Art History

Published in The Architectural Review, Vol. LXIX, No. 410, January 1931.

I- Preconceptions.

That New Delhi exists, and that, twenty years ago, it did not exist, are facts known to anyone who is at all aware of the British connection with India. It is expected, and assumed, that the representatives of British sovereignty beyond the seas shall move in a setting of proper magnificence; and that in India, particularly, the temporal power shall be hedged with the divinity of earthly splendour. To satisfy this expectation, New Delhi was designed and created. But that the city’s existence marks, besides an advance in the political unification of India, a notable artistic event, has scarcely been realized. Nor is this surprising in a generation which has been taught by painful experience to believe architectural splendour and gaiety inseparable from vulgarity. Of the city’s permanent value as an aesthetic monument, posterity must be the final judge. But to contemporaries, and in the darkness of contemporary standards, the event shines with a Periclean importance.

The surprise which awaits the traveller on his first view of the imperial capital will be proportionate to the fixity of his previous ideas about it. Primarily, his conception has been political. The very words "New Delhi” suggest a Canberra in Asia, a hiving of black-coated officials in a maze of offices. True, there have been photographs; but these have been either of the worse buildings, which were finished first, or, if of the better, of structures in disarray, confused with scaffolding, and offset by no proper lay-out. Nor can, nor ever will, any photograph convey the colour of the scheme and the part played by colour in the unity and proportion of the architecture. Again, the traveller may already have assessed the worth of the architects from their buildings in London. He may have recalled Britannia House at Finsbury Circus, the little bank abutting on St. James’s, Piccadilly, and the cenotaph in Whitehall, from the hand of Sir Edwin Lutyens; together with the Ninth Church of Christ Scientist, India House, and the new Bank of England, from that of Sir Herbert Baker. And he must confess that, whatever the merits of these buildings compared with those around them, judged by universal standards they display little distinction and no genius. Finally, before he reaches Delhi, the traveller must necessarily have observed the scale and variety already employed by English enterprise to embellish the chief towns of India; and he must have found himself, in the process, not merely depressed, but tempted to regret our nation’s very existence. For it has been our misfortune to have impressed on the length and breadth of the country an architectural taste whose origin coincided with the sudden and complete enslavement of European aesthetics to the whims of literary and romantic symbolism. The nineteenth century devised nothing lower than the municipal buildings of British India. Their ugliness is positive, daemonic. The traveller feels that the English have set the mark of the beast on a land full of artistry and good example. Here and there, in the large commercial towns, a new dawn is breaking. But the traveller remembers anxiously that the greater part of New Delhi was designed before the War. Only in the unremitting abuse lavished on the new city by resident Englishmen and occidentalized Indians does a perverse hope seem to linger.

2.- The Reality.

With sad expectations, therefore, the traveller hires a motor, and drives out of Old Delhi, past the Pearl Mosque and the Fort. Dipping beneath a pleasant Neo-Georgian railway bridge, he debouches on an arterial vista of asphalt and lamp-posts. A flat country-brown, scrubby, and broken, over which the cold winds of the central Indian winter sweep their arctic rigours-lies on either side. This country has been compared with the Roman Campagna : at every hand, tombs and mosques from Mogul times and earlier, weathered to the colour of the earth, bear witness to former empires. The road describes a curve-the curve of a solar railway; and embarks imperceptibly on a gradient. Suddenly, on the right, a scape of towers and domes is lifted from the horizon, sunlit pink and cream against the dancing blue sky, fresh as a cup of milk, grand as Rome. Close at hand, the foreground discloses a white arch, a fabric replete with stone, whose height exceeds that of the new Underground Building in London by three feet. This is the threshold of the city. The motor turns off the arterial avenue, and, skirting the low red base of this gigantic monument, comes to a stop. The traveller heaves a breath. Before his eyes, sloping gently upward, runs a gravel way of such infinite perspective as to suggest the intervention of a diminishing- glass; at whose end, reared above the green tree-tops, glitters the seat of government, the seventh Delhi, four-square upon an eminence-dome, tower, dome, tower, dome, red, pink, cream, and white, washed gold and flashing in the morning sun. The traveller looses a breath, and with it his apprehensions and preconceptions. Here is something not merely worthy, but whose like has never been. With a shiver of impatience he shakes off contemporary standards, and makes ready to evoke those of Greece, the Renascence, and the Moguls.

The motor moves forward again. Beside the arch lie circular basins of water. In front, on either side of the gravelled way, run strips of park, grass, and trees, to the width of 189 yards each. The trees disclose gleams of other waters. These are water-ways, connecting with the basins by the arch, and continuing parallel with the central drive as far as the Great Place, a distance of a mile and a quarter. This central drive is known as the King’s Way. Up it the tall black lamp-posts still persist. Halfway is a crossing road, off which, to the right, stand the facade and half a side of the Record Office. But there is no time to turn the head. The central group at the end begins to reveal itself; and with every detail its enigma and grandeur increase.

