“Architectural Guide Delhi” is an introduction to the built heritage of the Capital, with an emphasis on the period after 1947
Architectural Guide Delhi, published by DOM publishers and launched recently in the Capital, is a comprehensive introduction to the architecture of Delhi. Divided into different periods — Historical (1200-1800); Colonial (1801-1947); Post-Independence (1948-70); Regionalism (1971-1990); Liberalisation (1991-2000); Post-liberalisation (2001-present day) — it includes over 200 known and obscure architectural projects, with photographs and details about their architect, accessibility, and year of completion. These are supplemented with essays on the architectural styles corresponding to these periods.
The book has been authored by Anupam Bansal, a Delhi-based architect and co-founder of ABRD Archtects, and Malini Kochupillai, also a Delhi-based architect and a photographer. For both of them, the book represented an opportunity to take the self-enclosed world of architecture to a larger public.
The authors had drawn up a list of about 300-350 projects, but could not include all of them, due mainly to the paucity of information. Talking about the process of selection, they say, “Projects were considered for architectural value, and availability of information…They were sourced largely from the architects, because there are no archival records of the city which you can extract these from.” Visuals proved a tricky affair too, with most public buildings out of bounds for photography.
Although the selection includes examples from all significant periods of Delhi’s history, there is a clear emphasis on post-Independence architecture of Delhi. “Every time you open a book on Delhi, there is a lot on Mughal, Sultanate and Colonial Delhi, so you kind of forget whatever has happened after Independence…The city has grown multi-fold, so it was important to document the contemporary and the modern,” says Anupam.
The period after Partition created an urgent need to resettle displaced persons, and led to the planning and building of localities of Lajpat Nagar, South Extension, Karol Bagh, New Friends Colony among others. The book acknowledges the crucial role played by the architects of Central Public Works Department, and later, the Delhi Development Authority, in creating a mix of institutional and housing projects, which continue to define the image of the city even today.
University Grants Commission, Triveni Kala Sangam, Hotel Ashok, Sheila Theatre and Vikas Minar — which may not be as celebrated as the reminders of Sultanate and Mughal Delhi, but are no less significant — are among the many architectural projects featured from this period.
“At this point in time, the design aspiration of India was at par with the rest of the world. Indian architects and designers were not at all awed by the fact that we were a newly independent country, and had a lot of catching up to do….it was a period of high idealism,” says Anupam, characterising the period from 1947 to 1990 pithily as a journey “from midnight to boom”.
The boom, to his mind, has turned to doom in the two decades since liberalisation. While the practice of architects has gone up exponentially in the period, the design aspiration has been less than mediocre, he says. “A majority of buildings have been designed and built thoughtlessly, sacrificing form and function at the altars of time and profit,” writes Malini. The examples provided in the book are those that hold out some hope — of a sensitive reconciliation between India’s rich heritage and traditional building practices with its need to project a global image. These include Sanskriti Kendra, India Habitat Centre, Dilli Haat, Alliance Francaise de Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and Castro Café among others.