speed of about 200mph, was cast in concrete and partially embedded in the ground. Short granite buttresses provided additional support. Instead of covering the concrete structure, Koenigsberger, no doubt following his own aim of architectural honesty, exposed it. It was India’s first closed-circuit wind tunnel, and Koenigsberger considered its construction, in light of the limited resources and technical expertise available, a huge achievement. Indeed, at the time, the Aeronautical Engineering department at the IISc was the “only place in India where facilities existed for training and research, both theoretical and experimental in Aeronautical Engineering.”30
Figure 4: Plan of the Aeronautical Engineering Department showing the loop of the wind tunnel perpendicular to the body of the building.
Archives and Publications Cell, Indian Institute of Science.
- 31 A chajja is an architectural element that projects from the façade of a building, often above wind (...)
26Straddling the wind tunnel is the main building of the Aeronautical Engineering Department. In contrast to the monolithic concrete wind tunnel, the Aeronautical Engineering building is built of white-painted plaster-covered bricks on top of a granite plinth. On the narrow east-facing elevation, a cantilevered porch canopy, which is somewhat reminiscent of a wing, marks the main entrance (fig. 5). The elongated rectangular block contains a laboratory, a lecture theatre and a drawing classroom at ground level, with offices for the professor and an assistant situated in rooms directly above the wind tunnel. Koenigsberger relies on passive techniques for ventilating the building. The south-facing access corridor protects the main spaces from solar gain and, because it is slightly lower than the main spaces, allows for ventilators to be fitted at the top of the walls in the teaching spaces. The narrow plan enables effective cross ventilation and the north-facing elevation provides natural light to the main spaces through two blocks of tall recessed window openings protected from glare and rain by thin bands of black-edged chajjas.31
Figure 5: The entrance to the Aeronautical Engineering Department with the wind tunnel visible behind the trees on the left.
- 32 “The Common Dining Hall at the Indian Institute of Science”, Architectural Forum, June 1946, p. 89 (...)
- 33 B. V. Subbarayappa, In Pursuit of Excellence, op. cit., p 157 (note 19).
27The hybrid Dining Hall/Auditorium building was published in the Architectural Forum in 1946 as an example of a contemporary building in the modern idiom, constructed in South India within “the strict limits of available materials and construction methods.”32 It was commissioned in 1943 as part of the new director JC Ghosh’s attempt to reshape and optimise the campus.33 In addition to its role as a canteen, the building also had to function as an auditorium for singers, instrumental soloists and lecturers unaided by microphones and with a seating capacity for an audience of up to 300 people.
- 34 Sriram Shastry, “Nautam Bhagwanlal Bhatt (1909–2005)”, Current Science, vol. 89, no. 5, September (...)
28Koenigsberger’s solution to the plan is based on a central wedge-shaped auditorium space around which the subsidiary spaces are symmetrically arranged (fig. 6). In order to optimise the acoustical performance of the building, Koenigsberger collaborated with NB Bhatt, a specialist in architectural acoustics who was at the time working at the Electrical Technology Department of the IISc, and who is credited as co-designer in the Architectural Forum article.34 To improve the acoustics, the ceiling of the auditorium space, which includes a balcony area, is parabolic and the rear wall is punctured with openings and punctuated by convex columns to minimise reflections. Located at the narrow end of the wedge-shaped plan are the stage, the green room, and the warden’s office, while the curved tract at the opposite end of the building houses the cloakrooms, lobby, and kitchens. Possibly for acoustic reasons, as well as for servicing and hygiene, rather than integrate the kitchens into the body of the building, Koenigsberger docked the single storey buildings onto it. Spatially separated by the cloakroom and entrance area, the separate vegetarian and non-vegetarian kitchens functioned completely independently.
Figure 6: Plan of the Dining Hall/Auditorium illustrating the large central space and the separate vegetarian and non-vegetarian kitchens.
Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive.
