Evolution of Hyderabad’s Architecture

Hyderabad is the twin sister of my hometown, Secunderabad, but over the years the two cities have merged into one, well almost. Here’s an article published in today’s edition of the Indian National daily newspaper, the Times of India. Unfortunately I could not find an online link of the published article, but here’s the scripted version.

And yes, its a bit longer than the printed one.

A drive through the city of Hyderabad offers what could rightly be touted as a slice of the city’s glorious and diamante past, and what better narrates the story of the evolution of a city better than its architecture!

Today enrobed in glazed facades and steely exteriors the face of the city has changed tremendously from the age-old bamboo stick building construction employed during the Mauryan reign.  But what is important to note is that the change has been more or less gradual, it is evolutionary in nature, and hardly a gimmicky, fast-sprung, unreasoned make-over.

Architecture is quite literally the face of a civilisation; it largely depends on cultural, technological and economic imprints. It’s often about making do with what’s available, reachable or largely attainable whether in terms of construction materials or workmanship. The way materials are used also has a huge part to play in the final outcome of building. It largely levers upon the skill of craftsmen and a whole lot of cultural insignia. Different rulers build differently, at times merging completely diverse techniques to create a new style and different time frames bring about whole different meanings to buildings of their eras.

The Mauryan Empire which was one of the earliest empires in the area mostly built with bamboo sticks, dried leaves, and mud. Barring the rock cut structures in the area surrounding Hyderabad; most of what were buildings then, were an assortment of rooms, zones or a combination of areas. It was the Buddhist period with a large influence of Asoka. When the Bahmanis struck chord after the decline of the Mauryans, there was a surge in the workmanship with stone. But the truly glorious period of architecture, the coming of a Hyderabad’s style unique began during the reign of Qutub Shah’s dynasty. Though the style is Islamic in content it is remarkably different from the Islamic Architecture seen in Northern India. The Deccan Islamic architecture saw a multitude of Islamic explorations with western styles and details. In the North the Islamic monuments were built by a blend of the Islamic ideals and requirements that were moulded in sync with the skill-sets of traditional local craftsmen, in Southern India and Hyderabad specifically the architectural styles were largely moulded on the western lines with Mughal ideals. The blend gives rise to a completely new style in form, some are labelled the Indo-Sarcenic while others are labelled Indo-Persian. It was during this time that the famous Golconda fort, a fine example of an impregnable fortress, an achievement at that time was built. It exhibits both architectural splendour and intelligence in equally fine measures. Having frustrated the furious Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, not just once but a couple of times, it was finally besieged by him only as an outcome of treachery within. The Qutub Shahi tombs are again fine examples of this period. The monument that the city is now very famous for, the Charminar was built by the Qutub Shahi Dynasty, as was the famous Hussain Sagar lake, though the Buddha Statue was added much later! All the monuments were built using lime and granite mortar. They also exhibit fine workmanship and detailing, an import, definitely from Persia.

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During Aurangzeb’s reign and before the coming the Asaf Jahi or as they are fondly called the Nizams, the architecture scene was quite placid, a fact that could be attributed to the economic downturn. Consequently a period of glory was revived by the Nizams, under whose reign Hyderabad not only flourished but also it was then that Hyderabad’s twin city, Secunderabad was founded. The Osmania University, the Chowmohalla Palace, the King Kothi Palace, the Falaknuma Palace are few examples of the grand architecture during the Nizam age. The Nizam mostly patronised Islamic architecture, culture and the Indo-Persian style was hugely employed.

During the same celebrated age of the Nizams, Secunderbad was built as a station for first the French and then the British troops. The Army barracks, clubs and homes in and around the younger twin of Hyderabad exhibits tremendous inspiration in architecture style from the English. Though the architectural ideals were direct implants, interestingly they do not serve as true replicas of the originals but are in a league of their own. The famous British bungalows can be found dotted across the Army Cantonment area even today. Wood, brick stone, lime mortar were used but the outcome got in terms of the British bungalows was quite different from the Hyderabad style at that time.

Though the country had begun to devise ways to drive out the ruling British, the Nizam sought peace within the state even during the tumultuous period of India’s freedom struggle, whether it meant not taking an active part in the struggle or being the proverbial cat on the wall. But that very stance is probably what saved a whole lot of precious architecture from insane destruction. And thus Hyderabad today still has history punctuated within its developing urban fabric.

