Delhi is one of the oldest surviving cities in the world. Various rulers came and marked their authority through various artistic expressions, especially architecture. It has gone through various significant morphological transformations over the years, making it one unified, organic and secular city. 

Delhi’s beauty lies in its ability to absorb and reflect its cultural diversity, which keeps transforming through its landscape. Whether you look at the grandeur of the Central Vista project, or the bubbling streets of Chandni Chowk, lined up with arches, one can immediately identify Delhi. Delhi may be one city, but it lives with so many identities, with each of them having ‘Delhi’ written all over them. 

Summing up all of this, Lucy Peck has laid out the entire timeline of Delhi’s architecture in the book “Delhi- A thousand years of building”, INTACH. Educated in the UK, Lucy Peck is a certified architect with a degree in Town Planning. She has spent nearly ten years in India, principally in Delhi, but she has travelled extensively around the country. She is passionate about urbanisation and conservation and has assisted with INTACH projects such as the Lodhi Gardens booklets. This book of hers acts as a perfect tool for navigating the journey toward exploring the layers of history and built heritage that Delhi has to offer. The book contains perfectly curated heritage walks, including 600 around structures and walking routes throughout the urban fabric of the city. 

Book review: Delhi: A thousand years of building by Lucy Peck - Sheet1
Book cover_© ©i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1395062027l/1159867.jpg

Delhi can be broken into separate geographical zones, each representing a unique period in history. Similarly, the chapters of this book are divided into these areas giving a brief introduction about their origin, rulers, successors, wars, and their decline as its historical context. This is followed by maps and illustrations of important structures in that area. The black and white photos of the monuments, their plans and detailed sections add to the aesthetic value of the book making the reading experience interesting and informative. The author takes the reader on a vibrant and engaging tour from lesser-known ruins and scattered remains to the facts of how the current metropolis came to be. 

The modern city of Delhi is overlapped with historical cities. Learning about these past cities, according to the author, reveals a lot about the present one. She digs deep into the shift of power within Delhi from Mehrauli to Shahajanbad to New Delhi and how the current city lies on the legacy of the old ones hence, shaping the city’s urban fabric. The uniqueness and excitement of Delhi’s heritage lie in the fact that it has been one of the most important urban centres since its inception. It, therefore, contains pilgrimage centres, colonial capital, urban villages, abandoned areas, markets and monuments of power.

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Old Delhi_©assets-news.housing.com/news/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/23143429/delhi1.jpg

Lucy Peck breaks down the architectural styles and elements of the structures into broad categories. She narrows the building types into religious, Islamic, Christian and secular buildings. Religious buildings include temples, Gurudwaras, stupas, memorials etc., marking different religions. Islamic include mosques, tombs, and madrassas having identifying elements like intricate work of jali, detailed carvings, domes and arches. Christian building types include churches, whereas secular buildings comprised Baolis and Havelis in medieval times in contrast to apartment buildings and office blocks in the much later period.

The book follows a chronological kind of pattern while explaining the architecture because of the city’s dynamic and volatile history. It begins with Rajput Delhi- the pre-Islamic era marking the birth of the city and includes facts about establishments like Purana Qila, Ashokan Edict, Suraj Kund and Lal Kot. Then it shifted its base to Early sultanate Delhi including the very well known and marvellous Qutub Minar in the Qutub complex. The book lays out the map for this complex, taking the reader through the various structures in the complex, like Iltutmish Tomb, Alai Darwaza, and Qutub Minar mosque, one by one. The sultanate period witnessed a change of several rulers until the takeover by the Mughals. Establishments of the powerful cities that now stand in ruins, like Tughlaqabad, Firoz Shah Kotla, and Hauz Khas, fall under this period. This is followed by the Lodi Dynasty, which contains the very popular tombs currently located in the lush greenery of Lodi Gardens.

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Purana Qila_©Kevin Standage
Book review: Delhi: A thousand years of building by Lucy Peck - Sheet4
Tughlaqabad_©Kevin Standage
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Feroz Shah Kotla_©Kevin Standage

Moving toward the takeover by the Mughal Dynasty, the Author explains the chronology of Mughal buildings starting from the Walls of Dinpanah and Humayun’s Tomb leading toward the evergreen walled city of Shahjahanabad built by Shah Jhan. By enclosing amazing landmarks like the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Delhi’s gates, and the formation of the extremely famous Chandni chowk, this represented a transformation in Delhi’s architecture. Then came the revolution in the architectural style post the British takeover. In the zest to build the “Modern” capital, Lutyens Delhi took birth. They produced alterations such as Connaught place’s concentrated planning, Indo-Islamic architectural style, construction of British bungalows, colleges, and so on. The author ends the book by listing down some of the post-independence modern-day architectural buildings and the challenges faced by this city today.

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Humayun’s Tomb_©Kevin Standage
Book review: Delhi: A thousand years of building by Lucy Peck - Sheet7
Kashmere Gate_©Old Indian Photos\
Lutyen’s Delhi_©A. Savin

This book is a comprehensive architectural guide and visual tour of a city which has a diversely rich heritage fabric, serving as a one-stop solution for learning about everything that exists in Delhi’s architecture, with well-illustrated paths leading to lost eras and monuments.

References:

  1. Peck, L., 2006. Delhi, a thousand years of building. New Delhi: The Lotus Collection.
Author

An architect by profession, Soumya is a history enthusiast and an avid traveller who loves to capture buildings and pen down her architectural perspectives. She has a keen interest in analyzing the role of architecture in building a city as a whole. She believes in designing spaces where people can unravel and compose themselves.

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