New Delhi Newsletter
Source: The Lutyens Trust
Our visit was well-timed. In 2002 INTACH (the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) published their Charter on Lutyens’s Delhi describing how seriously Lutyens’s Delhi is threatened by development. S. K. Misra, Vice-Chairman of INTACH, realizing that our visit would highlight the importance of Lutyens’s Delhi decided to upgrade our programme, working closely with Paul.
At the end of our amazing week we all decided that it should be recorded and this Newsletter, written and illustrated by the group, is the result.
Media AttentionThe Media pounced on us as soon as we arrived in New Delhi. Charles and Derek Lutyens being great nephews of Sir Edwin were the focus of attention, and the arrival of 42 members of the Lutyens Trust in Lutyens’s Delhi was news in itself. We were asked what we thought of Sir Edwin’s works, whether we thought they were being properly looked after, and the political question what we thought of a proposal to build high rise flats in the Lutyens Bungalow Zone. All this before we had seen anything. We answered “impressive” to the first, “Yes” to the second, which we afterwards found to be true, and that the building of high rise flats was an Indian Decision. We figured romantically in The Indian Express standing in the Raj Path set against the Secretariat Buildings in the moonlight, and at the launching of an interesting little INTACH book called ‘A Capital Story’ about the building of New Delhi and aimed at young people. The Hindustan Times showed Charles between two lamps like a happy gnome between two toadstools, and we were interviewed for local Television, and live on the BBC World Service.
At home The Times published an article about our visit before we left, the Guardian whilst we were in New Delhi, and Country Life after our return.
Workshop on the Preservation of Lutyens’s DelhiThe purpose of the densely packed morning at the India International Centre was to follow up the recommendations of INTACH’s Charter on Lutyens’s Delhi. Mr S. K. Misra, the Vice-Chairman of INTACH chaired the succession of well argued presentations and ensuing ‘questions’ delivered as formal statements. We were largely spectators to the often impassioned debate, and caught the frisson of a growing body of enlightened preservationists campaigning to save the genius loci of New Delhi from current erosion and imminent despoliation by rampant commercialdom, lack of overall vision and weak planning controls.
One felt that the session must have been useful in focussing attention on the high quality and world-class of New Delhi, especially its Lutyens Bungalow Zone (LBZ), but unfortunately in the forthcoming Master Plan for the next twenty years Lutyens’s New Delhi did not feature.
Mr. Jogindar Kourana, an architect who was at Harvard put Lutyens and his contemporaries into context, comparing their grand manner of planning with L’Enfant’s Washington, Haussmann’s Paris, etc. He recommended developing the tourist potential with sensitive signing, possibly tourist buses, and a private bungalow open to view, he stressed the need for a survey of the bungalows and a design guide.
In his talk ‘Learning from Lutyens’, Dr. Mervyn Miller laid stress on Lutyens’s international importance. In Rashtrapati Bhavan he achieved his ambition to play ‘the High Game’ on the grand scale. Here, as ever, the attention to detail and proper use of materials reflects Lutyens’s early love of the art of building - he was part of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Dr. Miller said he was delighted to have a dialogue with this gathering, charged as it was, with the responsibility of preserving Lutyens’s work, about which we all shared an enthusiasm.
The next speaker revealed how New Delhi was the only example of designing elaborately and sensitively to produce a convincing architectural synthesis between East and West. He stressed how grave the current situation was, with no planning law in place. Awakening of pride in the past would stimulate the will to repair the aesthetic character of Lutyens’s Delhi.
An architect Rajiv Narain read a finely written paper beginning with recognition of Lutyens’s ability to relate the new city to the existing Delhi, and to fuse Indian craftsmanship and detail with Western architecture. He observed that change is natural and inevitable in cities. He stressed that a comprehensive conservation strategy is needed that will encompass preservation (but not a freezing of time). He concluded by saying there was daunting challenge ahead to change perceptions of this heritage.
New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) secretary, Sanjiv Kumar showed a fascinating series of slides of the building of New Delhi from the archives, some of which were new to us. When the debate opened to the floor Charles Morris an architect from our party observed that we had seen no tourists. This rich heritage should be promoted and tourism should be carefully developed. The sight of foreign tourists would enhance local public recognition of the city’s importance in world terms. Others followed stating that a city should be built around its heritage, not over it; New Delhi did not damage any of the existing heritage but drew from it. O. P. Jain declaring himself as an activist said that every five or ten years they face a deliberate attempt to ruin the LBZ, the ‘land mafia’ fixing the price at a hundred times that of the price of the buildings. The avenues of trees are not being maintained. The LBZ could be considered the garden of Delhi. He felt ashamed of the high rise development around Connaught Place. As the area in question constitutes only two per cent of Delhi we should not be apologetic about preserving it.