The eminence on which it stands, once known as the Raisina Hill, has been invested, from in front, with an artificial character by foundation walls of rich rhubarb stone; so that, from having been a gentle rise in the ground, it now pretends to the illusion of a portentous feat of building, as though its entire area, half a mile across, had been raised above the surrounding country by human effort. From this massive undercarriage rise the end-facades of the two Secretariats, red to the first storey, white above. At either comer of each facade project pillared extensions, throwing heavy triangular shadows on the intervening walls (Fig. 3 and Plate II). These shadows give depth and solidity to the buildings, and increase their character of entrance-lodges, on a huge scale, to the steeply rising roadway in between them. Overthecentre of each facade stands a slender white tower; while from the central point of each whole building, a considerable way back, rise two companion domes of cream stone, set on tall bases of the same material picked out in red. These domes, surmounted each by a cupola, are shaped like those of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s, after the fashion of the High Renaissance. From the cross-roads on the King’s Way they stand up outside, though lower than, the towers in front. Then, as the motor draws on, they gradually move inward, till the towers cut across them, and at length they reappear, diminished in height, on the inside.

The Secretariats, however, are but the ancillaries of a pivotal and more distinguished monument. For nearly 400 yards along the same, though now uplifted, axis as the King’s Way, their main bulks face one another, 117 yards apart, and separated by invisible platforms, through which runs a broad gradient, though evidently very distant, stands a column of white marble, suggesting the intervening level. And beyond this again appears another central dome, upheld, right and left, by a stupendous white colonnade, a furlong and a half in length, whose total extent is cut short by the converging perspective of the Secretariats.

This dome, a flat hemisphere of glistening metal supported on a great red and white plinth three times its depth and half again as deep as its own diameter, seems impervious to the laws of distance. From the middle of the King’s Way it appears to be neither behind the Secretariats nor in front of them. Enough that, in a symmetrical plan, it lies between them. For its character is so arresting, so unprecedented, so uninviting of comparison with known architecture, that, like a sovereign crowned and throned, it subordinates everything within view to increase its own state, and stands not to be judged by, but to judge, its attendants. The Secretariats, remarkable buildings in themselves, exist only in relation to it, and inasmuch as they minister to its success. Its individuality, its difference from every dome since the Pantheon and particularly from the domes adjoining, lies in its intrinsic solidity. It has the character of a pure monument. Encircled with a narrow gallery, whose function is only to provide, by its blind shadow, a black and further solidifying variant to the red and white, it seems not to have been built, but to have been poured compact from a mould, impermeable to age, destined to stand for ever, to watch the rise of an eighth Delhi and a hundredth Delhi. Let the breath of destruction threaten all around; this it cannot penetrate. Such an expression of irrefragable permanence, of the monumental function transcending all considerations of adornment or utility, recalls the architectural intentions of Antiquity, of Egypt, Babylon, and Persia, and alone makes the first drive up the King’s Way an experience of instant and increasing pleasure.

As the motor approaches the Great Place, the colonnade beneath the dome gradually sinks below the level of the Secretariats’ platforms; so that the monument stands by itself, appearing to rise off the top of the asphalt gradient between them. It has receded now. Its top has sunk below the roof-line of the Secretariats. But the marble column stands out in front, to indicate the extent, half a mile in length, of the intermediate distance.

The pure whiteness of this column contrasts with the sandstone cream of the Secretariats and cf the dome behind it, and still more with the burnt rosy red of their foundations and the dome’s gallery. These two sandstones, employed in all the chief buildings of New Delhi, have come from the same quarry. The contrast between them is intense; in fact the degree of this intensity has played an important

part in determining the proportion of foundation to upper storey, and in reducing the weapons of architectural definition and emphasis to a minimum, throughout the city. But at the same time there is none of that glaring disunity displayed by Mogul buildings, where white marble of an entirely separate patina and luminosity is employed with the same red stone. For in New Delhi, the red and cream, being of the same texture, and each containing the tints of the other, seem to grow into one another, as they did in the earth. In Mogul buildings, the marble becomes simply an electric decoration, an exquisite appliance. Here, the light is absorbed and refracted equally by both stones, and every building shares to some extent the quality of the central dome-as though it had been poured liquid from a mould and as though the red, being heavier, had sunk to the bottom. In both colours the stone has an exquisite freshness, bathing in light like the petals of a flower in dew. At the same time, the essential affinity of the two colours produces an air of strength and maturity, which attains, on a sufficient scale, to grandeur.

A mile and a quarter from the Arch, two low triangular flights of steps on either side of the King’s Way mark the rise to the Great Place, a rectangle with elliptical ends, 26 1/2 acres in extent, and lying across the axis of the main design. The middle is empty, save for the necessary traffic islands; so that nothing interrupts the view of the gradient between the Secretariats and the central dome above it. But at either end of the Place are set three fountains, each 240 feet in length and consisting of two circular sheets of water joined by an oblong on a slightly lower level. In each of these triple groups, the fountains are set at right-angles to one another, the centre one laterally, pointing outwards along the length of the Great Place, the other two parallel with the King’s Way and exactly in line with the flanking waterways, with which one of them actually connects, while its opposite number lies across the Place immediately beneath the end facades of the Secretariats. The circular sheets at either end of the fountains are of different sizes ; the larger placed outermost in each case, and sprouting a stone obelisk, altogether 30 feet high, from a double basin on a pedestal; the smaller and inner decorated only with a tiny curling jet.

