New Delhi
The delivery of New Delhi to the viceroy


The miniature shown above is painted in the Indian traditional style, bordered with flowers and foliage, but actually the depicted scene is not the Mughal Court. The dignitaries wearing courtiersf costumes at the audience are all British.
This picture, painted in 1931 by a British woman, Marjorie Shoosmith, symbolizes the last brilliance of the ancient regime and the final days before the advent of new architecture, in the mid-19th century. Here I will concisely describe what sort of end it was, through the vicissitudes of architecture before and after the scene of this miniature.

in the LAST HALF of the 19th CENTURY

Colonizing most of India, the British Empire attained to its golden age in the last half of the 19th century. Its colonial capital Calcutta (now Kolkata) was embellished with edifices in the style of European Neo Classicism (the tendency to design new buildings in ancient Greco-Roman styles), such as the huge Government House.
However, as the summer in Calcutta is so hot and was not considered hygienic enough, the summer resort town Shimla in the north became the summer capital in 1865, where the English country-house-like Rashtrapati Niwas (Viceregal Lodge) was constructed in 1888 based on Henry Irwinfs design.

Rashtrapati Niwas (Viceregal Lodge), Henry Irwin, Shimla

As this typically shows, the designs of main edifices during the British rule were almost exclusively by the hands of British architects. They were ecolonial architecturef, for which Indians were not entrusted, and moreover there were no institutions to bring up architects in colonial India. Therefore, there would have hardly emerged nationalist architects, equivalent to Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951) in the field of painting in modern India.

On the other hand in Bombay (now Mumbai), in concert with the Gothic Revival movement in the suzerain, not only Christian churches but also commercial buildings were magnificently built in Gothic style, manifesting the opulent strength of the Empire. The Library and Convocation Hall of Bombay University designed by George Gilbert Scott are its best representatives.

University Library by George Gilbert Scott, 1878, Bombay

However, recognizing that these unilateral compulsions of Western civilization helped engender the Indian Mutiny against the British army during 1857-59, the colonial government turned its cultural policy in the direction of adopting Indian traditional factors into colonial buildings. The result is the thriving of the eIndo-Saracenic stylef, which made a compromise between Western and Mughal architectures, from the 1880s.

The style, which provided stone eaves in precaution against the rainy season and erected small embellishing Chhatris on roofs around main domes, caught on swiftly all over the Indian subcontinent, and was received amicably by the Indians too. It can be interpreted that British architects represented Indian nationalism in architecture on behalf of Indians.

Old Town Hall by Vincent Esch, 1913, Hyderabad


In the 20th century the anti-British and independence movements grew rapidly, based mainly in Calcutta. The British government, experiencing a sense of crisis, declared in 1911 that it would construct a new city south of Delhi, located in central India, and transfer the capital from Calcutta in the west.

Thus the British leading architects Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) and Herbert Baker (1862-1946) were invited to design the city of New Delhi and its important edifices such as the Viceroyfs House (Government House) and the Secretariats. Here they diluted the character of Indo-Saracenic style, inclining toward European Classicism, in accordance with the policy of the government.

Secretariats by Herbert Baker, 1931, New Delhi

It is the miniature at the beginning of this article that humorously depicts the delivery of these last large-scale colonial buildings to the viceroy, Lord Irwin, in 1931. The man presenting the model of Viceroy House is Lutyens, the next holding the model of Parliament House is Baker, and the last with a drawing of the city plan in his hand is the chief engineer, Alexander Rouse. The Viceroyfs House and Mughal garden designed by Lutyens are seen in the background.

In Europe in this period the movement of modern architecture, which rejected 19th century architecture based on classical styles, had attained to its high watermark.
Lutyensf assistant, who supervised the construction of New Delhi in situ, was the young architect Arthur Gordon Shoosmith (1888-1974). His wife was Marjorie Cartwright Shoosmith who painted the above-mentioned miniature. She may have learned traditional Mughal painting while her husband commuted to the construction sites.

A.G. Shoosmith was only one year younger than the champion of modern architecture, Le Corbusier (1887-1965), being likely dissatisfied with Lutyensf old styles. When he was given an opportunity to design the Garrison Church of St. Martin (1930) during the supervision of the construction of New Delhi, he adopted a constructivist-like style with almost no embellishment, but a powerful mass of brick. It is the first piece of modern architecture in India.

St. Martinfs Garrison Church by A.G. Shoosmith, New Delhi


Seventeen years after the construction of St Martinfs Garrison Church, India became independent from the British Empire in 1947, and Indian architecture immediately parted from European classical styles and rushed into modernism. The leading light who determined its direction was the French architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965), who planned the new capital city of Punjab state, Chandigarh, and designed its capital complex and principal facilities.

Left: Secretariat by Le Corbusier, 1953, Chandigarh
Right: Sangath (Doshifs Atlier) by Barkrishna Doshi, 1980, Ahmadabad

Barkrishna Doshi, who had trained at Le Corbusierfs atelier in Paris, made this direction take root, working energetically in Ahmadabad in western India and boosted this city into a mecca of Indian modern design.
While successive Indian architects developed new architecture, Raj Rewal especially modernized symbolically Indian traditional housing styles and forms, freely using the techniques of Western modern architecture.

STC Building by Raj Rewal, 1989, New Delhi

On the other hand there was an alternative tendency of a vernacular method of contemporary architecture, intending to adopt indigenous technologies suitable for the local climate rather than manipulate architectural forms.
The architect who most greatly influenced this current was the British architect Laurie Baker (1917-2007). He lived in the Kerala region in southern India, pursuing low-tech architecture for the common people, suitable to the tropical climate.

Left: St. Johnfs Cathedral by Laurie Baker, 1973, Tiruvalla
Right: University Lecture Hall by Uttam C. Jain, 1979, Jodhpur

Uttam C. Jain who succeeded to this trend is developing an architecture taking root on arid land in the desert district in western India.
Indian contemporary architecture spreads between these two reaches: globalism tightly connected with Europe and the U.S.A. and regionalism deeply based on the Indian earth.

(Originally published in the magazine "ART TOP" No. 186, June 2002)



© Takeo Kamiya
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