The Viceroy's House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan) atop Raisina Hill forms the epitome of New Delhi, the new imperial capital. But it is the pristine white bungalows set amidst sprawling lawns and dense trees that form the basis of the British plan of building the new capital as a garden city, a concept in vogue in Europe in the 1910s.
The team of architects, led by Edwin Lutyens, turned to detailing only after the layout plans for the city were finalised, with the axial orientation (from the Viceroy's House to the All India War Memorial) surrounded by lawns and water ways dominating the design. The primary elements of the garden city were the residential buildings for senior officials, which came to be known as 'Lutyens' Bungalows'.
"The brief to the architects was," points out AK Jain, author of a recent book 'Lutyens' Delhi', "to retain one-third area as green space. The garden city concept was chosen as the planners felt a crowded city was not the answer to any metropolis."
Lucy Peck points out in her book 'Delhi - A Thousand Years of Building': "There was also the question of architectural style. Advice came from all sides: was it to be English, Renaissance or Mughal? The great English Arts and Crafts architect Voysey got closer to the right answer saying that 'considerations of local conditions, especially climatic and traditional character, were the premises for fine buildings'."
That set the tone for the design. Moreover, the population density was planned to be 15 persons per acre at the most, compared to the 1,500 persons (approximately) per acre in the Walled City area.
Most of these bungalows are single -storied except at a few places such as North and South Avenues and one-odd here and there, such as Teen Murti Bhavan, which was originally designated for a very high-ranking official.
The bungalows were planned on large plots ranging from two acres to 10 acres. Verandas on all sides and high ceiling helped beat the Indian summer heat while the sprawling green lawns and curved drive ways lent a spatial element. They were painted pristine white, hallmark of the classical architecture.
The important aspect was that the building's height was not allowed to go above the tree line.
All these bungalows showcased colonial architecture with the constructed portion of about 7% of ground area and a number of out-houses.
"The open spaces and greenery around the bungalow remind me of my home at Khunti district in Jharkhand. Apart from this, the verandas on all sides and the high ceiling help in proper ventilation. All this help in create a pollution free environment," says Karia Munda, deputy speaker of Lok Sabha, who has been staying at 1, Sunehari Bagh Road bungalow for last 1 ½ years.
Says Ratish Nanda, a conservation architect, "New Delhi is probably the only city in the world where the centre of the city is 4 degrees Celsius cooler than the peripheral areas."
"The bungalows are spread over just 1.8% of entire Delhi's area but these very green spaces contribute immensely to the ecology of the city," adds Nanda, who was instrumental in working up the proposal for getting the Capital’s Lutyens' Bungalow Zone on the World Monument Fund watch list.