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Dossier : Corporate patronage

Corporations, Corporate Identity, and Imperial Architectures?

G. A. Bremner et Diego Caltana

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Index de mots-clés :

impérialisme européen, missionnaires

Index by keyword :

European imperialism, missionaries

Indice de palabras clave :

imperialismo europeo, misioneros

Index chronologique :

XIXe siècle, XXe siècle
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Texte intégral

1These days the terms “corporate” and “corporation” carry a distinct commercial connotation. We think, for instance, of the multi-national corporation, with its business affairs spread all around the world; or, we often hear about the corporate activity of banks and other trading entities with news of stock prices, mergers, and acquisitions appearing regularly in the media. Most of this language is concerned with the economy and economic data, both local and global. These terms also imply the presence of a “company” (or companies)—the legal definition usually given to an association formed for the purposes of carrying out some kind of commercial enterprise. We can all think of companies that we have to deal with in the course of our daily lives, whether supermarket chains, banks, insurance companies, airlines, media providers, on-line retailers etc. The list is almost endless.

2Empire too has had an extended association with this kind of corporatisation. One need only recall the long and infamous histories of the Dutch and English East India trading companies, the slave-trading exploits of the Royal African Company of England and the French Compagnie du Sénégal, or, in more recent history, the mining and resource-extraction companies that were set up to exploit the rich natural reserves in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Africa and the Middle East. Indeed, historically speaking, it is often the misdemeanours of such “corporations” that are pointed to with respect to the worst excesses of empire, in much the same way that multi-national companies are criticised today.

3However, the terms corporate and corporation are not associated exclusively with this economic understanding. The Oxford English Dictionary gives several definitions for the term “corporate”, the first and oldest adjectival definition of which is simply “united into one body”. Other definitions include “embodied”, “pertaining to or affecting the body” and “forming a body politic or corporation”. The verbal form, dating back to 1531, suggests “to form into a corporation or body politic; to incorporate”. Although the modern commercial understanding of the term corporate tends to dominate today, it is this latter, more fundamental understanding which ought equally to command our attention when it comes to appreciating the processes of empire and their architectural legacy in a more nuanced way.

  • 1 Aparna Balachandran, “Of Corporations and Caste Heads: Urban Rule in Company Madras, 1640–1720,” J (...)
  • 2 For the relationship between corporate structure, imperial trade, and the East India Company, see (...)

4Much of the activity that sustained European imperial projects was “incorporated” in this way to some degree, whether in terms of governance, exploration, missionary endeavours, or, indeed, trade and infrastructural development. In other words, the terms corporate and corporation do infer commercial activity, but they include a lot more besides. For instance, we know that when it came to urban formation and governance in certain parts of British India, such as the settlement of Madras, an official corporation was formed to oversee the process. Importantly, this corporation, known as the Madras Company, was more than just a commercial entity; it was a chartered and thereby incorporated institution the perceived remit of which was to manage the affairs of the settlement, much like a city council would today.1 The sprawling interests of the much larger and more pervasive English East India Company also came to entail such extended responsibilities under its incorporated guise.2

5This raises the notion of the “body politic”, a phrase often used in the charters of such “companies” setting out both the philosophical and legal parameters of what it actually means to form a “corporation”—that is, a number of persons united, or regarded as united, into one body, for whatever common purpose. The term “politic” here is seen to refer to the nature of that corporation’s constitution. As far as a chartered entity is concerned, this also entails legal authorisation for that “body” to act as a single individual. Again, this terminology does not necessarily imply a commercial motive, although it may include that. There were other forms of corporation and corporate activity in the European imperial world.

6This volume of ABE – Architecture Beyond Europe examines the term “corporate” and its possible relationships to empire and architecture. In so doing, it considers not only the common usage/conception of corporate as a descriptor—i.e., the commercial dimension—but also its wider and more basic definition as discussed above, particularly as it applies to organised groups or “bodies” of agents acting for reasons of common purpose. In some cases this went beyond the motivation of purpose to include the actual legal status and perceived responsibilities of such agents.

7By widening our understanding of the term corporate in this way, the essays in this volume hope to demonstrate the various kinds of activity and their attendant architectures that might be understood as corporate, beyond the purely economic/commercial. For example, here religion and its architecture becomes a focus of discussion for what it can tell us about this broader conception of incorporation and its historiographic ramifications. This, it is hoped, will shed further light on the organised and “structured” nature of European imperialism. In another example, however, we see this relationship between architecture and empire blurred, indeed challenged, through the aspirations of native entrepreneurship at the dawn of Indian independence, revealing further the complexities associated with the reach and limitations of imperial power and the effects this had on architectural design.