All six fountains are executed in the red stone, which their blown spray turns a rich rust colour. Finally, the ellipses of the Place are rounded off with curving rush-plaited railings of the same stone, 15 feet high, and finished, where radiating thoroughfares cut through them, with stone posts bearing stone lanterns. As an urban space conceived in dressed stone, only the piazza of St. Peter’s can compare with the Great Place of New Delhi for spaciousness and economy of design.

I must here interpolate a personal experience. I had reached this point in my observations when a company of Scottish soldiers, heralded by bagpipes, marched through the stone railings on to one end of the Great Place, and threading past the three fountains reached a point betweentheSecretariats. Here they wheeled sharply to the left and went at a smart pace up the asphalt gradient in the direction of the central dome. The dramatic value of Scottish kilts and Scottish music in foreign countries is fully realized by the authorities, who always use it to give point to “forceful demonstrations”; nor is that value lessened by the presence of a khaki coal-scuttle on each man’s head. But in this setting, beneath this range of towering buildings multicoloured in the blue sky, amidst all this decorated space, the apparition of these troops defiling up that mysterious trough between the Secretariats towards the glowing dome beyond, their accoutrements flashing in the Indian sun, and only a crawling ox-cart to deflect the attention, was more than merely theatrical. The emotion of time and circumstance, third dimension of true splendour, was evoked. The whole history of civilized man, of all his politics, empires, thrones, and wars, of all his effort to govern and be governed, followed in the soldier’s wake. That the entire spectacle, men and buildings, was the symbol of English dominion, seemed merely incidental. But that the evolution of government could demand, and create, in its everyday course, such a spectacle, seemed to postulate an apotheosis of human order. Indian nationalists, should they see them, will detect a propagandist ring in these words, and will point my attention from gaudy display to the rights of man. To which it must be answered that beauty is infallible, and confers a measure of right on its creators, whatever their sins.

To the right of the Great Place lies a circular building, approximately 125 yards in diameter, and a fifth of that distance, or 75 feet high. This amphitheatre is the Council Chamber. Its outer casing falls into three divisions: a red foundation, whence project various carriage-porches; a middle storey enclosed within a colonnade of heavy white stone pillars; and above the cornice which they support, a small attic storey of white plaster, which is divided in two by the heavy shadow of another cornice. Finally, above the centre, protrude three quarters of an irrelevant wart-like cupola. The idea underlying this building is worthy and remarkable. But its execution has not been successful. The pillars, though in themselves well proportioned, are so placed, and are so numerous, as to appear unpleasantly thin, like the iron struts of a fender. A building so squat in proportion to its area needs to satisfy the eye with an illusion of massive solidity, as though it were an outcrop of the rock beneath. Unfortunately, the colonnade produces precisely the opposite effect; while the attic storey, robbed of meaning by its cornice, appears to be merely a screen. In addition, the red foundation looks more like a red veneer than a heavy plinth such as the building demands, the red being carried neither high enough up nor far enough out.

It is perhaps unfair to stress the poverty of the Council Chamber in a preliminary survey, as it stands apart from the main design; and, considered as a companion to the whole rather than as a separate entity, it possesses certain merits. Its rotundity, while striking a note of pleasant unexpectedness, nevertheless prevents it from impinging on the symmetry of the general layout, as a square building, with its inevitably triangular shadows, must have done. It must be admitted that, in view of its position, its unobtrusiveness is a major virtue.

It remains now to ascend the gradient between the Secretariats and to resolve the mystery of the white pillar, of the central dome, and of the colonnade that was visible beneath it from the gravelled way.

As the asphalt leads up between the walls of red stone, the enormous length of the opponent Secretariats is revealed. On either side, a great expanse of red and white wall is broken by four pillared extensions similar to those of the end-facades, and throwing similar triangular shadows. These extensions are placed in couples. Between each couple the main wall is thrust back into a broad recess broken by a tall Mogul doorway. Above the doorway, the big egg-top domes are now revealed in their entirety. In front of the buildings, on the platforms through which the road has been carved, are gardens, squares of turf, and orange trees, which are broken, beneath the domes, by cruciform sheets of water. Their chief harvest is a crop of red stone lamp-posts in hexagonal hats. The roadway reaches the level of the platforms just before the middle of each Secretariat. Immediately in front, though still half a mile away, stands the Viceroy’s House and the Viceroy’s dome.

Where the Secretariats end, a forecourt intervenes, a quarter of a mile long, revealing views of the surrounding country on either side. This is enclosed by a screen of tall iron railings, closely set on a red stone foundation and divided at intervals by solid square columns of the same material. The central gateway is flanked by stone horse-guard boxes, in which lancers mounted on black horses stand as motionless as their prototypes in Whitehall. On a broad space in the middle of the courtyard appears the white pillar, 100 feet high, known as the Jaipur column, and standing on a double base of red and white. On top of this column another 48 feet of ornament will cleave the sky-a floreated bronze pinnacle bearing a six-pointed star of glass, 15 feet in diameter.

