While the DUAC has found that the winning design does not conform with laid norms, the heritage conservation panel sees a threat to 406 trees.

New Delhi: Approved in principle in 2006, the project to build a National War Museum near the iconic India Gate in Lutyens’ Delhi has hit a roadblock. While the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) has raised an objection to the concept design not conforming to the “architectural surroundings of the area as also the overall urban design character of Central Vista and Lutyens Bungalow Zone”, the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) has noted that 406 trees that line up the Princess Park area may be “adversely affected” should the construction take place as per the winning design.

For the museum –  which is to be connected through a tunnel to the proposed National War Memorial being built in two lawns at India Gate – the Centre had floated a global design competition in 2016. Mumbai-based design firm sP+a Studio’s proposal was adjudged the winning design in April 2017.

Incidentally, the Centre had specified that the “National War Museum will be an institution to collect, preserve, interpret and display military artefact, portray significant events of our nation’s wars and conflicts and related objects of historical importance for education and promoting patriotism.” With respect to the National War Memorial, the DUAC had conveyed its online approval and closed the file on February 9, 2018.

It had also laid out that the museum would be constructed on a 10.71 acre plot and would include an interconnecting underground tunnel to India Gate.


‘Design did not conform to architectural surroundings’

The contest for the museum was held in two stages. In the first phase, out of the nearly 300 entries, seven were short-listed. These seven participants were made to submit detailed designs, including 3D models, before the competition jury, which then selected three top designs.

However, when the winning design was placed before the HCC and the DUAC, several objections were raised. The DUAC said it considered the matter in the overall context.

“The Commission observed that the first prize winning entry for which the opinion of the Commission has been sought does not conform to the architectural surroundings of the area. It was also observed that the terms of reference of the design competition for which the concurrence of the DUAC was taken have not been respected w.r.t. its edifice in Princess Park around ‘C’ Hexagon, amongst other landmarks such as Baroda House, Hyderabad House, etc. and also does not integrate with surrounding buildings in the Lutyens Zone,” it said, while giving its decision on the design.

DUAC chairperson P.S.N Rao later observed that when the proposal had initially gone to the commission, it had asked that it be first cleared by the Central Vista Committee and the HCC. “After that, they came back to us, but we didn’t find the project acceptable,” he said in January this year.


DUAC wanted museum to be an “imposing edifice”

The DUAC had also specified in the terms of reference in August 2016 that: “.. The National War Museum’s building should be an imposing edifice in Princess Park around ‘C’ Hexagon amongst other landmarks such as Baroda House, Hyderabad House, etc. It should be integrated with National War Memorial and the surrounding buildings in the Lutyens zone.”

However, while going through the winning design, it observed that the “overall architectural character in terms of the integrated central vista has not been respected in the design submitted to the commission.”

The HCC, too, raised objections to the design.

The concept design of the winning entry for National War Museum, the HCC said, was referred to it by the director of National War Memorial and Museum, Colonel Basera, on October 10, 2017 for “technical advice/comments as to whether the design of SPA Studio View is in conformity with the architectural surroundings of the area like Hyderabad House, Baroda House and similar other buildings”. Subsequently, the officer also made a presentation before it.

The HCC said it was “informed that the size of the proposed museum structure will be 430 metre X 58 metre with a height of approximately 24 metres with four floors.” However, it said, “no detail drawings, actual tree survey plan or any other plan as on site was made available to it” though some 3D views (not to scale) of the building were shown as part of the presentation.

HCC site visit revealed prospective damage to old trees

The HCC said it visited the National War Museum site at Princess Park. It said Colonel Basera had also informed them that the architect of the first prize winning entry had claimed that “out of 406 number of existing trees, only 28 trees will be required to be transplanted”. But the HCC observed that “as per the documents/presentation, it appeared to be an unrealistic/unverified figure, keeping in view actual conditions at site and proposal for construction of two basements.”

“It was observed that it will be very difficult to retain the fully grown up/old trees (some of which forms an essential part of natural heritage of the Lutyens zone). Obviously besides 28 trees, many other well grown trees will also be adversely affected,” the HCC held.


Doors still open for other designs

In it subsequent meeting on January 18, 2018, the HCC said “as far as design no. 1 is concerned, it had deliberated the matter in its meeting held on 12.10.2017 and had communicated its observations to the National War Memorial and Museum, HQ Integrated Defence Staff.”

In this meeting, the HCC also decided to request the NWM&M to submit a specific proposal that it may prefer for consideration and observations of the committee. It said this could be “design no. 1, 2 or 3 or any other design.”