British elements in Imperial Delhi

The town plan of London by Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones were highly regarded models Lutyens during his design for the Imperial Delhi. Lutyens has made familiar with Wren’s plans for the city of London. The idea Wren proposed not only a simply suggested abstract framework of a radial street pattern, but also an overarching network of radial arterial roads. The idea of the arterial roads was to connecting the city gates with the most important buildings in the plan in a logical manner. Wren’s idea can draw similarity of the Roman pattern of the axial roads at the Piazza del Popolo, and supported with rectangular formed system of secondary residential streets.


The countless references, and borrowing from Western architecture provides the prospect of gaining a better understanding of the intention of the architecture, but at the same time, it raised the possibility of mistaking and incorporated with the wrong source. For example, in the search for the concept of the circular commercial centre, Connaught Circus of New Delhi. Lutyens took example of the British tradition of round or oval shapes for plaza by John Nash’s Park Crescent in London and John Wood’s Circus in Bath. However, the style of the plaza has been heavily criticized. For example, the architect John Soane has said in 1809 “Although the circus may please us by its prettiness and a sort of novelty, the area is so small the height of each order is so diminutive that the general appearance of the entire building is mean, gloomy and confined”. Therefore, in the case of New Delhi, the architects have leant their lesson and took the criticism to heart. The double circle of Connaught Place and Connaught Circus finally becomes so large that it was built in two stories high and it is hard to recognize the regularity of the basic geometric shape.


In Lutyens’ attempt to design the final model for Imperial Delhi, not only the systems in Paris and Washington have been studied. Lutyens also took reference of the design and construction of the English garden city, where he also took part of the design of Hampstead Garden Suburb. In the design of New Delhi, Lutyens has decided to lay out the living accommodations of the British and Indian authorities of the colonial government in the garden city format, around the Viceroy’s house and administrative buildings which is still recognizable today in the ground plan of the city. However, this typology has often been criticized for lacking in connections with the socio-political utopias of its model. The blend with the garden city model has also draw other criticisms such as the town plan is confusing with triangles stacked in hexagons with a roundabout at each junction, and streets are empty of people and urban vitality.



1 Brown, J. Lutyens and the Edwardians, London 1996.

2 Irving, R.G. Indian Summer, Lutyens, Baker and Imperial Delhi, New Haven, London 1981.

3 Volwahsen, A. Imperial Delhi The British Capital of the Indian Empire, Prestel, London 2002.


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