Delhi was Lutyens' masterpiece

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  • Updated: Aug 29, 2011 12:51 IST

Jane Ridley is a great-granddaughter of Edwin Lutyens. A professor of history at University of Buckingham, she authored The Architect And His Wife, a biography of Edwin Lutyens, which won the prestigious Duff Cooper Prize for best non-fiction book in 2002. In an exclusive e-mail interview with Manoj Sharma, Ridley discusses various aspects Lutyens' of 'Delhi Project'.

Was 'Delhi project' closest to Lutyens' heart as he created the 'Delhi Order' of classical architecture?
Delhi was Lutyens's masterpiece, his greatest project. He worked on it for 20 years. The Delhi Order which he invented consisted of a capital of stone bells on a classical pillar. The bells were made of stone so they could never sound the fall of British Delhi. But even Lutyens couldn't stop the fall of the British empire.

What did his extended family in Britain think of his Delhi project?
Many members of Lutyens' family had worked in India. One brother was a tea planter in Ceylon, another a soldier. Lutyens' father-in-law was Viceroy Lord Lytton. These connections made Lutyens feel at home in India. Today, family members Martin and Charles Lutyens are actively liaising with bodies such as Intach.

Did Lutyens have any favourites among the buildings he designed in Delhi?
Lutyens' favourite building was the Rashtrapati Bhavan. This was the palace he had longed to build. It is a building that achieves an extraordinary synthesis of East and West.

What were the differences between Lutyens and Herbert Baker, his fellow architect, as far as designing of New Delhi was concerned?
The chief quarrel between Lutyens and Baker was over the gradient, the steep incline between the two Secretariats which were designed by Baker. He wanted a steep gradient. Lutyens signed a document agreeing to this. Later he realised that the gradient would block Rashtrapati Bhavan's vista along Rajpath from the India Arch. He tried to persuade the Viceroy, the British Government and even King George V to agree to reverse the gradient, but to no avail. He called this defeat his 'Bakerloo'. He never spoke to Baker again.

It is said that Lutyens was not fond of Indian architecture. He even found fault with the Taj. How far is this true?
Lutyens was critical of other architects and architectural styles, and Indian architecture was no exception. But you have to look at Rashtrapati Bhavan to see how much he learned from Indian buildings.

Do you think the Indian government has failed to follow the Lutyens' architectural style as New Delhi developed?
I am not qualified to say, but I think Lutyens' work is a stunning one-off. He didn't set out to create a 'school'; he just wanted to build beautiful buildings. He knew that the future lay with the modernists.

Please share with us any story or anecdote that captures Lutyens' relationship with New Delhi?
When Lutyens left Rashtrapati Bhavan for the last time, he wiped the stone with his handkerchief and kissed it. He said leaving the house felt like giving away his daughter in marriage.


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