CP's blueprint: Bath's Crescent

Hindustan Times | BySidhartha Roy, New Delhi
Aug 29, 2011 01:17 PM IST

In 19th century England, social life in cities and towns traditionally revolved around a central plaza with its shopping arcades, eateries and hotels.

In 19th century England, social life in cities and towns traditionally revolved around a central plaza with its shopping arcades, eateries and hotels.

HT Image
HT Image

The British planned India's imperial capital and wanted the city to have a central business district of its own. The earlier plans were first mooted in the 1910s, when WH Nicholls, the chief architect to the Government of India, planned a central plaza based on the European Renaissance and Classical style.

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In Europe, a city plaza would usually be at the centre. In New Delhi, however, the Viceroy's house (Rashtrapati Bhavan), Secretariat and Central Vista were the axis around which the city was developed.

Nicholls left India in 1917 but his plan slowly took shape. While Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker built Delhi's grander buildings, the job of designing the plaza fell on Robert Tor Russell, chief architect of the Public Works Department.

According to many leading architects, the inspiration behind Connaught Place and Connaught Circus, named after the Duke of Connaught, was the Royal Crescent building in the city of Bath in England.

The Crescent — believed to have been inspired from the Colosseum in Rome — was built by John Wood in 1774. At present it has mainly residential buildings, along with some hotels and offices.

With its semi-circular shape, colonnades and archways, the Crescent looks like the long lost brother of Connaught Place. However, while Connaught Place is almost completely circular (with a gap, where Palika Bazar is located), the Crescent is semi-circular. Also, the Crescent is three storied while Connaught Place has only two floors.

There is an interesting story behind why the Crescent and later Connaught Place were designed in a circular manner. Wood was a member of Freemasons, a fraternal organisation and a secret society. Wood, it is believed, infused Masonic symbolism in his buildings. So, the semi-circular Crescent and the round Circus symbolised the Sun and the Moon.

Many such Masonic symbols, apparently, were part of the design of Connaught Place too, according to German architect Andreas Volwahsen. In his book, Imperial Delhi, Volwahsen says the circular structure of Connaught Place symbolised eternity.

The 'circle' was eventually planned with two concentric circles and seven radial roads. According to the original plan, the different blocks of Connaught Place were to be joined from above with radial roads below them. The circle, however, was 'broken up' to give it a grander scale.

Work on CP began in 1929, by which time the construction of the Viceroy House, Secretariat and All-India War Memorial (India Gate) were almost complete. The site for the central business district was covered with kikar trees where jackals and wild pigs roamed. Connaught Place and Circus were ready in 1933 but it took it one more decade to actually come to life.

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