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Bookshelf - The Modern Architecture of New Delhi

The following essay includes my thoughts about Architecture in Delhi (and Mumbai). I’m in no way an expert on history and architecture so it is quite possible that I have made errors in my observations. If the reader finds any mistake please feel free to point it out

The Modern Architectures of New Delhi is a collection of photographs of post Lutyens buildings in Delhi, accompanied by description of the design, philosophy & style(s) adopted, materials used, some background of the architecture involved and what makes the building stand out. The time period covered is between 1928 to 2007. The book would be an excellent addition to anyone’s coffee table book collection had the binding quality not been so pathetic. It started coming apart as soon as I was half way through. But, this is my only complain about the book. The binding might be disappointing, the content is not.

Delhi’s architectural identity has always been defined by what the Britishers and Mughals left behind in the form of New and Old Delhi respectively. Read any tourist guide, read any book about Delhi and the author will, rightfully, make it a point to highlight these amazing buildings, tombs, towers and forts. Walking into many of these structures gives me a sense of awe and being transported into another era. But, it is rare to find people or literature showing interest in what was built after the Britishers left.

On a side note, I’m on a quest to find out about the architecture of Delhi’s pre-Mughal period.

The most curious thing about Delhi’s architecture is the absence of modernism before India’s independence. While Mumbai was embracing Art Deco during the 1930’s, Delhi seemed to have none of it. You’ll find not clue of any structure, from that period, that could be defined under the broad term of “modern architecture”. Even after independence the buildings built borrowed heavily from where Lutyen’s left off with his Indo-British style. It took about 10 years for the modernist movement to reach Delhi and unlike Mumbai’s Art Deco, the modernism in Delhi was very rarely pure; more often than not the architects made sure to include local influence and materials. For example, the inclusion of jaalis in a primarily California modern architecture of Triveni Kala Sangam.

What is unfortunate is that after the initial burst of modern architecture in the city things seems to have slowed down. The newer areas of Delhi and it’s satellite cities are drab, uninspiring, unplanned and most of the times downright ugly. All I observe are buildings made of steel and glass, trying to blatantly imitate the west while lacking any character. They all look replaceable.

My commute to school used to be from East Delhi (Mayur Vihar) to Central Delhi (Chanakyapuri) and for 14 years I had the pleasure of witnessing some of the major structures of the city every day; Pragati Maidan, Old Fort, India Gate, Delhi High Court, Hotel Ashok & Samrat, various embassys, Nehru Park, and some really well made European styled houses throughout the central parts of the city. Each one of these had something inspiring about them, these buildings made me wonder what was going inside them, what kind of people lived or worked there but most of the times just the aesthetics were a pleasure to observe. Contrasting that with the later part of my life, where I spent commuting in both Noida and Gurgaon, there was nothing to look at or get inspired from.

Reading this book was like taking that childhood commute again through places both new and old to me; revisiting some and discovering many more.