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.

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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.

Elephant as symbolic and ornamental element
Elephant as symbolic and ornamental element

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.

2 Comments on “New Delhi 1911// Lutyens Delhi: Merge of Western and Indian architecture

  1. Having analysed the intervention of the Japanese in Tai Pei, I’m curious to know how Indian’s view their time under British colonial rule in terms of infrastructural development. The Taiwanese are generally quite positive about the Japanese, citing them to have established a modern and efficient economy/infrastructure, and integrating a plan into one which hasn’t been established yet.

    I ask this because Lutyen’s approach seems to have almost disregarded the original plan, and as put in your post, was “foreign” to many locals. Was his approach one where he simply superimposed a new plan onto the existing conditions? One would imagine a more considerate treatment would be to thread new ideas while conserving parts of the original plan.
    Conversely, the way he has intervened on an architectural scale is much more considerate of the local culture. Similar to Wang Shu, it uses local materials and symbols to create a sense of familiarity. Would it have been better for the society of India if the plan was more carefully integrated or have they largely benefitted from it?

  2. The design of Sir Edwin Lutyens seems more western than indian to me. The symmetric layout of the city and the boulevards emphasized the western ideology of city planning. While the local features were only carried out in elements of buildings such as material and decoration. Still, the integration of western and indian architecture was creative. In 1910s there was the trend of globalization of architecture. However, instead of applying the industrial and modern architecture like steel and glass, Sir Edwin Lutyens adapted traditional indian materials like red and pink sandstones. I wonder what was the intention of the integration. Was Sir Edwin Lutyens fond of the indian architecture and inspired by the local culture of India? Or did he intend to create a homely atmosphere for the locals? And how did the locals response to the design?

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