George Wittet - prolific Scottish architect of British India - Is he a forgotten man now ?

Scottish architect George Wittet

The Indian cities like Calcutta, Mumbai, Chennai and other cities are dotted with innumerable  colonial buildings built during the Raj and under the EIC. Despite their age and passage of time, they all stand apart in the cityscape as unique colonial structures  of beauty, splendor and imagination. They served as the offices of the colonial administrators in the past during their heyday and they bear testimony to the ingenious design and talents of the British designers who wanted the buildings  to be distinctive in style  glorifying the power of British Empire and  hegemony in this part of the world.

Among the British architects who worked in the Indian subcontinent George Wittet (1878-1926; born in Blair Atholl, Scotland in 1878)  may be a late entrant but was responsible for some of the best colonial buildings in Mumbai (Bombay).  George Wittet studied architecture in Perth, Scotland, and in 1904  he became assistant to John Begg, consulting architect to the Government of Bombay. Having worked  in Edinburgh and later with  Walter Henry Brierley of York, George's rich and varied design experience stood him in good stead. Both he and Begg  were responsible for pioneering the Indo-Saracenic style (then  quite popular in Madras Presidency government buildings), in  designing several government and public buildings across Bombay.  Blending of  Indo-Islamic elements, with Gothic and neo-classical elements popular in Britain at that time was deliberate. The Raj after came out of the worst revolt in 1857 had to convince the natives and their keen interest in Indian culture and ethos. So,   Indo-Saracenic design was looked upon by  the  natives  as Raj’s efforts to promote “ native  Indian” culture, so that their colonial subjects would view them more favorably and abide trust in them. 

As for  Wittet,  he  didn’t always design the buildings in the Indo-Saracenic style, but gave it good impetus  and  championed it often enough.

Gateway of India, Mumbai.

 CSMVS- formerly Prince of Wales Museum,

With a view to assimilating exotic local architectural elements, Wittet went on a study trip in the south -what is now part of Karnataka and was keen to adopt  Indo-Saracenic style - a blend of Indo-European style  popularized by British architect Robert Chisholm (his inspiration  was from Kerala). The gateway of India (archway in Apollo Bunder) and the Prince of Wales Museum (now called CSMVS), Mumbai  were built in Indo -Saracenic style  and are believed to be among the most identifiable landmarks of Mumbai. His design style took a departure to his favorite style - " classical and Renaissance'' manner as at the Institute of Science (completed 1916).

His other  buildings the Institute of Science, the Small Causes Court at Dhobitalao, the Wadia Maternity Hospital, the King Edward Memorial Hospital, Cowasji Jehangir Hall Bombay House. the Grand Hotel and other buildings at the Ballard Estate, by the Bombay Docks bear testimony to his popularity and his prolific design styles pregnant with attractive decorative features.

Sir JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai 

In March 2014 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Sir JJ College of Architecture, professor Mustansir Dalvi had put on display an exhibition of drawings of the building (curated by himself)  made by the students; old and new photographs, currently are on display at the David Sassoon Library. It included Old and new photographs and text related to the college building that George Wittet had designed.  He  designed the C-shaped building of Sir JJ College of Architecture (completed in 1910).The painstaking  documentation was done by the students of the college.

 Edwardian Baroque is one of the prominent  styles  adopted by Wittet and one could see the glimpses of this grand style at the exhibition.  In a way the exhibition was arranged to honor the man who died here and who  gave  Bombay's skyline a stylish look.  

It was George Wittet  who designed the popular building -  Bombay House, a four-story colonial structure in which  Malad stones were widely used to give it a special look.

Scottish architect George Wittet, Bombay

No doubt Wittet,  while was a consultant to the Government of Bombay, was unanimously elected as the ''first President'' of the Indian Institute of Architects, and  continued the covetous post till  1920.  The institute included   past students of Architecture of  the renowned  Sir J.J. School of Art (first institute of architecture in Asia), then called “The Architectural Students Association” in 1917. First courses in architecture started in 1908; a separate department came into being in 1913 headed by Robert Cable.  During his long stint in Bombay, he was associated with 95  government projects - mainly their design In addition he successfully completed 44 projects for the famous TATA company.  

Sewri Christian Cemetery,  Mumbai

Tomb of Architect George Witte, Mumbai

Above image: Tomb of Scottish Architect George Wittet 

Birth: 26 Nov 1878; Blair Atholl, Perth and Kinross, Scotland

Death: 10 Sep 1926 (aged 47),Mumbai (Bombay), Maharashtra, India

Burial: Sewri Christian Cemetery, Mumbai (Bombay), Maharashtra, India/ Memorial ID 92644846 · View Source....................

A prolific architect whose talents were not fully exploited by the govt for various unknown reasons died very young at the age of 48 at Bombay; cause: Dysentery. The famous buildings in Mumbai designed by him stand as everlasting colonial monuments and bear his genius.