Delhi: Town Planning and Architecture-Political and Imperial Pressure over Pure Urban Factors?

In the view of many scholars, New Delhi is a political project, a project initiated and practiced in a form of cultural dominance. The architecture’s mission was to express Britain;s national ideals and provide a framework to make sense of law and order provided by colonial rule. 1* That was the aim and purpose of imperial architecture under the concept of Orientalism, where the imperialists impose a Western framework upon native skills. Since, all in all, the British Government wanted the colonial power of Indian remains unshaken and the supremacy of the status of the government.

 

As the Committee members of the New Delhi Town Planning Committee knew and acknowledged their role of putting this project together was an imperial decision. Therefore, the ambitions of the entire city from planners’ designs were upon the physical conditions and necessity of actualizing the concept as an Imperial city, this was a huge ideological constraints to their total free planning. The planning should be able to embody peaceful domination and dignified rule by the Imperial British Empire. 1 As documented, the committee received that the British Raj wished to be ranged in tangible form next to the monuments of the past rulers in Indian history (such that all their capitals were in “Delhi”), to impose a sense of attitude of “quietly dominated them all”. 2 

Even for the design or layout of some particular buildings, Viceroys and other important officials laid out their visions left for architects to design. For instance, the King’s Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, had expressed in respect of the King’s ideal of the Government House must be “conspicuous and commanding” and the flying British flag should be the “first object in view when approaching the capital” (Fig.1.1) and it must not “be dominated by the Jumma Masjid and the Fort (river next to New Delhi) nor dwarfed by the Ridge”. 3 Even the geographic characters of New Delhi was taken in consideration to the imposition of the British greatness and supremacy. From such “principles” and “guidelines” set for the task of the Committee, there was no doubt it limits the planners’ design in certain way gave the Imperial look of New Delhi that people see today. Therefore, the design of the new capital was a prove that it were surpassing the work built by builders of past Hindu and Mughal Empires to the current Indian citizens. As declared by Lord Stamfordham, “We must let them see for the first time, the power of Western science, art and civilization”. 4

Fig. 1.1 The status portrayed by the grand British Flag overlooking the entire Kings Way Source: Byron, Robert. New Delhi. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1997.

The sheer size of Viceroy’s House Metcalf sees as ‘a device to mask a growing insecurity by shouting forth an assertive magnificence’. 5  Nor did the stylistic synthesis of east and west achieved by Lutyens at Viceroy’s House offer a solution to Britain’s problems. Lutyens rejected Indo-Saracenic(Fig.1.2), a style which, in the hands of architects like Swinton Jacob, implied a political aspiration of Anglo-Indian co-operation, with the British as latter-day Moghul emperors. Instead, he incorporated Buddhist elements into his design(Fig. 1.3), most notably in the dome, inspired by the stupa at Sanchi. But Buddhism had no followers in India, and by adopting Buddhist forms, says Metcalf, Lutyens side-stepped the Hindu-Muslim divide, acknowledging that Britain had ‘abdicated its claim to a superior knowledge of India’s peoples and its past’. 6 This was an architecture which had nothing to say to the Indian middle classes. ‘Confined within the classic traditions of European imperialism, it led, inevitably, nowhere.’ 7 Metcalf begs the question that it is the role of the architect to provide political solutions. Following an agenda influenced by Marxism and by Edward Said, he assumes that architecture in an imperial context is necessarily concerned with the projection of power. 8 By reading Lutyens’s architecture in terms of the language of power, Metcalf commits himself to a partial and limited view of its significance.

Fig. 1.2 Buildings with Indo-Saracenic style Lutyens found in Bombay
Source: Irving, Robert Grant. Indian Summer : Lutyens, Baker and Imperial Delhi. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981. 43.
Fig. 1.3 Details of Buddhist motif on the Railings of Viceroy’s House
Source: Byron, Robert. New Delhi. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1997.

Reference:

1. 2. 3. Irving, Robert Grant. Indian Summer : Lutyens, Baker and Imperial Delhi. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981. 72.

4.  Irving, Robert Grant. Indian Summer : Lutyens, Baker and Imperial Delhi. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981. 73.

5. Ridley, Jane. “Edwin Lutyens, New Delhi, and the Architecture of Imperialism.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 26, no. 2 (1998): 67.

6. Ridley, Jane. “Edwin Lutyens, New Delhi, and the Architecture of Imperialism.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 26, no. 2 (1998): 68.

7. Ridley, Jane. “Edwin Lutyens, New Delhi, and the Architecture of Imperialism.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 26, no. 2 (1998): 69.

8. Ridley, Jane. “Edwin Lutyens, New Delhi, and the Architecture of Imperialism.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 26, no. 2 (1998): 79.

1 Comment on “Delhi: Town Planning and Architecture-Political and Imperial Pressure over Pure Urban Factors?

  1. You deliver a very good and logical research with incredible historic archives and bibliographic resources. It is striking to see how the political motives and intentions of the colonial government determine and manipulate the a brand-new urban fabric of a colonial capital city. The application of different genres and styles of architecture represents not only based on a kind of aesthetic value but rather on a symbolism and statement of cultural power. The personal urban ideals of executive architect and urban planner could also greatly influence the urban scheme. It is very interesting to see the thinkings behind the different stakeholders and governments which lead to complicated conflicts and controversy on urban design. You could also mention more about the voices and wills of local elites and ordinary population to see how they view these interference of colonial government.

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