Extreme poverty, which intensified in India during colonial rule, peaked in the 1920s—after decades of imperialist exploitation, famine, and disease—a time when architects, engineers, and city authorities proposed a new type of housing for India’s urban poor and industrial workers. As Farhan Karim argues, economic scarcity became a central inspiration for architectural modernism in the subcontinent.
As India moved from colonial rule to independence, the Indian government, business entities, international NGOs, and intergovernmental agencies took major initiatives to modernize housing conditions and the domestic environment of the state’s low-income population. Of Greater Dignity than Riches traces multiple international origins of austerity as an essential ingredient of postcolonial development. By prescribing model villages, communities, and ideal houses for the working class, this project of austerity eventually reduced poverty into a stylized architectural representation. In this rich and original study, Karim explains the postwar and postcolonial history of low-cost housing as an intertwined process of global transferences of knowledge, Cold War cultural politics, postcolonial nationalism, and the politics of economic development.