On either side of the court run sunk drives, sloping down to a central point, then up from it, so as to show the foundation line of the guard-house at the end. Along their parapets stand red stone posts bearing twisted basket lanterns. The drives are flanked by strips of grass and water shaded by small trees. The gravel in the centre is of the surrounding country, and is supported by massive sunk walls of red stone, which run almost flush from the sides of the guard-house at the end. These are interrupted to allow the passage of lateral drives, which meet the others at their lowest point. The points of interruption are demoted by square gazebos of red stone capped with white hemispherical roofs.

The Viceroy’s House, whose chief ornament is the central dome of the city already described, presents a colonnaded facade 500 feet in length. This is flanked by two projecting wings, whose facades, standing 140 feet in advance of the main body, are each 64 feet wide. The total length of the house is therefore 630 feet or 210 yards. The dome rises 170 feet from the courtyard, and 180 feet from the level of the surrounding plain.

Beneath the dome, a portico of twelve pillars, each 30 feet high, is approached by a stupendous pyramid of steps which play out to meet the ground, thus increasings their perspective by an optical trick. This portico is slightly recessed. On either side of it, supported on the massive red foundation that runs all round the house, stand pylonic blocks of masonry incouples,embellished with flat niches at the bottom and small windows, black and square, immediately beneath the cornice above. Between each of these couples is a black space, wider at the top than the bottom, and relieved at the sides by single columns, between which are placed diminutive statues of the King and Queen in white marble. This marble contrasts brightly with the black shadow behind, and also with the cream sandstone on either side. Below each of these statues, which are 23 feet off the ground, lie circular pools framed in white marble, which are intended to receive four prancing horses. [1]

Beyond the pylonic couples, in either direction, run colonnaded galleries, of somewhat less depth than the portico, till received by other pylons to meet the corners, whence the wings project from pylons at right-angles to the last. The insides of the wings, similarly colonnaded, end in couples of pylons similar to those which contain statues of the King and Queen; as do their end-facades. The red base throughout is broken by a series of magnificently proportioned archways, black shapes, whose key-stones rise up to bind the narrow bases of the colonnaded galleries. But the red stone reaches only as high as the point, 14 feet up, whence springs the curve of the arch. Thence to the base of the colonnades is white; so, too, is all above. By this means the arches, unlike those of similar position in the Secretariats, bring the foundations into unity with the upper part and increase the value of the ratio between the two colours.

Above the colonnades and the portico runs a blind parapet, delicately finished with an imperceptible red inlay so as to meet the sky with decision, and at the corners continuing to convergent lines of the pylonic blocks. Beneath this parapet projects, to a distance of 8 feet, a chujja, a thin blade of stone shaped like a tin cooking-dish, and sloping downwards from a line of black and white dots at the base of the parapet. This chujja, whose underneath is decorated with a bold pattern of red, runs the whole way round the house, binding wings, pylons, colonnades and blank walls, into a composite whole. That the building is a composite whole is its strongest feature. And the importance of the chujja cannot therefore be exaggerated. Without it the building would disintegrate into groups, would become a kind of stone encampment rather than a piece of architecture. But the chujja performs its work not only of itself, but by the agency of its black shadow, or, when the sun has changed positions by the light its top catches when all above and below it is in darkness. Without the most profound understanding of the manipulation of light and shade, no building in India can ever be successful. This understanding the classic builder’s of India, Hindu and Mohammedan alike, possessed in the highest degree. And the architect here has not hesitated to take his lesson from them.

The parapet above this admirable device is broken, at the corners and beside the portico, by diminutive cupolas, properly called chattris, which appear in couples, one above each of the sixteen pylonic blocks visible from the front. Only their tops, of heavily moulded red, capped with white and set on white blade-like chujjas, rise above the parapet; below, their bodies are indicated by a hollow break showing daylight. These chattris are very small and very severe. Their function is to define, not to decorate, the roof-line, and to suggest, with the utmost reticence, that a dome is to be uplifted.

They are not, however, the only additions to the roofline. From the centre of each parapet of the wings end facades, rises a stepped plinth of white stone, which supports a saucer, and above this, another saucer. This motive is repeated above the corners of the portico, on either side of the dome; though here the plinths are set back behind the parapet. The saucers are fountains. From the smaller a circular cascade descends into the larger. The engine to work them is concealed by the main flight of steps leading to the portico.

There remains the dome. Set back from the parapet, so as to be over the middle of the house and present a symmetrical effect from the sides, a square white base, rising well into the range of vision, supports a ponderous red circle. The comers of this base have been cut into narrow facets, which are continued upward into small blocks that point diagonally inwards towards a hypothetical centre. But on the fronts of these the white only forms a stepped pattern; the corners and sides have become red. The tops of these blocks have scarcely begun their inward course before they are absorbed into octagonal comer turrets of red stone-octagonal, save that three sides and half two others are in their turn absorbed into the circular red plinth behind. Beth plinth and turrets are very squat and massive, and are further bound to one another at the top by a boldly projecting all-round moulding, which follows alike the circle and the swelling facets of the turrets with the most complete and satisfying uniformity. This brings the eye to a gallery whose red stone roof, sloping downwards, and thin as a sheet of iron, describes a similar course. This roof-chujja is supported on heavy bars of red stone, which stand out from the black shadow behind. Above it, each turret is carried to conclusion by a small white roof, a domical octagon capped with a white hemisphere. The circular central mass, into which these are absorbed like the turrets below them, now continues white, and is decorated, at the top, with a slightly projecting band of rush-plait pattern-a decoration which resembles the marks of a thumb-nail in close formation, and only serves to increase the general severity. Above this, well back, sits the dome on a heavy ribbon of red and white stone, which completes its hemisphere-a glowing copper mass, later to be gilded with a bold pattern, and bearing, on its apex, two crown pieces and a twopenny-bit of white stone.