29Due to the limitations in available materials and construction methods, the building is built of bricks and rendered in white-painted plaster. As steel was unavailable, Koenigsberger had to develop an alternative solution for the roof construction (fig. 7). He employed timber trusses in various spans and heights, which are responsible for the sloping form of the roof. The longest truss is circa 3.3m high. Like the window frames and doors, the parabolic ceiling suspended from the timber roof construction was made of teak, a local material that was evidently not affected by wartime shortages.
Figure 7: Section through the Dining Hall/Auditorium showing the timber trusses and the parabolic curve of the ceiling.
Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive
30Access and lighting to the large, bright interior dining hall space is provided by two blocks of glazed doors and windows on both sides of the auditorium. These openings dominate the side elevations and are framed by chajjas that wrap around their sides and tops. These playful chajjas have a welcoming effect, as if they are trying to draw people into the interior of the building, or broadcast the performances, and are an example of Koenigsberger’s creative experimentation with indigenous architectural elements. With all the doors open, as they presumably often were, the interior space would have merged with the terraces outside, which were probably also used as dining areas.
Figure 8: The Dining Hall/Auditorium viewed from the side and showing the chajjas that wrap around the doors.
Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive.
31Archival photographs of the Dining Hall/Auditorium show the building in pristine condition standing alone in sylvan surroundings (fig. 8). Its perfection is slightly surreal. As in many other cases, the building is painted white, with certain features—the rooflines, chimney caps and columns—accentuated in black. In the case of the Dining Hall/Auditorium the lines of the openings, chajjas, and roofs are drawn so precisely that they seem to punctuate the architecture in a rudimentary form of Morse code. In addition to the black marks, some areas—a section of wall around the kitchen windows and the inside of the extravagant chajjas—are coloured, possibly in blue or red. More than many of Koenigsberger’s earlier buildings, the Dining Hall/Auditorium embodies hybridity, both in its functional usage and its architectural expression. The wrap-around chajjas and large glazed openings are neither Indian nor European, but something new.
32As with the Department of Aeronautical Engineering, the decision to create a Metallurgy Department was taken in 1941. The origin of the idea to conduct metallurgical research at the IISc, however, can be traced back to 1915, when Padshah, advisor to the Tatas, suggested that a metallurgy department be founded to work in cooperation with the Tata Iron and Steel Works in Jamshedpur, which had been established in 1907. Although his proposal was provisionally accepted, the Tatas took 26 years to meet the condition that the Iron and Steel Works provide an endowment. The department was not formally established until 1945, and the laboratory building was completed three years later, in 1948. In addition to the Tatas, Mysore Government also provided substantial recurring and non-recurring grants.
33Built over two storeys, the major rooms of the long, narrow building face north and a wide veranda faces south (fig. 9). In terms of spatial organisation, the ground floor of the Metallurgy Department was reserved for classrooms and offices, and the first floor housed laboratories, as well as a lecture theatre and a terrace. One of the two concrete staircases, which were cast in-situ, provides access to the flat, tiled roof, which could have been used as an additional terrace. As in many of Koenigsberger’s buildings, the floor plan is kept narrow to allow air to circulate via the veranda through the ventilation openings above the windows and doors in the internal wall and out through the windows on the external facade of the laboratories.
Figure 9: Metallurgy Department showing the south-facing verandas (left) and the lecture hall (right).
Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive.
34With the war over, a wider range of building materials was becoming increasingly available, and this is the first building in which Koenigsberger was able to employ concrete to any great extent as a structural material. The Metallurgy Department is a mixed construction of load-bearing granite masonry on the ground floor, and a combination of concrete columns and beams, and granite and brick masonry above. As well as freeing up the plan and allowing for large laboratory spaces, in this building the use of a concrete structure on the first floor enabled Koenigsberger to eliminate columns from the first floor verandas. As a result, the view from the first floor veranda is unbroken, amplifying the fusion of internal and external space. Equally striking is the fenestration on the north side of the large first floor laboratories. The concrete columns behind the facade free it from its load-bearing role and allow it to become a wall of windows (fig. 10). In the articulation of these windows, I posit that Koenigsberger creates a modern interpretation of the jalli screen (fig. 11).
