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Industrial heritage as an interpretative framework : An Indian perspective

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9:30 AM, Tuesday 30 Aug 2022 (20 minutes)
Industrialisation is commonly perceived to be a phenomenon produced by the industrial revolution between the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe, which transformed agrarian societies into industrial ones. It laid the foundations of all modern cities and introduced new ways of working, organising labour and doing business. It is intrinsically linked to the global political, economic and social conditions. It not only played a key role in the spread and sustenance of imperialism and colonialism, but continues to shape the geo-political history of our contemporary world. British India (comprising the Indian subcontinent of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma) industrialised rapidly after the formal process of takeover by the British Crown in 1857. The establishment of the Railway System in 1858 provided access for the raw material from the rural hinterland to reach Britain through the ports of Bombay (Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkata) and Madras (Chennai). The primary industries established by the British in India were those of cotton and jute, coal mining and tea plantations. The first textile mill was established in Bombay in 1854 and grew rapidly to match the demand for Indian raw cotton that was created due to the blockade of ports in North America due to American Civil War (1861-1865). The first Jute Mill was set up in Rishra, Hooghly on the outskirts of Calcutta in 1855 and led to the development of the Jute industry in the region. The other industries set up in India during this time before the First World War were woollen textiles, tea and paper. The image of the modern metropolis was manifested in its urban form; mills, tenement housing estates, grand buildings and transportation networks. The use of industrial materials such as glass and cast iron defined the architecture during this era. In terms of architectural styles, while Victorian architecture was popularised in Britain and its colonies; at the turn of the century, Paris was the modern world capital. Its flamboyance and economic prosperity captured in its Art Nouveau and Belle Epoque (the Golden Age) style of art, architecture and fashion which became the image of modernity in the late 19th and early 20th century. In India, cities such as Bombay, Madras and Calcutta developed with British planning and engineering as the most modern cities in Asia at the time. Our cities are an agglomeration of physical manifestations of these changing ideologies from capitalism to socialism and eventually the global interconnected economy. Today, industrial heritage can be defined as an interpretative framework, a lens to observe our built environment in both the developed and developing worlds. Industrial heritage has played a significant role in identity building for the nation state as well as for cities and neighbourhoods. What then is its relevance in our contemporary lives given the constantly changing political, economic and social conditions?

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