Such are the salient motives of the Viceroy’s House, as they resolve themselves after the first drunken sensation of pleasure has given place to rational thought. The building is remarkable for its gigantic size, its perfect proportion of mass and detail, its colour, and its ponderous adhesion to the earth. But its essential genius, its novelty, lies in the way these qualities have been brought to serve a taste in architectural form which pertains specifically to the twentieth century. For the whole house is constructed on a faintly pyramidical principle. The red foundation has actually a definite “batter”. Above this, the convergence of the perpendiculars, though seemingly continuous, is in reality obtained by a system of delicate steps and mouldings. Viewed from a distance, the convergent outsides indulge a curious and delightful opposition to the directly vertical pillars ofthecolonnades. But this effect, at close quarters, when it might become inharmonious, is mitigated by the sides of the pylonic blocks being actually, though imperceptibly, at successive right-angles to successive horizontal levels. The feeling of movement in mass thus produced has found particular favour and widespread expression in the modern industrial age. It is an admirable quality, dynamic, expressive of growth and at the same time of solid union with the earth. But hitherto, except in Tibet, its interpretation has been so strictly industrial, so ruthless in its disregard of the graces of architecture, that even the best modern buildings, whatever their virtues of line and mass, invariably present a raw and stark appearance and smell, truthfully enough as a rule, of imprisoned clerks and the eternal pregnancy of machines. But in the Viceroy’s House we behold this dynamic quality, while enfleshed with sufficient severity and on a sufficient scale to make it effective, combined with a scenic employ of colour, a profound knowledge of shadow play, and the most sensitive delicacy of moulding, pattern, and ornament. Moulding, pattern, and ornament are rare; but where they exist, they do so only in relation to the whole; they help complete the dynamic quality; they never amuse, are never simply ornamental or reminiscent. At the same time the fountains are playing on the roof, and a metal hemisphere flashes in the sun. These tell us that our age, despite its physical enslavement by the machine and the mass, has again discovered that joy in the sensuous beauty of the world perpetuated by the works of the Italian Renascence. The Viceroy’s House at New Delhi is the first real justification of a new architecture which has already produced much that is worthy, but, till now, nothing of the greatest. It is remarkable, indeed astonishing, to remember that its design was completed nearly twenty years ago.

Since first turning up the King’s Way, the traveller has come two miles. Returning to the iron screen across the front of the courtyard, and afterwards perhaps ascending one of the Secretariats’ towers, he can now look back across the park and waterways to the great white Arch in the distance. On all sides radiate the avenues of the new city, lined with bungalows in spacious woody gardens, and carved into merry-go-rounds at points of intersection. Every thoroughfare conducts the eye to some more ancient monument, looming in grey silhouette from the horizon of the imperial plain. Even the great Pearl Mosque, four miles off in the heart of the old city, has its approach, set at an angle of sixty degrees to the axis of the central design. Beyond the Arch, a hump of walls proclaims the Old Fort. A side avenue discloses the clustered domes of the tomb of Safdar Jang. far away the Q’tab is visible, an extravagant chimney on the south horizon.

Dusk approaches, falling like a curtain. The lights come out, furlongs of gold dots, suffusing the sky with an electric blue that deepens to black. Stars complete the night, a powder of silver. Below, the dark earth seems as though its crust had been punctured with a million pricks to reveal an ocean of light within. The plan of the new city lies open as a page of print: a map of quivering gold points. An artist has planned it, the artist of the fountains on the Great Place and the Viceroy’s House. “Will it ever be finished?” I asked him five minutes later, warmed by a glass of milk punch. “You may have observed,” he replied, “that London is not finished yet.”

II - A Short History of the City.

1.-Main Buildings

After a cursory view of the city as it is, it will not be out of place to inquire how it came to be. On December 12, 1911, George V, King and Emperor, in the course of the Delhi Durbar, proclaimed his decision that the capital of India should return to its ancient site. He expressed a desire that “the planning and designing of the public buildings to be erected be considered with the greatest deliberation and care,” in order that the new city should be worthy of its predecessors. As an earnest of the official intention he and the Queen-Empress laid two foundation stones, hastily sliced out of one, on a spot some ten miles distant from the present site. These, after various vicissitudes, have been respectfully incorporated in the present buildings.

No sooner was the decision made public than an angry controversy broke loose. Calcutta, founded amidst the vilest climate, the remotest marshes, and the most intemperate people in India, embellished and aggrandized by successive Viceroys with monstrous buildings and preposterous statues, and breathing a preponderantly commercial opinion upon the fate of 300,000,000 people, clamoured to retain the eminence for which it was so patently unfitted. In England, a chorus of informed rage found vent in the columns of The Times. Undeterred, the India Office and the Government of India took the first and vital step in the creation of a new capital. They appointed an architect to build it.

