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HindustanTimes Wed,23 Jul 2014

An east-west collaboration

Sidhartha Roy, Avishek G Dastidar, Manoj Sharma Sidhartha Roy, Avishek G Dastidar, Manoj Sharma Sidhartha Roy, Avishek G Dastidar, Manoj Sharma , Hindustan Times  New Delhi , January 06, 2011
First Published: 00:02 IST(6/1/2011) | Last Updated: 17:08 IST(26/8/2011)

When the British started building New Delhi, the city witnessed its biggest construction endeavour since Shahjahan built the Red Fort and Walled City. The new city with its grand office and residential buildings, wide avenues and gardens was an architectural, engineering and logistical challenge.

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Chief architect Edwin Lutyens wanted to build an imperial city in neo-classical style. Eventually, with Viceroy Hardinge's goading, more Indian elements were included to create an Indo Saracenic marvel. Though the shifting of the capital was announced in 1911, work started only in 1918, after World War I ended.

The layout of the new city consisted of hexagonal lines, to connect New Delhi to Safdarjung Tomb, Purana Quila, Connaught Place and Jama Masjid. At the apex was the Government House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan), joined by North and South blocks and a grand vista culminating at the All-India War Memorial (now India Gate).

Thousands of workers were brought in the city, mainly of Bagariya community from Rajasthan and others from Punjab. Nearly 29,000 were working on the Government House alone. Skilled stonecutters, numbering 2,500, were brought from Makrana, Alwar, Jaisalmer and Ajmer. The tools and machinery, like the architects, were brought exclusively from Europe. State-of-the-art cranes were also brought to speed up the work and a small railway system hauled stones and other material.

A 22-acre stonecutting yard was built, biggest in the world at that time. Stone for the plinth was cut from the ridge. Red and buff sandstone was brought from Dholpur and gravel was sourced from nearby Badarpur.

With the grand buildings — the Government House, Secretariat and Council House (now Parliament House) — coming up, the architects didn't know how to fill the space along the Central Vista. Herbert Baker, the other main architect, preferred government houses or residences of Indian princes to be built there. Lutyens, however, preferred to plant trees. A nursery came up near Safdarjung Tomb to provide saplings for New Delhi's wide avenues. Long-time friends Lutyens and Baker differed on another issue.

Lutyens wanted the Government House to tower above New Delhi but Baker wanted the Secretariat at the same level. Lutyens agreed, only to realise later that only the dome of the building would be visible from the Great Place (Vijay Chowk) as you drive up the gradient. The two never talked again.

Huge help from railways

Railways brought in the first touch of modernity to the barren lands of Raisina Hill in 1911, much before anything was built in the name of new Delhi.

Narrow gauge railway tracks crisscrossed the rocky plains to haul every construction material needed to erect a Capital city for two decades. It must have been a gigantic task considering the Viceregal House (Rashtrapati Bhawan) alone used up 700 million bricks and 3.5 million cubic-feet of stones.

A railway line circled the under-construction Council House (Parliament) to continuously move men and material, while a temporary rail workshop did the repair and maintenance of trains 24X7. "The Imperial Delhi Railway" pulled in resources from all zonal railways —in the hills, the East, the West and the smaller zones operating within North India — to meet the huge demand for locomotives and hauling rakes.

"The smaller zonal railways and some private rail companies operating in north India converged at the Old Delhi station. New Delhi was just a roadside station of sorts that came up much later," said Vinoo Narain Mathur, former Member (Traffic) Indian Railways, who has authored the book: 'Bridges, Buildings and Black Beauties of Northern Railway'.

The new Capital city needed a railway station of its own. The Viceroy himself required a railway point to make a grand entry to the brand new Capital. "The engineers built a road especially for his entry from the station and called it the State Entry Road, which still exists," Mathur said. Records show that the East Indian Railway Board set up a "Delhi Lines Committee" which selected the area for the New Delhi railway station in 1918.

Architects we forgot

Edwin Lutyens' is perhaps the only name that comes to mind when one talks of the making of New Delhi. So much so that the city is also referred to as 'Lutyens' Delhi'.

Other architects who got some credit are Herbert Baker, who designed the iconic North and South blocks and several bungalows across the city, Robert Tor Russell, who designed Connaught Place, Teen Murti House, Eastern and Western Courts, National Stadium, etc.

But not many have heard of architects such as WH Nicholls, Walter Sykes George, Henry Medd, Arthur Gordon Shoosmith — all of whom were closely associated with the creation of a new Delhi. Medd, a young architect, was Baker's man on the spot in India. Though he came to India in 1919 as the latter's representative to help interpret and adapt his drawings, he is said to have helped Baker a great deal in finalizing the finer details of the Council House (now Parliament) and Secretariat buildings (North and South blocks).

Russian-born English architect Shoosmith supervised the building of Viceroy's House in New Delhi as Lutyens' representative. 

George was another British architect who helped both Lutyens and Baker in their Delhi project. He played a key role in landscaping Mughal Garden.

Then there was W.H. Nicholls, who, not many know, helped Russell design Connaught Place and FB Blomfield, a contemporary of Lutyens who designed what used to Jinnah's grand residence on Aurangzeb Road.


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