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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

The building Blocks of British empire

After the Government House, the most imposing building of New Delhi, the Secretariat with its two arms — North and South Blocks — were the second most important buildings of the Capital to house the all important British bureaucracy. Sidhartha Roy reports.

delhi Updated: Sep 06, 2011 12:42 IST
Sidhartha Roy
Sidhartha Roy
Hindustan Times

After the Government House (Rashtrapati Bhavan), the most imposing building of New Delhi, the Secretariat with its two arms — North and South Blocks — were the second most important buildings of the Capital to house the all important British bureaucracy.

With the Capital’s chief architect Edwin Lutyens absorbed in the construction of Government House, the job of planning and building the Secretariat fell on Herbert Baker. The two symmetrical buildings were to accommodate the central Indian services and many other departments of the British Indian government.

Lutyens, who wanted the Government House to tower above New Delhi, wanted the Secretariat to be built at a slightly lower level. Baker, however, persisted that all three buildings be built at the same height on the Raisina Hill, so that the bureaucracy can rule India from an exalted position. Despite Lutyens objections, Baker prevailed.

Going with his imperialist streak, Baker not only planned the Secretariat at a height but also kept the stone walls unembellished to give them a solid look to portray British might and power.

With four levels, each with about 1,000 rooms, the North and South Blocks were made spacious enough to house the many departments and then leave some more room for future expansion in the inner courtyards. The space, however, fell short in a few years and hutments were created to cater to growing demand for room.

Like the Government House, the Secretariat buildings, too, were built with cream and red Dholpur sandstone, with the red sandstone forming the base. Baker stuck to conventional classical architectural style but incorporated many Indian style forms and motifs as well. The most prominent of these were the chhatris and jaalis.

The buildings are arranged to form two squares, the first on the eastern ends where the main entrances are located and the other two near the gate of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Broad corridors connected the different wings of the buildings and wide stairways connected the four floors. While the walls are mostly sparse, going with Indian architectural style, most of the decoration is found on the roofs. The centre of each building is marked by a dome.

Another feature of the Secretariat are the four dominion columns in front of the four main gates, given by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. By the time these columns were unveiled in 1930, it was believed that India too would become a British dominion very soon. India, however, became independent in the next 17 years and the Secretariat became the seat of power of a sovereign India.

Tale of ‘twin’ towers
Before he got the assignment to plan and design New Delhi with Edwin Lutyens, Herbert Baker had made a mark by constructing government buildings in South Africa. The Secretariat — North and South Blocks — designed by Baker clearly showcases the influence of his earlier work than original styles.

The Secretariat, in fact, looks like a long lost brother of the Union Building in Pretoria, South Africa, built by Baker.

Like the Secretariat’s two blocks, the Union Building is marked by two identical wings with two towers. The colonnaded balconies too, are an exact copy of the Union Building. The major difference between the two are that while the North and South Blocks are separated and face each other, the two wings of the Union Building are joined by a semi-circular colonnade.

Also, while the Secretariat roofs are open as per Indian style, the roof of Union Building is covered with red tiles.

First Published: Jun 07, 2011 00:50 IST

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