It was fully realized that if the city were ever to materialize on the scale suggested, its building would offer a field for architectural invention such as had not been vouchsafed the talent of Europe since Pope Leo X began the demolition of old St. Peter’s. This field, this opportunity, was to be placed in the hands of one man. When we recall the irremediable horror of the buildings erected in London at the beginning of this century-of the Victoria Memorial, Kingsway, Oxford Circus, the Piccadilly Hotel, and Westminster Cathedral-and when we recall the distinction that attached to their authors- the official choice of a true artist in the person of Edwin Lutyens must seem a God-sent accident. Nothing happier had graced the public life of England since George IV hit upon Nash.

To be an artist in England is to arouse suspicion. To entrust an artist with a great imperial enterprise was to arouse the most profound apprehension. It was felt, and rightly, that a man such as Lutyens would hesitate to rear a poem by Kipling in stone. A second controversy arose, which cannot, for tact’s sake, be altogether ignored. For there resulted from it an attitude of prejudice against Lutyens as Lutyens which persists to this day. and which partially explains the fanatical hatred of the new Capital expressed by all who are, or once were, British residents in India.

In spite of all opposition, the architect, in committee with two others, proceeded to report on the available sites; and in 1913, that of the Raisina Hill was approved. Meanwhile the buildings had been taking shape in the architect’s mind and on paper. Following the taste of Mogul builders, the materials were to be stones of red and white. It was hoped that the white would be marble. But expense would not allow of this. The Viceroy’s House was designed in two sandstones, as it now stands, but surmounted by a larger,moreexpansive dome. The latter had to be decreased for the same reason as the marble was abandoned.

In 1912, Lord Hardinge, the then Viceroy, had the misfortune to announce that the buildings must be completed in four years. Sir Edwin Lutyens, faced with the necessity not only of designing in so short a time the complicated interiors of the Viceroy’s House, the Secretariats, and the Council Chamber, but of planning and supervising the lay-out of a city calculated to hold 70,000 persons and to allow for unlimited expansion in the future, was obliged to ask for assistance. His choice of a coadjutor fell on Sir Herbert Baker, already noted for his Government buildings at Pretoria. It was decided that while Lutyens should retain the 'Viceroy’s House, with its garden, court, stables, and bodyguard lines, the Great Place with its fountains, the waterways and the King’s Way, the Record Office, and the general lay-out of the city streets, as his province. Baker should undertake the Secretariats and the Council Chamber. With the addition of the All-India War Memorial, the Arch at the foot of the King’s Way, which was later assigned to Lutyens, this arrangement was adhered to. The main buildings of New Delhi, as they stand today, are the work of two men, united by a single scheme of material and by a single, though since modified, conception of their lay-out. These unifying factors were the work of the original architect.

No artist ever gave the best service of his life and genius to a project more wholly than Sir Edwin Lutyens to New Delhi. The Viceroy’s House was the centre of his scheme, the favourite on which he lavished the resources of his thought; not only designing or overseeing the whole of the furniture down to the bedroom crockery, but even placing the very pansies in the garden. Since he was called upon to provide it, the Viceroy of India should inhabit the most superb dwelling on earth-a dwelling that might serve a film-producer as Babylon, yet please the visitor with its soap-dishes. On Boxing Day 1929, when I paid my first visit to New Delhi, the Viceroy had been in residence for sixty hours. I found Sir Edwin slightly bewildered. "I feel,” he said, “as if the Viceroy’s House were a newly married daughter. It seems extraordinary not to be able to wander about it whenever I want to any more.” I was reminded of Gibbon’s soliloquy in the garden at Lausanne : “I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and, perhaps, the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind, by the thought that I had taken everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion and that whatsoever must be the future fate of my History, the life of the historian must be short and precarious.” Sir Edwin goes out to Delhi again in February to attend the official opening ol the new capital, twenty years after the King’s proclamation. Let us hope that while the life of the historian did prove short and precarious, that of the architect may see emplaced the last stone of the Liverpool Roman Catholic Cathedral.

The whole work of actual construction was undertaken by the Government of India’s Public Works Department. Between such a body, shivering in the blast of public economy, and an artist, concentrated on the realization of an aesthetic idea, occasional disagreement was inevitable. How far the Public Works Department adopted tactics of deliberate obstruction-finding, as was natural, little relevance in fountains on a roof; or how wantonly extravagant was the determination of the architects; this age of excessive public amenity could scarcely bear the shock of discovering. But the history of New Delhi will be written one day, and will yet make unborn generations laugh, [2] even through the tears they drop for the might-have-beens, for the white marble, the larger dome, and many other things.