8In the first essay Alex Bremner explores the corporate dimension of Anglican missionary activity in the British empire during the nineteenth century, asking how this might affect the way we interpret much Anglican church architecture erected in Britain’s colonies during this period. He argues that missionary Anglicanism was essentially a corporate enterprise given the legal status and organisational structure of some of the principal voluntary societies established to promulgate the social, cultural, and religious values of the English Church. The formation of some of these organisations, such as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (spg) and the Colonial Bishopric’s Fund (cbf), amounted to state-sanctioned religious patronage, based around a clear and systematic operational strategy of social engineering and reform. As might be expected, this resulted in an identifiably “Anglican” form of religious polity being rolled out across Britain’s empire and consolidated through the erection of dozens of Church of England dioceses, with thousands of attendant clergymen. The architecture that resulted from this enterprise therefore embodied this corporate identity through its crystallisation of Anglican theology and liturgical practices, promoted in large part by Anglican architectural societies in England and their agents spread throughout the empire.

9Continuing the missionary theme in the second essay, Anna Nuzzaci investigates the activity of the anmi (The National Association for the Assistance of Italian Catholic Missionaries). Established in Florence in 1886, the intention of the Anmi was to help Italian missions abroad by sending subsidies and, most importantly, by erecting new buildings to facilitate charitable activity. Its role became crucial after the great economic crisis of 1888–1893, to which the whole of Italy succumbed, and which significantly curtailed the implementation of substantial government aid and investment abroad. As the anmi and other Roman Catholic associations could no longer rely on financial support from the government, which, since 1871, had been rolling out its own process of radical secularisation, it was left to seek funding from a number of entrepreneurs and bankers who were among its members. To carry out its building activity, the anmi entrusted architects that studied for the most part at the Polytechnic of Turin and who had undertaken long periods of professional experience at the office of Giovanni Chevalley, the architect who was most closely associated with local ecclesiastical networks. The architectural output of the anmi was concerned primarily with the realization of buildings useful for the mission’s principal agenda, such as hospices, schools, and hospitals, but also included buildings for investment purposes. Nuzzaci explains how the construction sector was indeed a major concern of the anmi, and how the planning of its buildings was subject to careful and intense scrutiny throughout the design and construction phases.

10In the final essay Rachel Lee charts the relationship and interplay between the Indian career of German architect Otto Koenigsberger and the progressive ambitions of the Tata industrial enterprise. Far more than a blatant desire to express a corporate image architecturally, the relationship between Koenigsberger and the Tata family is shown to be a lasting and complex one in which the architect attempted to realise over a twelve-year period the scientific, developmental, and even commercial aspirations not just of Tata enterprises but also its vision for a modern, technologically advanced, and independent India. The professional and familial networks examined here reveal the important role that patronage played in this process. Further complicating this picture was the political structure of British India at the time, which gave certain “princely states”, such as Mysore, in which the Tatas based some of their industrial and educational operations, a degree of administrative independence. This allowed both the Tata’s and Koenigsberger to cooperate in a way that would have been impossible within the full bureaucratic mesh of the civil-service machine that was the British Raj. Here was a “foreign” architect (i.e., German), operating under the instruction and patronage of native Indian scientists and entrepreneurs, all of whom had a technocratic vision for twentieth-century India—it was nothing less than a rehearsal in microcosm of the new nation-state to be. Interestingly, the result was more an architecture in empire than one of empire.

11Together, these essays not only engage with the notion of “corporate” vis-à-vis empire and architecture but also demonstrate how it was borne out and articulated in practice.

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1 Aparna Balachandran, “Of Corporations and Caste Heads: Urban Rule in Company Madras, 1640–1720,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, vol. 9, no. 2, 2008.

2 For the relationship between corporate structure, imperial trade, and the East India Company, see Huw Bowen, The Business of Empire: The East India Company and Imperial Britain, 1756-1833, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006.

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G. A. Bremner et Diego Caltana, « Corporations, Corporate Identity, and Imperial Architectures? », ABE Journal [En ligne], 2 | 2012, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2013, consulté le 25 septembre 2020. URL :

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G. A. Bremner

Senior Lecturer, School of Arts, Culture and Environment, The University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

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Diego Caltana

PdD, Architekturzentrum Wien, Austria

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La revue ABE Journal est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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