Delhi is the capital of one of the most secular nations in the world. It has been the centre of art, culture, architecture, and design before India’s Independence. Development and migration have expanded the city’s boundaries and, along with it have sharpened the social and cultural pedagogies of the capital. When one imagines the city of Delhi, one is transported to the many historical places scattered across the land, the intense heat, the shattering cold, the streets filled with pollutants, and the slums with houses on top of one another, crammed around each other. The capital goes under constant change, whether to preserve or date. As one of the most influential cities in the country, the heritage, cultural and social economic organisations of the city have worked to tie the knot between the architecture of Purani Delhi and New Delhi and everything that defines Delhi what is. 

The Impact of the Past

The city’s roots lie in its history. The happenings of the past can greatly verdict the values and functions of a city in the present. Delhi is a city that has experienced myriad changes and control of various periods and timelines that goes back thousands of years. The eras brought with them had geographical conundrums and a change in the architectural elements and language. The Rajput kingdom falls under the oldest timeline for Delhi before the 13th century. it included temples, residences of the king, step wells, etc. These structures were fairly religious or secular and there are a few remains of this era existing in Delhi.

The Delhi sultanate dates back to the 13th century. The architecture of this timeline brought the aesthetics of traditional Heritage in the form of jaalis, archways, geometrical shapes, inscriptions, etc. The rise of Indo-Islamic architecture was reflected in various structures which are now prominent historical monuments of the capital. By the mid-16th century, the prevalence of the Mughal emperors was more substantial than before this gave rise to notable pieces of architecture with godly artistry and intricacies. The use of red sandstone and white marble made this structure splendid and marvelous ornamentation remained unbeaten and can leave one in awe. The Mughal architecture was also recognized by the presence of gardens on all four sides of the structure, the bulbous or onion-shaped domes, and minarets on four corners securing the form in the middle. 

Fifty Years of Architecture in Delhi - Sheet1
The works on Qutub Minar_©Lucy Peck
Fifty Years of Architecture in Delhi - Sheet2
Humayun’s Tomb_©David Strydom

The British colonial period brought a revolution with it. Delhi was declared the working capital of the country, and thus, the city’s development to be established as a regal emblem was recognised. The need for an Imperial capital was not only extended to important colonial buildings. The city was handed over to Edward Lutyens and Herbert Baker to teach urban design elements. The European Renaissance style inspired the layout where the roads, landscape, buildings, and boundaries were designed according to British Imperial standards. The planning was conducted around a central axis with government officers lined with Rashtrapati Bhavan as the core. The architecture belt of the Lutyens zone also consisted of India Gate, Parliament House, the Administration’s Bungalows, and so on. Although the zone was for imposing the effect of the British Empire, Lutyens included traditional elements of India with Impressions of western culture. The designed buildings had features from all religions of India’s background. This made the overall planning and architecture very unique and valuable. (ArchInsider, 2021)

Rashtrapati Bhawan is one of the most well-recognized buildings of Lutyen’s creations. It follows the British’s idea of grandness and grandeur in terms of axiality, symmetry, and size. The residence of India’s president is magnificent in size and aesthetics. It is known for its neo-classical design inspiration blended with Mughal, Buddhist, and Rajput architecture. The most iconic feature of the structure, the central dome, is inspired by Buddhist architecture, and the gardens surrounding it are derived from Mughal architecture. It spans over 320 acres of land and has 340 bedrooms that go up to four floors. Western techniques were used to construct it with yellow and red sandstone to signify Indian roots and to promote local materials. Lutyens went over from planning an entire city to designing details and niches like lighting, furniture, and fireplaces of Rashtrapati Bhawan. (ArchInsider, 2021) 

Fifty Years of Architecture in Delhi - Sheet3
Rashtrapati Bhavan_©YoMetro

The post-independence era was a wave of new ideas emerging, with architects wanting to deliver something influential and groundbreaking. The architects were into experimentation with materials, design, and structure to bring out a new feeling of freedom. Reinforced concrete emerged, reaching out to public places and residences. The need to bring a new identity, character, and vision was imminent. The sense of nationalism was strong; Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wanted to shape the country and bring it back on track. The idea of an independent nation was evident in the upcoming institutional and civic buildings designed across the country. These academic and civil structures showcased a better educational and economically sound society. Its design promised to open doors of betterment and opportunities for a developing country to work its economy and global value mature. Over the years, the scales of moments of brutalism were seen in India in the form of huge structures with unusual angles, breaking the conventional design and structural systems. 

The hall of nations was completed in 1972 to commemorate India’s 25th independent year. The Exhibition Centre symbolised India as a growth and technology-driven nation with modern and progressive ways to develop itself. Designed by the prestigious architect Raj Rewal with groundbreaking structural engineering done by Mahendra Raj, the building was the world’s first and largest free-span frame structure with modern aesthetics and bold coverage showcasing self-reliance and rarity. The structure touched the sky of ingenuity not only because of its form and overall appearance but also how genuine devotion and commitment were provided to designate it as one of a kind. The structure was constructed from reinforced concrete instead of steel to utilise the skills of local artists, labour, and technology. The design philosophy was inspired by Mughal architecture along with the design principles of Le Corbusier, who planned the city of Chandigarh. The use of jaalis adorned the facade in the form of tetrahedra to filter the intensity of Delhi’s sun and provide a medium for air ventilation. This feature became the extension to become the roof and walls of the exhibition centre, which was referred to by Le Corbusier. It was an ode to the accelerating direction the nation was heading, and it became a symbol of pride, receiving praise from national and international organisations. It was demolished in 2017. The news of the demolition received a worldwide uproar and protest,ed for it was a significant structure of post-colonial architecture in India’s history. It was to be replaced with a more contemporary and technologically advanced building. It also raised concerns about how development and evolution should be visioned ideally, and certainly not at the cost of losing such an important creation. (Bhakuni, 2021)

Fifty Years of Architecture in Delhi - Sheet4
The Hall of Nations_©MIT Libraries

The redevelopment of Central Vista in Delhi has been hit upon with multiple criticism and opinions not only from the people related to the civil body of the country but also the private urban developers, practitioners, and the youth. Central vista has been an imperial and cultural icon since the country achieved independence. Over time, the grounds of civil structures have seen as many decisions and changes as the rest of the country. Although the conceptualised planning suggests that the existing parliament building, constructed under the rules of British councils, would not be demolished but rather be converted to museums and the upcoming parliament would house all possible current technology, government offices and ministers’ offices, thus making it smoothly functioning. The main government operating body at the capital of the world’s largest democracy has a huge domain to cover, from its civilian behaviour to its cultural takes. The proposal of its replacement has raised frowns and questions across numerous fraternities, not only because the possibility of refined maintenance seems more acceptable but also because of the fact that lack of consent from citizens is a void forgotten to be filled. (Kohli, 2022)

The Central Vista corridor_©


ArchInsider. (2021, May 7). Lutyens’ Delhi: British Architecture in Indian Culture. The Arch Insider. Retrieved December 18, 2022, from

Bhakuni, T. (2021, November 27). Remembering the City’s Lost Urban Heritage: The Hall of Nations. Zikr-e-Dilli. Retrieved December 18, 2022, from

Kohli, N. (2022, November 7). The Central Vista will be traditional, modern, and sustainable: Bimal Patel. Moneycontrol. Retrieved December 18, 2022, from


Nishal is a budding architect, exploring and persisting every interest she has acquainted with. She has embraced the profession of architecture as more of a way of life, as how she explores places and meets people. Nishal has a knack for music, photography, and feel-good movies, she hopes to find the sweet balance between her hobbies and her interest which is now her profession.