INTACH’s Work in DelhiA vital element of INTACH is education - opening eyes, hearts and minds to the extraordinary richness and diversity of India’s heritage and helping to support the many unique cultural traditions.
The Lutyens Trust helped launch “A Capital Story”, a delightful little book for school children which has been produced by Shobita Punja and her colleagues at INTACH. This illustrated book tells the story of the building of New Delhi.
Ted Ridge & Mark Hoare
An Architect’s First Impression of Lutyens’s DelhiThe familiar drawings and photographs of the Imperial buildings do nothing to prepare you for the shock of that moment when you step from the Jan Path into the Raj Path: architecture on the grandest scale imaginable, yet achieved not by extravagant decoration nor by opulence, but by masterly proportion and sculptural massing. You approach - advisedly on foot - the notorious gradient and are reassured by the sensation that the infallible Lutyens perhaps for once got it wrong by making such a fuss over it - for it greatly enhances the sense of discovery; moreover, there is no unseemly vying between the Government Buildings and Rashtrapati Bhavan which each in turn command their respective settings and do not visually depend on each other to such a degree as you would expect.
For an architect it is always humbling to study Lutyens’s work in detail: but nothing quite prepares you for the exactitude and flair he worked at Rashtrapati Bhavan; nor for the beauty of the sandstone and the quality of workmanship which he achieved half a world away from his office. Much must be owed to Shoosmith, but also to the Indian craftsmen, who must have it in their blood - for you find equal craftsmanship in the stonework at, for example, Humayan’s Tomb.
You come away inspired; but also heartened by the love and enthusiasm of the people for their city and its buildings, including those of British India. The sense of a national culture is so strong, composed of many strands yet paradoxically all embraced with equal fervour: it is as if empires that come and go are essential to the Indian culture, and this does not exclude the British Empire, nor the legacy it has left behind.
Despite the Western imperial planning and the European classical ingredients in the architecture, how equally Indian it feels: Lutyens’s genius was to allow the indigenous to shine through - in the buildings, in Jaipur Column and elephant guardhouse, even in the landscaping and vegetation. And have not the Indian people recognised this and taken it to their hearts - from the President who lives in Lutyens’s great house and so palpably loves and admires it, to the street seller who places his snake basket by the perfectly proportioned and cut stone plinth of a Lutyens gate pier. There is no anachronism here: Lutyens created in New Delhi a setting on a scale of sufficient monumentality to resound as a backdrop to the sheer pulsating energy, enthusiasm, and beauty of the Indian people.
Audience With The PresidentOur day in the administrative centre began with a visit to Rashtrapati Bhavan, which was protected by rigorous security. But after an initial wait we were treated with courtesy and informality, and given an extended tour, including the Mountbattens’ bedrooms, and a stroll through the gardens and grounds (being readied for the flowering season in November-December); culminating with tea with the President. We all sat on gilded chairs in a long reception room, lined with quite good eighteenth-century landscapes by or after Vernet, Wilson, Zuccarelli et al. The President’s arrival was preceded by amplified cheery music.
A. P. J. Abdul Kalam is a much respected scientist, over seventy and frail-looking. He sat very relaxed on his gilded chair facing us, and talked quite freely, good-humoured and alert, answering questions and generally involving us in conversation, for about twenty minutes, before taking us next door to have refreshments.
Every detail of Lutyens’s Viceregal Lodge is perfectly judged - even the quirky and idiosyncratic mouldings have their own splendid logic. The great external staircase that tumbles down from the north door of the building is a magnificent coup de theatre. All the stairs, as someone pointed out, fit the pace perfectly - more than can be said of most Mughal stairways, which are usually very narrow and steep. There are countless lovely details, like the elegantly shaped hollows for water in the wide cills between the columns of the great loggias on the main floor. The much discussed ‘solar topi’ dome, which I’ve hitherto thought a trifle bald, verging on the totalitarian, is really an extraordinarily successful balance of motifs from European and Mughal creating a highly original form that has been influential in later buildings of independent India.
Baker’s BuildingsConscious that he would be overstretched by the complex on Raisina Hill, Lutyens urged the appointment of Herbert Baker, whom he had met in Ernest George’s office in the late 1880s. Lutyens had been impressed by Baker’s South African work, particularly the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Baker’s design for the twin Government Secretariats eventually provoked a disastrous quarrel over the geometry of the ramp, which obscured visibility of the lower façade of the Viceroy’s Residence. Lutyens, incensed, appealed to King George V, to no avail. Truly, Lutyens had met his ‘Bakerloo’.
