A look at British architect Edwin Lutyens’ imprint beyond Delhi
A little over 100 years ago, the British architect-town planner Edwin Lutyens was given a rather significant brief — to design the imperial seat of power and its environs in the newly formed Indian capital city, New Delhi. Today, as the Central Vista redevelopment project aims to revisit Rajpath and the Central Vista avenue and build new structures to suit the needs of modern governance, the vision of Lutyens—and his partner, Herbert Baker — has become a subject of much debate.
While it is true that Lutyens had a strong sense of history and the design of his public buildings in Delhi, such as the Rashtrapati Bhavan, is deeply influenced by their location, it is also important to remember that the architect was prodigiously prolific designing hundreds of structures around the world, including a castle, a bridge, and even affordable flats, in the post War era.
Here are five other buildings Lutyens designed:
Cenotaph at Regina, Saskatchewan
At the end of the First World War, Lutyens erected a temporary memorial at Whitehall in London; an empty sarcophagus elevated on a plinth, ornamented with stone flags and laurel wreaths. The design quickly became popular with British territories overseas looking for a model for creating their own memorials for absentee soldiers killed in the war. In 1926, the Canadian city of Regina unveiled the cenotaph at Victoria Park, an elegant variation of the original sketch Lutyens had made for Whitehall. Of course, his most famous cenotaph lies in the Capital city and remains an important part of our Republic Day celebrations to this date.
British Ambassador Residence, Washington DC
Lutyens first visited America in 1925. Despite being neck-deep with the construction in Delhi, his office produced 68 drawings between 1925-27 and work commenced in 1928. The building is in many ways a scaled-down version of the Viceroy’s House (what we now call the Rashtrapati Bhavan) in Delhi, with a similarly detailed door, handles, mirrors, columns, and high ceilings. The exterior, however, is quite the opposite, with the sense of a country home in an idealised English country garden.
Social Housing, Grosvenor Estate, London
Between 1929 and 1935, Lutyens designed a multi-storey building for affordable housing in Pimlico, London. Already commissioned by the Duke of Westminster to design Grosvenor House, he drew up the plans for flats surrounding a central courtyard. The bold checkerboard geometry of the plastered wall and exposed brick on the facade is uncharacteristic of Lutyens, who always preferred classical details, some of which can be seen on the entrance porticos.
Castle Drogo, Devon
All architects succumb to the whims and fancies of rich, eccentric clients at least once in their careers and Lutyens was no exception. In Julius Drewe, a self-made retailing millionaire, he met a scale of ambition perhaps only exceeded in the princely palaces at Delhi. Between 1911-31, Lutyens designed a castle that easily confounds the casual observer, with most assuming it to be from medieval times.
Hampton Court Bridge, London
Normally dismissive of architectural intent, Lutyens’ design for this bridge is uniquely influenced by Christopher Wren, the architect of many of London’s beloved and important buildings. Completed in 1933, the bridge is the fourth on the same site, surprisingly replacing an older bridge made in wrought iron. His brick-clad, three-arched design was made in reinforced concrete and stands to this day.
Amit Khanna teaches at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, and has a special focus on the transformation of cities. He is founder, AKDA, an architecture and urban design firm.
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