There is one might-have-been, however, that can scarcely be dismissed without something more than a passing regret. Sir Edwin Lutyens originally planned the Viceroy’s House to stand on the brow of the Raisina Hill, in the place now occupied by the Secretariats, whence its tremendous length would have dominated the plain for miles around. It is, in fact, accurate to say that the whole choice of site, and the main lines of the city’s design, were originally determined by this consideration. The Secretariats were to stand below, on what is now the Great Place. But on Sir Herbert Baker’s arrival in 1913, it was urged upon Sir Edwin that they also should stand up on the height, and that the Viceroy’s House should be placed further back. To this arrangement he consented, on the understanding that the entire area between the Secretariats should be so excavated as still to reveal the foundation line of the Viceroy’s House to the plain below. Preparations were begun. And it Was not until 1915-16 that Sir Edwin, to his inexpressible mortification, learned that his condition, indispensable to the success of his design, would not be carried out. The flights of steps which it would have entailed were considered inconvenient for clerks wishing to proceed from one Secretariat to the other. Instead, it was decided to retain the ground at its natural level, with the exception of a small trough just sufficiently long to admit a gradient suitable for normal traffic. Thus, as has already been shown, from no point on the King’s Way is it possible to see the foundation line of the great central mass of architecture; half way up, at the cross-roads, the colonnade begins to disappear; from the edge of the Great Place only the dome is visible; and from halfway across the Great Place even this is gone. The effect is still magnificent: the dome of the Viceroy’s House alone is sufficient to dominate any city; and even when it has sunk out of sight, the very mystery of the asphalt gradient leading into the sky still rivets the eye to the axis of the design. But that the artist’s conception, and the greatest architectural effort since Versailles, have been deliberately spoiled, hardly admits of question. Those responsible will find it difficult to absolve themselves from the charge of selfishness. So far they have attempted no justification of their action. But it is a curious and consoling fact that whatever the callousness of contemporaries, the judgment of posterity on vandals is generally vindictive beyond all reason.

2.-The Residential City.

It were mistaken to imagine New Delhi as consisting of nothing more than a beating heart, while the surrounding network of arteries and veins, umbrageous, polished, and lit at night, remains lifeless and empty. A whole new body of architecture has sprung up to meet the needs of the arriving residents, designed partly by the Public Works Department, partly by a colony of independent architects. Throughout the residential city, a uniform standard of tasteanddesign prevails; and the standard is a high one. Some buildings have a negative aspect; others may even be pronounced unsuccessful. But I recall no single structure which can justly be called offensive in a positive sense. A modern city can hardly ask a greater tribute. The potency of Lutyens’s influence is everywhere visible. And it seems probable that New Delhi is already nurturing a specifically Indo-British school of architecture. The designer of the Maharajah of Bikaner’s new house, for example, has adorned its roof-line with the fountain motive of the Viceroy’s House, using the stepped plinth and flat basin as a pleasant means of parapet relief. And it was still more surprising to remark this same device, further flattened and modified, capping the newly risen walls of the Bengal Legislative Assembly’s building in Calcutta.

It was foreseen from the outset that the sovereigns of the major Indian States would wish, or would feel it their duty, to erect palaces in the new city, as the Boyars did in St. Petersburg. The approach to the Memorial Arch at the foot of the King’s Way has therefore been called the Princes’ Place. To the north of the Arch stands the grey and white residence of H.E.H. the Nizam, whose design, though fussy, has the elements of goodness. Elsewhere, sites have been reserved, and plans prepared by Sir Edwin Lutyens, for the palaces of the Jam Sahib and the Maharajah Gaekwar of Baroda. He also designed the house of the Commander-in-Chief.

The English quarter of an Indian town, built to make life tolerable in the heat, generally presents the aspect of a forest. Save in Bombay and Calcutta, where land is valuable, the houses are of one storey and are therefore mainly hidden by the vegetation around them. In England, the word “bungalow” is the complete expression of architectural sin. In India it has been transformed into something solid and spacious, lending itself to the most diverse shapes, its wings hinging on obtuse angles, and its ends being finished with conches and apses, while its pillared loggias make play with parallel, or sometimes opposite, curves. Each house is set in a compound of two or three acres, whose trees have matured in ten years, and become enormous in twenty; so that a road containing twenty houses on either side would stretch from Marble Arch to the British Museum New Delhi will never, like Calcutta or Bombay, present the aspect of a Western town, with its streets confined within ramparts of domestic masonry. At one or two points only the buildings are beginning to congregate in close formation. Hospitals, clubs, a plethora of churches, a growing number of office buildings and a shopping quarter with a cinema, already bring an air of reality to the city. But these are necessarily isolated in an area which contains 80 miles of roadway, 70 of water-pipes and 202 of electric cables.

3.-The Critics.

We have now observed the city both as an aesthetic fact and as an historical event. Before proceeding to appraise its architecture in detail, it will be wise to ask; How well is New Delhi believed, by the inhabitants of India, to fulfil the practical purpose for which it was built ?

The question is still obscured by a blind curtain of prejudice. There are, it is true, those who still lament the transference from Calcutta for Calcutta’s sake. But of that city’s general disagreeableness, and of its unfortunate political atmosphere, enough has already been said. Nor is it necessary to stress its geographical remoteness compared with Delhi’s convenience. From the standpoint of the administration, the change of centre has been unquestionably beneficial. And this is admitted by those who judge the question on its merits. But these are few. And it does not take long for the visitor to discover that throughout India, New Delhi is an object of furious execration.