Figure 10: The north-facing band of glazing in the Metallurgy Department.
Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive.
Figure 11: An interpretation of the jalli screen in the laboratories of the Metallurgy Department.
Source: Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive.
35The culmination of Koenigsberger’s architectural work with the Tatas and Homi Bhabha might have been building the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). Founded by Bhabha in 1945, TIFR became one of India’s most groundbreaking and internationally respected scientific research institutes and pioneered India’s nuclear energy programme. Realising the potential implications of his social and professional status within a nation on the path to independence, after the Second World War Bhabha decided to stay in India rather than return to Europe. Moreover, he rejected offers of professorships at the University of Allahabad and the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science at Calcutta in order to concentrate on building his own institute. Writing to Saklatvala in 1944 he expressed his feelings:
- 35 Letter from Homi Bhabha to Saklatvala, 12 March 1944, quoted from Menon “Bhabha” in Robert Anderso (...)
In the last two years I have come more and more to the view that provided proper appreciation and financial support are forthcoming, it is one’s duty to stay in one’s country and build up schools comparable with those that other countries are fortunate in possessing.35
36In June 1945, the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust agreed to support the proposed institute financially. Bangalore, however, was not part of Bhabha’s ambitious plan; he intended to house the fledgling institute in his family’s bungalow in Bombay while a purpose-built building was erected to Koenigsberger’s designs at another site in the city. In a letter to Max Born, Koenigsberger writes:
37The four archival drawings which I have found pertaining to TIFR, prepared by Koenigsberger in June 1946, show a strikingly modern building located somewhere on Bombay’s coast (fig. 12). His scheme for the institute appears to consist of two separate asymmetrical oblong blocks: a five-storey theoretical/main block and a lower experimental block; theoretical and experimental physics research was clearly not to be undertaken under the same roof. The theoretical block includes administrative spaces and lecture halls at the entrance level, a library above, followed by two floors of research spaces, labs and 'calculating machines' topped by a recreation level with open air terraces, a kitchen and a lunch room.
Figure 12: South-facing elevation of the theoretical block at TIFR.
Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive
- 37 OKPA: Drawings prepared for TIFR; Preliminary Plans; Theoretical Block, presumably 1946.
38In this project, Koenigsberger underscored the dramatic nature of the waterfront site and the exceptional function of the building by raising it above the coastal rocks and water on pilotis, whereby the sea view is framed by the pilotis and the landscape continues to flow beneath the building. In addition, the entrance level is ringed by 2m wide verandas, theatrically “cantilevered over the sea” and protected from the sun by a band of projecting angular chajjas.37 Perhaps by literally locating the building amongst the waves of the Arabian Sea, and exposing it and its inhabitants to the elements, he hoped to immerse the scientists in the nature of the matter they were studying.
39Abandoning climatic design principles to further take advantage of the ocean view, the main spaces face south and are accessed by a colonnaded passage on the north side. To avoid overheating and glare, these south-facing spaces required additional solar protection, and in this project – and quite possibly only in this project – Koenigsberger defined the upper levels of the south elevation with a 1m deep reinforced concrete brise soleil made up of curved horizontal elements and rectilinear vertical fins (fig. 13). Probably in reference to both the ocean waves and to the research to be undertaken within the building, in section the horizontal sun breaks have the form of a sine curve.
Figure 13: Details of the sine curve-shaped sun breaks at TIFR.
Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive
40Typically, the depth of the plan is limited to one space plus the circulation passage to enable cross ventilation. The generous lobby area that complements the curving stairs on every level and the roof-top terrace provide additional air circulation space and social space for the institute’s employees. Despite Koenigsberger’s plans, building work did not begin in 1946. This was partly due to the Government and Port Authority failing to agree on a location for TIFR, and also because Bhabha’s institute was expanding rapidly. In the summer of 1947, Bhabha summoned Koenigsberger to Bombay to spend a month working on the plans:
- 38 TIFR Archive [D-2004-00385-11(1 - 2)] Letter from Homi Bhabha to Otto Koenigsberger, 28 May 1947.
