If the construction of a new Capital for British India out of a barren, rocky piece of land was a logistical challenge, the Government House (Rashtrapati Bhavan) was its biggest endeavour.
Built to house the Viceroy, the Government House was a home unlike any built by the British in India. The British wanted an imposing structure that would manifest their imperialist mission. In fact, the Government House, Secretariat and Central Vista ending at the All India War Memorial (India Gate) was the central axis around which the new city was expected to come up.Keeping the brief in mind, New Delhi’s chief architect Edwin Lutyens chose Raisina Hill as the base on which the Viceroy’s House would be built, so it could tower above the Capital.
The most impressive element of the house was its dome, with twice the height of the main building. When constructing the grand dome, Lutyens is believed to have been inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi.
Lutyens wanted to build the Government House, his most cherished project, in neo-classical style. Eventually, with Viceroy Hardinge’s goading, more Indian elements were grudgingly included to create an Indo-Saracenic marvel.
Given its sheer scale, building the structure was one of the biggest engineering challenges of its time. At least 29,000 workers toiled for eight years at any given point of time and 4.5 million bricks and 7,500 tonnes of cement was used to construct the house. Despite its size, steel was not used in the building and it still stands tall, thanks to its supporting walls and columns.
Lutyens also had a penchant for gardens and greenery and carefully selected trees, plants and shrubs to be planted across the estate. The Rashtrapati Bhavan still has one of the largest gardens in the country — the Mughal Gardens.With floor levels, the Government House had different private wings with the most exceptional being the Durbar Hall (throne room) and the State Dining Room to host large banquets and a ballroom with wooden floors.
Apart from all the heavy masonry, Lutyens himself chose the interior décor and furniture for the building. The best timber from across the country and beyond, including Burma teak, ebony and shisham was used to build furniture suited to colonial taste.
Though built to last centuries, the grand structure of Imperial Britain could house its Indian Viceroys for 17 more years. It was first occupied by Viceroy Lord Irwin, who moved in on January 23, 1931. Its last British occupants were the Mountbattens, who left in 1947.