The line of criticism which makes the nearest approach to sense is that which deprecates the expense. In 1927, £10 000 000 had already been spent on the city; and the cost of completion, it was then calculated, would absorb another £5,000,000. These figures are not small; but they cover, besides the official buildings, all roads, water and light, the planting of 10,000 trees, the carriage of the stone from Dholpur, and vast works of excavation and levelling. And compared with the amount of money spent on demolition and re-erection during one year in London or New York, they amount to nothing. [3] In reality, no city in the world exhibiting the least pretension to aesthetic virtue has ever been created with such astonishing economy. Let it be remembered that Justinian is reputed to have spent £12,000,000 in bullion on St. Sophia alone; and that in his day gold was worth five times as much as it is how.

A primary consideration in the designing of the new capital was that it should gratify, as far as economy would allow, the Indian taste for splendour. Here again it has failed to please. The educated Indian, soaked in the utilitarian doctrines of the West, sees only sweated blood in the gorgeous and variegated buildings that shine over the plain, while the Indian population, grovelling in the fields beneath, possesses an average income of £2 a year. Nor, even if he can bring himself to discard political and economic prejudice, is he impressed aesthetically. Indian taste, save in jewels, miniatures, and stuffs, has been disastrously vitiated by the Western influence of the last century. Akbar or Shah Jehan would have cried for joy at the seventh Delhi and have hailed its builders as their worthy successors. Today, Indian princes commiserate with Lady Irwin on having to live in “such a plain house.’’ And the most cultivated of that august corporation told me with his own lips that he would have "preferred a combination of the Hindu and Gothic styles.” His remark carried me back into the fantastic realms of Horace Walpole and the Prince Regent. But I then recalled that architectural Sodom, Bombay, and remembered that, after all, it was not a joke. No; the magnificence of New Delhi is characterized by a restraint which cannot appeal to a taste contracted under the spell of Ruskin and Gilbert Scott. In philosophy and literature, the Indian is rediscovering his cultural individuality. But in art he remains, with few exceptions, subservient to degraded and repulsive Western importations. Perhaps, in the end, New Delhi will lead him to discover the truth virtue still latent in the West, and, by that roundabout means, to a new appreciation of his own superb monuments.

If the new capital has failed to find favour with the people it was primarily designed to please, still less is it approved by the English residents. The attitude of Indo-Britain, apart from the plea of expense already mentioned (which in most cases is nothing more than a rational peg for intuitive hatred), is one of pure prejudice and reveals that mostungenerousquality of the English mind, its animal suspicion of novelty. The English speak of the town with a kind of outraged fury, as though it had violated their wives. “Barrack-like” and “ bare ” are their stock epithets. One feels they would have liked the Viceroy’s House to be “homely,” full of nooks' and gables, a babel of verandahs and sun-blinds. Further objections, which have a potential validity, are that mosquitoes will breed on the water-ways, and that the distances are inconveniently large. But the prime defect, the unspeakable crime, the ATROCITY that has made every British heart from coast to coast beat faster, is the inconvenient flush of the Viceroy’s water-closet, and, worse, the noisome rumour that Lady Irwin’s bathroom resembles a mortuary. How these legends about the “usual offices” of the Viceroy’s House arose, how they fastened on public chivalry from Kashmir to Ceylon, no one can ever tell. But ask the question “What do you think of New Delhi?” of anv British resident in India; and he, or she, will reply with the inevitability of a cuckoo (and the suspicion of a sob) that, if the Viceroy and his wife are to be subjected, as long as the British dominion endures, to such unmentionable miseries, then as far as he, or she, is concerned, would that the city had never been built! Beseech him, or her, to confine their attention solely to aesthetic consideration ; you will be answered with a slow shake of the head and a pursing of eyes and lips. It is useless. You might have thought that colour and size at least would appeal to the vulgar. You were wrong. They would have liked a town of Swiss chalets, mosques, and Gothic spires carved with Hindu ornament, a Wembley of reminiscence. Too late, alas, for Sir Edwin’s guidance and the peace of India did Mr. Osbert Sitwell point out that-

“As for the General

He disapproves-of Art,

And does not believe in it.”

No building has yet been begun; but about 30 houses have been demolished as part of the work of preparing the site. The total cost of the scheme is estimated at about 50,000,000.”-Extract from The Times, October 17, 1930.


[1] Possibly copies of those on St. Marks. The horses, like the bells (Page 18) are the subject of a Mogul legend concerning the dynasty. At present a donor is needed. If the animals must be copies, the War Horses of Kanarak offer the obvious prototype, being not only Indian, but superior aesthetically to those of Lysippus. See The Architectural Review, November 1939.

[2] Lord Hardinge, whether from Christian or Mohammedan convictions originally stipulated for the use of the pointed arch throughout.

[3] “The plan for building a new Metropolitan Opera House upon a plaza to be opened on the tract of land in the middle of New York which Mr. John D. Rockefeller bought two years ago for a music centre has been revived… It is expected that the ‘Radio City’ will be complete by 1933.

Published in The Architectural Review, Vol. LXIX, No. 410, January 1931.

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