The time has now come when work should be started on the preparation of the detailed plans for the Tata Institute. The Council feel, however, that it would be necessary for you, if you wish to undertake this work, to spend the entire period in Bombay during which the plans are prepared. […] We want the plans to be ready by the end of the monsoon so that building work may commence immediately.38
- 39 TIFR Archive [D-2004-00385-13(1 of 1)] Letter from Otto Koenigsberger to Mr N.D. Godbole, 14 Novem (...)
- 40 On concluding the project, Bartsch supposedly stated: “I have worked for many clients before. This (...)
41Later correspondence shows that Koenigsberger did indeed take time off from his work as Government Architect to revise the TIFR plans in Bombay.39 However, continuing problems with the choice of site hampered the work and the project was again put on hold. From 1948, due to his new commitments as Director of Housing and ongoing work in Bhubaneswar and Sindri, Koenigsberger could no longer devote time to the project. With his return to Europe, Koenigsberger’s plans were definitively shelved and the TIFR building was finally designed by Helmuth Bartsch of Holabird and Root, Chicago, with Homi Bhabha micromanaging all aspects of the design.40
42Nonetheless, Koenigsberger’s involvement in the project from the outset testifies to Bhabha’s (and the Tatas’) respect for him as an architect. Moreover, it evidences Koenigsberger’s ambition to work on high profile projects—TIFR was a project of national significance—and establish a reputation at a national level. It was not long before Koenigsberger would be approached by the national government.
43As has been shown above, Tata & Sons’ business thrived despite the British Government of India’s colonial agenda. Beyond typical corporate aims such as creating a profitable business, the Tatas’ loftier objective was to build a better, independent India. By investing their profits in bold projects such as the steel manufacturing industry at Jamshedpur, post-graduate research at the IISc, or even the fledgling hospitality industry in the form of the Taj Mahal Hotel at the waterfront in Mumbai, the Tatas contributed to India’s indigenous infrastructure as the country edged towards independence. While Tata & Sons certainly fulfilled all the criteria of a commercial corporation, the extent of their enterprise and their sphere of influence was much wider, incorporating a philanthropic philosophy, political activism, and an internationalist outlook. In a certain sense, Tata & Sons was a nation-building corporation, constructing the skeleton of modern India from within the thinning skin of empire.
44As an architect and planner in exile in India, Otto Koenigsberger shared the Tatas’ commitment to unlocking the nation’s potentials. Unimpressed by colonial architecture but fascinated by vernacular buildings, he searched for approaches to improve the standard of construction and guide urban development in India. Koenigsberger aspired to develop a low-cost, place-specific architecture, derived from the careful study of local cultural needs, environmental conditions, and existing building materials and forms. Simply put, Koenigsberger wanted to maximise and modernise the local. Brought into contact with the Tatas through familial connections and his friendship with Homi Bhabha, Koenigsberger found in them a loyal private client that supported his work and aided his career throughout his time in India, as well as sharing his faith in science, technology and education as the driving forces of progress.
- 41 Koenigsberger’s urban planning work for the Tatas icluded the design of workers’ housing at the Sw (...)
