Around the 16th century, Britain set out trade companies in different parts of the world to explore the global markets. Within the next 2 centuries, these trade companies took over political control for the Crown and Britain became the major colonial power in North America and South-East Asia. One of its many colonies was India.
During the 150-200 years of colonisation, the British, like many conquerors before them, not only influenced the culture, education and politics of India, but also it’s architecture. Even to this day, countless examples of imperial architecture stand tall all around the country, bearing striking resemblance to the structures in Britain. What better way to illustrate this connection than compare the capital cities, London and Delhi?
Both river cities experienced major changes in their planning after a significant historical event. The Great Fire of 1666 razed most parts of London. Planners, Sir Christopher Wren and John Evelyn saw this as an opportunity to replan and space-out the previously suffocated city. Similarly, in 1911, on the occasion of the coronation of King George V as the Emperor of British India, Delhi was instated as the capital city of the Indian subcontinent. Subsequently, New Delhi was planned as a symbol of British Imperialism, by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker.
Interestingly, despite the two events being around 300 years apart, the planning proposal for both cities were inspired from the expansive and geometric layout of Paris, among other cities. While it was John Evelyn who insisted Sir Wren to incorporate Paris’ wide roads, diagonal lanes and plazas in the planning of London, Lord Hardinge advised Sir Lutyens to incorporate the French city’s hexagonal road layouts and plantations in the planning of Delhi to break the dust storms prevalent around Raisina Hill. Sir Wren’s plan of London wasn’t officially executed, but it served to be Sir Lutyens’ inspiration while designing New Delhi.
THE DOMES OF SAINT PAULS’S CATHEDRAL AND SECRETARIAT BUILDING
Sir Lutyens was fascinated by Sir Christopher Wren’s St. Paul Cathedral, which is evident from the design of the Secretariat Building Dome. In the cathedral, Sir Wren designed a continuous colonnade (peristyle) around the drum of the dome. He created diversity and appearance of strength by placing niches in every fourth opening. This peristyle serves as a buttress to the inner dome and the brick cone that rises internally to support the lantern above.
Continuing on the same concept Sir Lutyens incorporated some vernacular elements. The Secretariat dome also sits atop a colonnade, which borrows a system of twin columns, a feature of Rajasthani architecture. Instead of the niches like in St. Paul’s, all arches formed between the columns in this dome have sandstone screens (jaalis). These give way to petite balconettes between columns, as opposed to the circular corridor in the London model. Finally, a finial has been designed over the cupola representing the lantern.
Coincidentally, both buildings, the Cathedral and the Secretariat building are located on their respective cities’ highest points, topographically.
GARDEN CITIES MOVEMENT AND THE PALATIAL HOUSES
While planning the layout of New Delhi, the team wished to recreate the Mughal courts on a much larger scale. They did so by designing garden houses for the Maharajas of various princely states in the vicinity of the Viceroy’s residence, namely Baroda House, Patiala House, Hyderabad House, Jaipur House etc. Each of these houses comprised of a residential block surrounded by lush green lawns. Post-independence, these properties were converted into government offices, museums, courthouses etc.
It is noteworthy, that the design of these princely houses was not at all synonymous with the residential-style of London. The English planner, Sir Ebenezer Howard was the man behind the idea of garden cities. He envisioned a city with a focus on greenery at its heart and industries pushed to the outskirts. It was in 1898, that he first proposed his idea of self-sufficient cities growing in a concentric pattern. He founded the Garden City Association in 1899 to create Letchworth, the first garden city. It is irrefutable that Garden Cities Movement led to the introduction of sprawling gardens to private residences in Delhi.
THE CONNAUGHT PLACE AND THE ROYAL EXCHANGE PLAZA
For any city to be self-sufficient, it is imperative to have a commercial centre located in close proximity to the residential settlement. Adhering to the same theory, Sir Edwin Lutyens planned Connaught Place to the north of Rajpath, such that the Viceroy’s residence, the palatial houses and the Connaught Place were in perfect triangulation.
Robert Tor Russel’s Connaught Place is the love child of two completely different buildings. It gets its form from the Royal Cresent, Bath, which was designed by John Wood, the Younger as a row of 30 terrace houses in the form of a continuous semicircular building. A series of 114 ionic order columns line its curved facade, which is similar in concept to the peristyle seen at the Inner Circle. Delhi’s commercial centre, however, was designed as a complete circle. It is said that all six sections of the building were initially supposed to be connected at the upper floor level, but eventually, the blocks were spaced-out to enhance the grandeur.
Furthermore, the Connaught Place’s iconic arches and the arcade bear an unmistakable resemblance to the corridors of the Royal Exchange building, London, courtesy of Edward l’Anson, in 1837. He used concrete which was a rather early use of this modern technology. The internal corridor also features a series of Roman Doric columns, that are also repeated in the inner circle of Connaught Place.
New Delhi was designed to be a seat of power. Since the designers were British, they relied immensely upon the architecture style of London and fused it with vernacular elements to create something so immense and grand! This impact of colonial architecture is clearly visible in the details of the buildings constructed in New Delhi under the guidance of Sir Edwin Lutyens.
The British developed the city for their own use, but a mere 16 years after its completion in 1931, India gained independence. Since then, New Delhi has fulfilled its destiny by being the centre of Indian governance.
- ‘Rashtrapati Bhavan- and the Central Vista’- INTACH