The Secretariats have many individual merits. Perhaps more completely than Lutyens, Baker incorporated Indian detail. He reproduced the western gate of Humayun’s Tomb, transposing the pointed Islamic arch to a western semi-circular type. The towers add counterpoint to the domes (modelled on St. Peter’s Rome, or Les Invalides). The austere detailing of the ramp adds gravitas to its surroundings. Baker could also be finicky, undermining the grandeur of his concept. The projecting block ends pose a problem, where the idiosyncratic column spacing creates a ‘tooth gap’ effect.
Inside, the North Block now appears crowded and rather neglected, with plastic trunking showing the difficulty of adapting to modern IT requirements. A major courtyard had a ramshackle extension, probably once regarded as ‘temporary’. Still the domed central hall was impressive, if not quite matching Lutyens’s Durbar Hall. The grand staircases, with their stone Indian balustrade screens interspersed between Tuscan Doric columns, supporting the vaulting, were very fine.
A legislative chamber was originally to be attached to the Viceroy’s House, superseded in 1919 by a separate Parliament building, on a triangular site north of the Great Place. Baker’s ‘Y’ footprint design was set within a circular colonnade at Lutyens’s insistence. Baker resorted to orthodox spacing of the perimeter columns, visually effective, but possibly more so had he used coupled columns as on the linking colonnade of the Union Buildings.
The three major internal spaces were turned inwards, sharing a central hall as lobby. Baker’s proposed high central dome was abandoned in favour of a lower one, barely visible. The interior seems confusing, as you are uncertain where you are in relation to the three major chambers, one of which was the original library. The fan shape of the auditoria was not entirely convincing, and Baker should have left well alone in the irregular ceiling vaults, rather than emphasising them by raised plaster garlands. Being circular, the central hall worked much better, a noble space.
Nearby, the new Parliament Library by Raj Rewal Associates, is very impressive; with a circular theme, capped by low domes. The roof is grassed, with terraces facing the Parliament building. The principal room is a 1000 seat auditorium. The building provides a valid modern Indian aesthetic, it fits beautifully onto the site, and complements Baker’s Pomp and Circumstance.
Visit to Baroda House:
Some years ago a Lutyens Trust group under the inspired but on occasion
tempestuous guidance of Roddie Gradidge called at Baroda House on the off chance
of examining the building, originally designed by Lutyens as the New Delhi
residence of the Maharajah of Baroda. As far as I can remember our inspection
then was cursory and limited to the outside of the premises. In 2003 it was to
be very different.
Headquarters of the Northern Railways Since
Judging by the number of railway staff in view our arrival appeared to have coincided with the end of work for the day; but as guards marshalled and chivvied what seemed to be a fair proportion of the Railway’s 1.6 million employees into rank on orderly rank it became clear that this was in fact a welcome committee on an imperial scale. We progressed past the smiling and waving hosts until at the entrance to the boardroom we were met by a party of beguiling flower ladies. Showered with rose petals and garlanded like Apollo, we were introduced to the top management of this vast enterprise and were told that news of our visit had inspired them to research the building’s history, undertake some necessary repairs, spruce up the main reception rooms, and produce an illustrated brochure and slide show.
While some of the more striking features of the Railways’ work were explained, refreshments capable of satisfying the appetite of a regiment were circulated. We were told that 14,000 separate train journeys were organised each day and that a fleet of steam engines are still kept ready for use in case of interruptions to the electrical and diesel supplies.
In his speech of thanks, Charles Lutyens invited the management to take on the running of the British railways or at least the West Coast line, something the Director and his staff could presumably arrange over their morning break. He then sang a song. To avoid an encore our hosts proposed a detailed tour of the building, which enabled us to get a fair idea of the design and to compare it with the Hyderabad and Jaipur royal houses.
As dusk fell we left with an unforgettable impression of Indian courtesy and kindness. We had been treated in every way beyond our desserts. Such is the power of Lutyens’s name.
Work by Lutyens’s Office in New DelhiLutyens himself was “spared the anguish of designing jerry-villas”, his designs being rejected as too expensive, but many of the bungalows erected by the Public Works Department and the architects who worked under Lutyens’s direction were heavily influenced by four he did build for the Viceroy’s senior staff. Most are still in Government ownership, and security measures make them hard to see, but it was apparent that there is a treasure trove of inventive classical design to be studied here. Often quite Roman in feeling, always in symmetrical designs, these houses show the combination of Western classicism with traditional Indian methods of ensuring cooling breezes through buildings, based on the inventive combination of loggias, courtyards, arcades and verandahs.
