Edwin Lutyens's New Delhi is one of the few pieces of imperial architecture which has achieved critical acclaim. Praise from the critic Robert Byron in Country Life (1931) was echoed by A.S.G. Butler, in the memorial volumes, The Architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyens, and by Lutyens's biographer Christopher Hussey.1 Robert Irving's Imperial Summer gives a fully documented account of the building of the new city; it is essentially an architectural critique.2 But New Delhi is also a political symbol, and both right and left agree on its meaning. Both see it as a statement of imperial despotism. Driving up Kings Way in 1931 Robert Byron hailed the red, pink, and cream dome of the newly-built Viceroy's House as 'a shout of the Imperial suggestion ... an offence against democracy, a slap in the face of the modern average man'.3 For Christopher Hussey, writing in the aftermath of the Emergency, it was 'the last splendid assertion of European humanism before the engulfing of its ideals in racial and ideological confusion'.4 One fact must be borne in mind when discussing New Delhi, wrote Colin Amery: 'The design of the city was concerned with the architecture of power.'5 For this very reason it is criticized by the left. A younger generation of Indians see Lutyens's 'arrogant' domes as symbols of alien imperial rule. Marxists stigmatize Delhi as an expression of the dominant dependence relationship of colonialism.6 Tom Metcalf has argued that Lutyens's New Delhi failed to provide an architectural response to the political problems of British India.7 It is the purpose of this article to evaluate these views and to suggest alternative ways of looking at Lutyens's New Delhi. Preoccupation with the projection of power has obscured Lutyens's aesthetic project at New Delhi: the creation of a genuine synthesis of east and west.
- 1. Robert Byron, 'New Delhi', Architectural Review, 69 (Jan. 1931 ), 1-30; Robert Byron, 'New Delhi' I-IV, Country Life, 69 (1931), 708-16, 754-61; 782-9, 808-15, A.S.G. Butler, The Architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyens, 3 vols. (London, 1950), II, 28-44; Christopher Hussey, Life of Sir Edwin Lutyens (London, 1950), 237-327, 405-32, 495-524.
- 2. Robert Grant Irving, Indian Summer: Lutyens, Baker, and Imperial Delhi (London, 1981)
- 3. Quoted in Clayre Percy and Jane Ridley (eds.), The Letters of Edwin Lutyens to his Wife, Lady Emily (London, 1985), 257.
- 4. Hussey, Edwin Lutyens, 238
- 5. E.F.N. Ribiero and A.K. Jain (eds.), Proceedings of the Seminar on the Future of New Delhi (Delhi, 1984), 7
- 6. Anthony D. King, Colonial Urban Development (London, 1976)
- 7. Thomas R. Metcalf, An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and Britain's Raj (Berkeley, 1989), 236-43.