45Together, Koenigsberger and the Tatas cooperated on ground-breaking and technically challenging projects in which, due to their shared vision, Koenigsberger was able to implement his architectural ideas to a far greater extent than in his work with Mysore State. In his work with the Tatas, Koenigsberger developed an architecture that he considered appropriate for the emerging nation and thus contributed, albeit on a relatively small scale, to the nation building project during the last decade of imperial rule. Koenigsberger used his work with the Tatas to forward his own career, publishing an article in the Architectural Forum on the Dining Hall/Auditorium at IISc and in Marg magazine – the first Indian magazine to address modern architecture and planning, cofounded by Koenigsberger and financed by the Tatas – on the Jamshedpur Development Plan, the most significant of several urban planning projects he conducted for the Tatas.41 The publication of the Jamshedpur Development Planas a book in 1946 by the Tatas benefitted Koenigsberger as much as it did the industrial concern. Through the book, which makes a very professional impression and includes large foldout coloured drawings, Koenigsberger’s name began to be mentioned in government circles in New Delhi, which led to an invitation to work as a consultant to the national government:
- 42 OKPA: Letter from an unknown source in Delhi dated 21 March 1946.
The Central Government have seen the privately circulated publication regarding Dr. Koenigsberger’s work at Tatanagar [Jamshedpur] and believe he has the necessary vision to help in planning industrial housing on national lines.42
- 43 OKPA: Letter from Otto Koenigsberger to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur dated 12 April 1951.
46Two years later, and in no small part due to the reputation he established through his work for the Tatas, Koenigsberger was appointed Director of Housing in the first independent Indian government. As well as sharing the Tatas’ ideals, Koenigsberger’s approach to architecture and planning strongly overlapped with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision for India, and it was Nehru who was largely responsible for his appointment.43
47Although Koenigsberger’s career in India is certainly unique, it would be interesting to investigate whether similarly fruitful collaborations existed between architects and other pioneering corporate entities such as the Birlas or the Sarabhais, and establish the role they played in the dissolution of empire.
1 Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, London: Meridian, 1956, p. 306 (written 1942-1944, first published 1946)
2 “Mysore Indians Help Themselves”, Life, no. 94-98, May 12, 1941, p. 94.
3 Victor Bourgeois, “The Organization of Minimum Apartment Construction”, in Die Wohnung für das Existenzminimum, Frankfurt am Main: Englert & Schlosser, 1930, Appendix, p. 10.
4 Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive (hereafter OKPA), “Scientific Research in Architecture”, lecture to Annual Meeting of Mysore Engineers Association 06 January 1940.
5 OKPA, “The Problem of a National Style in Indian Architecture”, university extension lecture given on 13 September 1941 in Bangalore.
6 The seven sectors are: communications and information technology, engineering, materials, services, energy, consumer products and chemicals.
7 There are approx. 70,000 Parsis in India, the majority of which live in Bombay. Jesse S. Palsetia, The Parsis of India: preservation of identity in Bombay city, Leiden: Brill, 2001, p. 1.
8 For the relationship between philanthropy and architecture in particular in British India, especially concerning the Parsis, see Preeti Chopra, A Joint Enterprise: Indian Elites and the Making of British Bombay, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
9 Frank Harris, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata: A Chronicle of his Life, Bombay: Blackie, 1958, p. 6–11. Although opium was the most profitable enterprise, and legal at the time, he also imported cotton to China, Japan and Hong Kong and exported tea, silk, spices and metals to India. He and his father also supplied the British Army with water-casks, skins, blankets, food and wine.
10 The mills were well ventilated and included automatic sprinkler systems and humidifiers.
11 Aman Nath and Jay Vithalani, Horizons: The Tata-India Century, Bombay: India Book House, 2004, p. 32.
12 Franck Harris, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, op. cit., p. 116 (note 9).
13 Aman Nath and Jay Vithalani, Horizons, op. cit., p. 29 (note 11). Tata built the Taj Mahal Hotel in 1903 as well as several low-cost housing schemes and infrastructure projects
14 Jesse S. Palsetia, The Parsis of India, op. cit., p. 60 (note 7).
15 Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service.
16 Robert Anderson, Nucleus and Nation: Scientists, International Networks and Power in India, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010, p. 126.
17 Malathi Ramanathan and B.V. Subbarayappa, “Indian Institute of Science: Its Origin and Growth, 1909-1947”, in Science and Modern India: An Institutional History, c. 1784-1947, Delhi: Pearson Longman, 2010, p. 874.
