Place-Making Through Practice: An Interdiscplinary Approach to Santal Architectural History


Gauri Bharat

PhD defended at: 

Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom



Indigenous or vernacular architecture is widely recognised as built environments that must be studied within the meshwork of social, environmental and historical contexts. These factors are not merely causal but must be considered, more fundamentally, as key productive and transformative forces. With this in mind, the PhD explores the built environment of Santals (an Adivasi/ tribal community) in India as both sites and processes that transform in correlation to social, environmental, political and historical processes of change. It traces the transformation of Santal domestic architecture from simple wooden huts in the mid-nineteenth century to the beautifully painted mud structures that one sees today, and in its wake, unravels the complex inter-relations between spatial configuration, building technology, livelihood, resources, gender, identity and heritage. Indigenous architecture is presented not as a timeless tradition or a static architectural object, but as multivalent places, practices and perceptions that are inextricably bound to local and global stories of change.
This study presents an important departure from architectural discourses on indigenous environments since it examines processes of making and people’s experiences together with architectural forms. The first two chapters lay out the conceptual framework and the nature of interdiscplinarity in the study. The next two chapters discuss how the small wooden Santal dwellings transformed into permanent and complex mud structures against a backdrop of colonial rule, industrialisation and conflict with non-Adivasis in eastern India. Chapters Five, Six and Seven focus on daily chores, wall paintings and floor drawing as practices that inscribe domestic territory and serve as identity markers in everyday life at the scale of individual dwellings and the settlement as a whole. The last chapter takes a reflexive turn and focuses on fieldwork interactions and processes of architectural knowledge production. Eventually, a new kind of architectural narrative emerges - one that is not about buildings alone, but offers insights into people’s sense of their collective lives, and in particular their phenomenological engagements with the social, environmental and historical worlds that are in part defined by architecture.