Connaught Place, the great circus at the junction between New and Old Delhi, has suffered from some insensitive high-rise redevelopment in recent years. However, we saw enough of R.T. Russell’s colonnaded and arcaded buildings to be convinced that what remains should most definitely be retained and restored, albeit as the façade to redeveloped buildings behind.
Also by Russell, the Commander-in-Chief’s house (now the Nehru Memorial Museum) is a suave exercise in streamlined classicism that draws heavily on the style Lutyens used for Hyderabad House. This was very well maintained, and the contents gave a fascinating insight into Nehru’s life.
A Gourmet’s View or A Knife & Fork in New DelhiWonderful and unforgettable were the buildings and landscapes we saw in New Delhi and our appreciation of Lutyens’s and Baker’s work has in consequence been permanently enhanced.
Equally wondrous in cultural and social terms were the entertainments that ministered to our less elevated appetites. INTACH was determined that we should experience the full scope of Indian hospitality. In the space of a short visit we were treated to no less than five official lunches and dinners apart from the hospitality extended by the President.
If the entertainment was of a high order it was matched by the distinction of our various hosts. They included a Federal Minister, two State Chief Ministers, and a noted Delhi architect and the venues ranged from a Chief Minister’s palace, the Gymkhana Club, private rooms at the Sheraton and Ashoka Hotels and a private house designed by the owner. It is difficult to imagine a more varied exposure to Delhi hospitality.
The events began with a dinner given by Sri Jagmohan the Government Minister for Culture and Tourism. The world is in the Minister’s debt for his resolute action in preventing the destruction of the epic vistas from the Red Fort across the Taj Mahal at Agra.
On our second day, we enjoyed something of a home event, being invited by Edmund Marsden, the Director of the British Council in Delhi to meet his colleagues and other Indian friends. The building designed by Charles Correa could not have presented a greater contrast with the Lutyens’s masterpiece we were to see the next day and some might say only served to increase our appreciation of our hero’s work.
By now we were properly into our stride and could take in two entertainments per day. Lunch with Smt. Sheila Diksit, Chief Minister of Delhi was provided at the lavish and luxurious rooms of the Sheraton Hotel. The support of the Chief Minister is critical in achieving the protection of the Lutyens Bungalow Zone. The food on this occasion was a choice mixture of Western and Indian dishes and the four courses rather exceeded one’s normal luncheon intake, contributing perhaps to some uncharacteristic lethargy at the subsequent visit to Jaipur House.
The same evening by the special invitation of Mrs. Bindu Manchanda we were able to dine and inspect that shrine of Imperial and now Indian respectability, the Delhi Gymkhana Club. The seamless continuation of club life throughout the radical changes in regime culture and fashion of the past sixty years is a striking feature of all the major Indian cities. We were fascinated to see the ballrooms, bars, billiard and dining rooms, pools and tennis courts of a thriving club and again enjoy a meal under an open sky. Several of our party were with difficulty extracted from the bar having met many congenial companions en passant and a challenge to billiards was quickly taken up by the resident players.
Our last day was long and hot and was devoted to the ecclesiastical manifestations of the Imperial spirit. Perhaps it was this combination that made one think longingly of cooling drinks and convivial chat. Our hosts for the evening, Mr. and Mrs. Shiban Ganju, excelled our most sanguine hopes. They opened up their private home, designed by Mr. Ganju himself, to provide us with a sumptuous evening in an environment very different from those we had so far encountered. Drinks in amazing variety and amazing colours appeared and quickly disappeared. The writer attempted to work his way through the spectrum of the rainbow but was forced to sit down before the primary colours were exhausted. The occasion was graced by a number of the leading Indian architects including Raj Rewal, whose very successful Parliament library we had seen the previous day.
Mervyn Miller took the opportunity to thank all our hosts and in particular, S. K.Misra, Vice Chairman of INTACH for their help, and Charles Lutyens who by this time was a past master of the idiom spoke for all of us in thanking Paul Waite for his huge contribution to the success of the visit. The evening concluded with perhaps the best Indian food any of us had ever tasted, and one blessed the Indian practice of help yourself and don’t worry about how many times you do so.
We were told that in the Delhi social ‘season’; culinary experiences like ours could be obtained every evening. If so it may explain why house prices in New Delhi are in the stratosphere and why I for one am eager to return in the hope of re-living the many happy hours we spent with our Indian friends.
Illustrations by: Mark Hoare, Charles Morris, Ted Ridge and Andrew Wilton