18 Quoted from the West Coast Spectator (9 February 1899), in Franck Harris, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, op. cit., p. 123 (note 9).
19 As this quotation from a letter from T. Raleigh to Walter Lawrence (private secretary to the Viceroy Lord Curzon) on 5 March 1901 illustrates: “I said, 'You must not count on getting £4,300, or on getting anything. The Government of India does not subsidise things of this kind, and the Finance Department won’t look at your proposal.'” The letter is reproduced in full in Appendix IV of B. V. Subbarayappa, In Pursuit of Excellence: A History of the Indian Institute of Science, New Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill, 1992, p. 339–347.
20 David Dilks, Curzon in India: Achievement, London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1969, vol. 1, p. 244.
21 Kim P. Sebaly, “The Tatas and university reform in India, 1898‐1914”, History of Education: Journal of the History of Education Society, vol. 14, no. 2, 1985, p. 135.
22 Quoted from the Francis Simon Papers, Royal Society of London, Letter from Max Born to Francis Simon, 10 November 1935, in Nancy Thorndike Greenspan, The End of the Certain World: The Life and Science of Max Born, Chichester: Wiley & Sons, 2005, p. 205.
23 B. V. Subbarayappa, In Pursuit of Excellence, op. cit., p. 79 (note 19).
24 Robert Anderson, Nucleus and Nation, op. cit., p. 101 (note 16).
25 Pradip N. Khandwalla, “Generators of Pioneering-Innovative Management: Some Indian Evidence”, Organization Studies, vol. 8, no. 39, 1987, p. 41.
26 Sujan Kumar Saraswati, “Civil Aviation Environment in India”, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 36, no. 19, 2001, p. 1639–1645.
27 B. V. Subbarayappa, In Pursuit of Excellence, op. cit., p. 161 (note 19).
28 The aircraft factory project was co-instigated by William D. Pawley, a US entrepreneur who Hirachand had encountered on a clipper to China. The British Government of India, Mysore State and the Hirachand/Pawley partnership each owned a third of the factory and the British Government of India committed to annually purchasing 50 aircraft produced by the factory. Pawley was Chairman of the Board. See, Anthony R. Carrozza, William D. Pawley: The Extraordinary Life of the Adventurer, Entrepreneur and Diplomat who Cofounded the Flying Tigers, Washington DC: Potomac Books, 2012, p. 111–113. The British Government of India took control of the factory management in 1942, and in 1943 complete control was given to the US Air Force. Following independence the management of the company was passed over to the Federal Government of India and it was renamed Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
29 B. V. Subbarayappa, In Pursuit of Excellence, op. cit., p. 162 (note 19).
30 Ibid., p. 192.
31 A chajja is an architectural element that projects from the façade of a building, often above windows and doors. It protects openings in the façade from rain, direct sunlight and glare, and, by shading parts of the wall, also helps to regulate the temperature of the building.
32 “The Common Dining Hall at the Indian Institute of Science”, Architectural Forum, June 1946, p. 89.
33 B. V. Subbarayappa, In Pursuit of Excellence, op. cit., p 157 (note 19).
34 Sriram Shastry, “Nautam Bhagwanlal Bhatt (1909–2005)”, Current Science, vol. 89, no. 5, September 2005, p. 895.
35 Letter from Homi Bhabha to Saklatvala, 12 March 1944, quoted from Menon “Bhabha” in Robert Anderson, Nucleus and Nation, op. cit., p. 105 (note 16).
