The Secretariat Building stands on Raisina Hill in New Delhi, looking from the hilltop over the surrounding areas; it was built in the 1910s by Architect Herbert Baker. The structure was built to help accommodate the shift of India’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi by providing functioning office spaces. It now houses some of the most important ministries of the central Indian government and also other departments. The building holds great significance as a part of India’s architectural history as all-important government policies and legislations are decided upon within its premises.

Secretariat Building by Herbert Baker - Sheet1
Location of the Secretariat Building_©www.wikipedia.com

Planning

The structure is symmetrical on both north and south sides, built along the Rajpath, flanking the Rashtrapati Bhavan on either side. It has been built from the same materials as the Rashtrapati Bhavan, red and cream Dholpur sandstone imported from Rajasthan. The blocks each have four floors with approximately 1000 rooms built around an inner courtyard. The two blocks also have wide hallways and passages, encouraging ventilation through their forms, and are capped on the top by domes.

Secretariat Building by Herbert Baker - Sheet2
Facade of the Secretariat Building_©www.flikr.com

Historical Context

In the 1910s, when Delhi was declared the capital of the British Indian Empire, Edward Lutyens was appointed to plan the entire city along with the Viceroy’s House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan). Herbert Baker was a part of his team, and he designed the Secretariat Building. Lutyens and Baker did not have cordial relations during the construction of their respective buildings. While Lutyens wanted the Secretariat to have a lower height than the Viceroy’s House, as the hill in front of the Secretariat blocked the entire view, Baker wanted them to be at the same level, and he eventually persisted.

Secretariat Building by Herbert Baker - Sheet3
Photograph of the Secretariat from the 1920’s

Architect

Herbert Baker was a British architect who designed the Secretariat Building in New Delhi. He was second in command under the architect of Delhi city, Edwin Lutyens. Herbert Baker was an architect whose work came to light through his buildings in South Africa, where he worked for almost two decades. In India, aside from the Secretariat, he also designed the bungalows of the Parliament members and the Parliament House.

Secretariat Building by Herbert Baker - Sheet4
Herbert Baker_©www.wikipedia.com

Influences

Herbert Baker’s influences from his earlier buildings in Africa are visible in the Secretariat Building. The Union Building in Pretoria, South Africa, has stark similarities with the Secretariat. From the similar symmetric blocks with identical towers, along with collonaded balconies, the buildings are a copy of each other. The biggest difference between the two buildings is the fact that in the Secretariat, the north and south blocks are separate and face each other, while in the Union Building, the two blocks are joined by a semi-circular bridge.

Secretariat Building by Herbert Baker - Sheet5
The Union Building, Pretoria_©www.wikipedia.com

Architectural Style

The building has been designed in the Indo-Saracenic Revival Architectural Style. This style refers to the architectural features and elements used prominently by British architects in Indian public and government buildings. This style draws inspiration from Mughal Architecture along with Hindu Temple Architecture and combines it with other revival architectural styles such as Gothic and Neo-Classical. The building incorporates Mughal and Rajasthani features in its motifs and minarets as well.

Secretar6iat Building by Herbert Baker - Sheet
View of the Secretariat_©www.matthewtrader.com

There is a use of jalis (perforated windows) and jharokhas (decorative windows) inspired by Rajasthani forts. These jalis create interesting patterns in the constant sun received by the city and also provide some relief from the heat and rains. There was also the use of Chattris (umbrellas), which traditional Indian domes used historically to provide relief to weary travellers.

Secretariat Building by Herbert Baker - Sheet7
Elevation of the Secretariat Building_©www.simonfieldhouse.com

The walls of the structure are mostly bare, with most of the decoration being found on the roof. The centre of each building is marked by domes and the main entrances are laid in dominion columns of Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. These columns were presented by each of the British colonies as a symbol of friendship and unity between the dominions. 

Secretariat Building by Herbert Baker - Sheet8
Dominion Column_©www.unsplash.com

Modern Context

The Secretariat Library is the second-largest Central Government Library after Kolkata. It houses over 8.5 lakh books and journals. The library’s resources are a collection of a number of pre-independence libraries and other old institutions, such as the Imperial Secretariat Library. There is also a path through the building, which leads to the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society, which has one of the oldest galleries in the country containing the art and sculptures of eminent artists. The building is also connected to the metro station, which has various lines running to different parts of the city. Thus, it ensures that the city is well connected with the government building. 

Secretariat Building by Herbert Baker - Sheet9
View of the Secretariat_©www.matthewtrader.com

Conclusion

The Secretariat is a monument of history, a structure built during the colonisation of India that has survived to date to tell a story of the government and its relation with the public. The building is also visually very pleasing, with the red sandstone grounding the structure. Along with the Rashtrapati Bhavan and various other historic structures nearby, these structures adorn the capital city of India. 

Exterior View of Secretariat_©www.matthewtrader.com

References:

  1. Wikipedia. Secretariat Building, New Delhi. [online]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secretariat_Building,_New_Delhi [Accessed date:15-06-2022].
  2. Siddharth Roy – Hindustan Times (2011). The building Blocks of the British empire. [online]. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20110807201346/http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/newdelhi/The-building-Blocks-of-British-empire/Article1-706587.aspx [Accessed date: 16-06-2022].
  3. Indian Culture. Central Secretariat Library. [online]. Available at: https://indianculture.gov.in/MoCorganization/central-secretariat-library [Accessed date: 16-05-2022].
  4. SO Delhi (2017). Home To Some Of The Most Important Ministries of The Cabinet Of India – The Secretariat Building. [online]. Available at: https://so.city/delhi/article/home-to-some-of-the-most-important-ministries-of-the-cabinet-of-india-the-secretariat-building [Accessed date: 16-05-2022].
Author

Kanak Holani is a first year architecture student who can usually be found reading novels and trying her hand at various crafts. She is passionate about history, culture and climate and how it all ties in with architecture.

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