With the coming of foreigners into the city’s precincts the trend of using western design ideals was much seen in shophouses, residences and a whole array of buildings. Again much use was made of brick and lime mortar. Rich merchants and tradesmen from the city made frequent travels abroad in the 1920s and 1930s, becoming highly drawn to the world art and architectural movements at that time and brought in these trends at humbler scales into their homes. Art Deco was one of the most popular trends in the city, it began in Paris in the 1920s and is characterised by streamlined building structures and boat-windows. Several examples of the Art Deco style of building are seen in major parts of the city. The houses and shops in Marredpally, Chikkadpally, Rashtrapathi Road are all shining examples of the Art Deco style of architecture, a style that that taken the world by storm at that time. The advent of the style into Hyderabads society is not exactly known but could also be attributed to the habitation of the French and the British troops.

When the Nizam signed into the Indian Union and Hyderabad was to be made a state capital, the need for an infrastructure was sufficed through new public buildings. At that time the trend and in effect the answer was concrete. It was then that Ambedkar was said to have been thoroughly impressed by the city’s infrastructure and asked for it to be made the second capital of the country after Delhi.

Many buildings were built during the years of independent India, from infrastructure to housing; to public buildings various styles were implemented. Old monuments built earlier were beginning to be used for other purposes without damaging its structure like the High Court and the Osmania General Hospital. Concrete, was then new and an increasingly important building material. Most of the buildings made of concrete slabs and frames were skinned with brick and painted or clad with stone. Granite was another obvious choice because of its vernacular nature.


A feature that ranks consistently with the history of Hyderabad’s architecture is the penchant that the city has for improvising upon architecture from foreign shores. Add to that the fact that the borrowed ideas are not blindly followed but were applied intelligently to the truest sense of the word.

The now upmarket Banjara Hills was actually previously the residence and hunting grounds of some members of the Nizam dynasty. After the 1950s, as India turned republic the area began to be plotted and sold as residence, the newer borough, Jubilee Hills was developed in the late 1960s when Challagalla Narasimham was asked to develop a “proper colony”. The Richie-rich ghetto before development was a jungle, well half a century ago! Today the area boasts of not only sky-rocketing property prices but is also a crucible of some fantastic houses designed by architects from the city and the country at large. Whether its sustainable light-shelves, or a seamless extension into nature, inventive courtyards or swanky studded quarters, the western influences are again applied cleverly are demonstrated here. The hills are dotted with beautiful parks and water bodies in a well-set rocky terrain, and could be nothing short of the famed LA mansions that of course if the weather is kind on fine days!

In between in the 1970s, the famous white marbled Birla Mandir was built by the Ramakrishna Mission. The beautiful temple is perched on a rocky hill, it overlooks a part of the city, offers a mystical image during sunsets with views into the Hussian Sagar and was envisaged as a temple without bells that was to be conducive to meditation.

After a couple of decades of steadily brewing architecture scene globalisation came knocking as the city warmed up to the dot-com boom. The adaptive city took the newness in its stride when a part of the city was rechristened Cyberabad and Hitec city, it was envisioned by the then Chief Minister as a means to fund the economic promise by offering employment opportunities to boost trade and commerce. The potentials are manifested as techparks, estates and huge multinational offices. Starting off with concrete, a tad of brick and glass the modern futuristic towers now have taken to and boast of several tints of glass, glinting over light and encapsulating the spaced out offices with much élan.

And in the 21st century is the jewel like glassy Hyderabad airport that seems to be ideated by a largely alien or read western inspiration. As if to provide, a connect, from the touchdown into the city the newer construction are armed with glassy exteriors, sky terraces, and imaginative ideas. And going with the past today it seems like there will be no dearth of foreign influences on Hyderabad’s skyline, but hopefully they will continue to be applied as inventively as in the past if not blindly.


Whether it’s the sparkling Hitec city, the old now humbled shop-houses, trading houses or the Richie-rich hill ghettos, a spark of ingenuity in architecture is found sprinkled across the city. And the evolutionary tale of the city’s history is not only one for the books but it’s something that is preserved with much attenuation as Hyderabad embraces its future without discarding its past. Touche, merci to that!

As a postscript, INTACH the society for architectural conservation, estimates about 160 heritage-listed buildings in the city and figures that more than 70% of these buildings are in private hands!

Right so, living in Hyderabad makes one, well, legendary!



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