36 Letter from Otto Koenigsberger to Max Born, 16 July 1945 [Churchill Archives Centre: Born 1/2/2/6].
37 OKPA: Drawings prepared for TIFR; Preliminary Plans; Theoretical Block, presumably 1946.
38 TIFR Archive [D-2004-00385-11(1 - 2)] Letter from Homi Bhabha to Otto Koenigsberger, 28 May 1947.
39 TIFR Archive [D-2004-00385-13(1 of 1)] Letter from Otto Koenigsberger to Mr N.D. Godbole, 14 November 1947.
40 On concluding the project, Bartsch supposedly stated: “I have worked for many clients before. This was the first time I was working with the client”. See, Chintamani Deshmukh, Homi Jehangir Bhabha, National Book Trust, 2010, p. 29. How the contact between Bhabha and Bartsch came about is not clear. According to John Augur Holabird it was coincidental: “Bartsch was traveling around, and he met Dr. Bhaba, who was an atomic scientist from India, and Dr. Bhaba was going to build a research center for Mr. Tata, who was a rich Parsee in Bombay. Lo and behold, we ended up doing the Tata Center for Fundamental Research in Bombay”. See, The Art Institute of Chicago, “Oral history of John Augur Holabird (of Holabird & Root) / interviewed by Susan S. Benjamin”, The Chicago Architects’ Oral History Project. URL: http://digital-libraries.saic.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/caohp/id/6201/rec/4. Accessed January 5, 2012. Another theory is that Bhabha met Walter Gropius while in the USA and Gropius recommended Bartsch as a suitable architect.
41 Koenigsberger’s urban planning work for the Tatas icluded the design of workers’ housing at the Swadeshi Mills (1943), the highly influential Jamshedpur Development Plan (1944-1945) and a town planning scheme for Mithapur (1948), location of the Tata Chemicals Okha Salt works. Otto Koenigsberger, “The Story of a Town: Jamshedpur”, Marg (Marg Publications), vol. 1, no. 1, October 1946, p. 18–29.
42 OKPA: Letter from an unknown source in Delhi dated 21 March 1946.
43 OKPA: Letter from Otto Koenigsberger to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur dated 12 April 1951.Top of page
List of illustrations
|Title||Figure 1: Bangalore City Bus Terminus, completed in December 1940.|
|Credits||Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive.|
|Title||Figure 3: Max Born (left) and Homi Bhabha (centre) at a conference at the Niels Bohr Institute in 1936.|
|Credits||Photograph by Nordisk Pressefoto, Niels Bohr Institute, courtesy AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, Margrethe Bohr Collection.|
|Title||Figure 4: Plan of the Aeronautical Engineering Department showing the loop of the wind tunnel perpendicular to the body of the building.|
|Credits||Archives and Publications Cell, Indian Institute of Science.|
|Title||Figure 5: The entrance to the Aeronautical Engineering Department with the wind tunnel visible behind the trees on the left.|
|Title||Figure 6: Plan of the Dining Hall/Auditorium illustrating the large central space and the separate vegetarian and non-vegetarian kitchens.|
|Credits||Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive.|
|Title||Figure 7: Section through the Dining Hall/Auditorium showing the timber trusses and the parabolic curve of the ceiling.|
|Credits||Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive|
|Title||Figure 8: The Dining Hall/Auditorium viewed from the side and showing the chajjas that wrap around the doors.|
|Credits||Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive.|
|Title||Figure 9: Metallurgy Department showing the south-facing verandas (left) and the lecture hall (right).|
|Credits||Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive.|
|Title||Figure 10: The north-facing band of glazing in the Metallurgy Department.|
|Credits||Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive.|
|Title||Figure 11: An interpretation of the jalli screen in the laboratories of the Metallurgy Department.|
|Credits||Source: Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive.|
|Title||Figure 12: South-facing elevation of the theoretical block at TIFR.|
|Credits||Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive|
|Title||Figure 13: Details of the sine curve-shaped sun breaks at TIFR.|
|Credits||Otto Koenigsberger’s Private Archive|
Rachel Lee, « Constructing a Shared Vision: Otto Koenigsberger and Tata & Sons », ABE Journal [Online], 2 | 2012, Online since 01 July 2012, connection on 17 April 2014. URL : http://dev.abejournal.eu/index.php?id=356Top of page
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