New Delhi 1911// Lutyens Delhi: Merge of Western and Indian architecture
Delhi, the capital city of India embodies different religious groups, cultures, western and local culture but still functions as one identity. It is able to embrace every aspect of groups and culture due to the way the city was constructed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
The British transferred the capital city of India to Delhi in 1911 in order to illustrate the Raj to the people. One of the British government’s act of showing direct imperial power was placing wide and straight roadways that cut through imperial landmarks. However, the British architect in charge of the construction of the new capital city came across with a different approach, by adding local architectural elements. Sir Edwin Lutyens, the British architect in charge, aimed to generate create an urban fabric covered with the combination of Indian tradition and western traces that represented colonial power.
The British crown emphasized on axiality, symmetry and size as the primary characteristics to represent their imperial claim, its sense of justice, and its military superiority. These three characteristics are evident in New Delhi government buildings especially the Viceroy’s House (Figure.1). The front of Buckingham Palace in London and the façade of Viceroy’s House in Delhi are same in width of 630feet, which is not a coincidence (Figure. 2). Additionally, the architecture carries the western architectural style of Neoclassicism but it also embraces Delhi’s Mughal architecture in a sense that it incorporates the local materials such as yellow sandstone in addition to the dome structure.
The New Delhi plan designed by the British architect seemed foreign, as it encompasses foreign urban planning such as Washington, Paris, Rome, etc. However, the combination of indigenous architectural styles allowed the city to blend Indian and Western cultures. Lutyens mixed elements abstracted from Buddhism, Hinduism and Islamism into the imperial buildings. Taking account of that materials and techniques of the West were not available, Lutyens utilized those factors from the local site and took in what was familiar to the British. These foreign elements were able to adapt and blend into the new city as they were carefully expressed and readapted with red and pink sandstone. This led to a unique architectural expression that carried both European Classicism and indigenous design of India.
Local architectonic elements were represented and illustrated by Lutyens not only as building components but also as to generate contextual continuity. ‘Purana Qila’, located at the end of the east Central Vistam is designed with the element of Chhatri which is a dome like or a cupola structure which highlights the skyline. It is the Capitol Complex that integrates the unique element and is able to stand as an architecture that shows continuity physically and symbolically.
Additionally, the Capitol Complex a garden was laid out by Lutyens which faces the Vice regal Palace and the Office Court. The fountains in the garden stand symmetrically and so did the garden itself which followed the western garden planning. However, the major landscape element is water which is a dominant feature of the local tradition.
Other than using the Chattris element, for other Central Vista architectures, Lutyens fused sun shade balconies, stone trelliswork, with stone brackets, indigenous window detailing, etc. which were implemented with the merge of red sandstones. In most of Lutyens’ building, concrete masonry elements were laid with stone which was also in some cases utilized as structure. But the structures were broken as carved monuments with Western and Indian symbolic figures such as elephants, fruits, leaves, etc.
The use of red and pink sandstones created visual cohesion throughout the buildings as the visually dominant red sandstones were placed on the base or lower part of the building while the less dominant pink sandstones were on the upper section. With the colors, creating warm ambience harmonizes with the blue green background of the Central Vista. The material itself is a traditional element for structural construction but was also used as ornamental purposes by Lutyens.
Andreas Volwahsen, Imperial Delhi: The British Capital of the Indian Empire (Munich: Prestel, 2002), 216
Final Report of the Delhi Town Planning Committee regarding the selected site, Delhi 1913, p.6.