Roughly two decades after the British-built New Delhi was unveiled to the world in 1931, the Capital witnessed another slew of hectic construction activity. The public buildings and mass housing projects that came up in the first decade after India got independence, gave shape to the Delhi we know today.
Delhi saw a huge population explosion after Partition and also became a magnet for migrants from across the country looking for better opportunities in the independent nation’s Capital. The old part of Delhi was already bursting at the seams and New Delhi was not built to accommodate this multitude of people. Also, the Capital needed new institutional and public buildings to accommodate the increasing number of government offices and officials.
“The period after independence was that of hope and the feeling that we can determine and develop our own architecture, instead of a colonial power building for us,” said noted architect AGK Menon.
The post-independence Capital saw a complete deviation from the architectural philosophy that marked the colonial building. When Lutyens was planning a new Capital for British India, the idea behind the grand, imposing buildings was to firmly establish the imperial suzerainty of the colonial power. The independent nation’s Capital needed an architecture that would showcase its faith in modernity and progress.
“The need to create our own architecture was expressed in two ways,” said Menon. “Some wanted to revive the past, as seen in buildings like Ashoka Hotel that were modern structures but with Indian characteristics. Others advocated modernism, which was the rage internationally at that time and examples of such buildings are Rabindra Bhawan and the CSIR building at Rafi Marg,” he said.
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Independent India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru took a keen interest in the architecture of the new constructions, which he believed should portray the country’s commitment to development and progressiveness. So, utilitarian modernism became the template for almost all government buildings that came up in the 1950s and dot the area between central secretariat and at ITO.Another reason behind the austere facades of these buildings was the acute crunch of funds. All embellishments were done away with and the prominent features of these buildings were horizontal massing of large windows, freestanding staircases and cantilevered porches.
Mass housing projects, mainly meant for government employees, had an even more severe look. Housing complexes that came up in areas like Sarojini Nagar (then Vinay Nagar) and Laxmi Bai Nagar were just simple structures with a lime finish with the only visible features being sun shades over windows and accentuated stair towers.
Spacious houses were built for senior officers in areas like Kaka Nagar and Bapa Nagar. Private ‘colonies’ came up in Malviya Nagar, Lajpat Nagar, Karol Bagh and New Friends Colony in the 1950s and 1960s also saw a deviation from the conventional style of houses. Living and dining rooms were joined, courtyards were out and bathrooms were now attached with bedrooms.