Post-Independence Architecture of Delhi
2018 World Monuments Watch
The recent demolition of a modern landmark is a wake-up call for the protection of modern architectural expression in Delhi. Unlike monuments of the distant past, Delhi’s Post-Independence architecture lacks official recognition and, thus, legal protection from demolition. To address this gap in the historical consciousness, a 2013 survey proposed landmark designation for a group of 62 buildings in Delhi, all constructed after 1947. As a group, they illustrate the remarkable variety of architectural expressions in the seven decades since India gained its independence: some buildings represent revival styles, using historical motifs in the design of buildings that were constructed using modern building techniques. Many others were designed in an international language of architectural expression of the time, in which historical precedents were not followed. They comprise government and other public buildings, corporate and institutional offices, hotels, as well as religious shrines, sports facilities, and residential buildings. They are the works of legendary Indian architects, including Achyut Kanvinde, Shivnath Prasad, Charles Correa, Kuldip Singh, and Raj Rewal, as well as foreign-born architects such as Joseph Allen Stein. Lastly, the survey includes more recent architectural expressions, which stand out in the present and may well stand the test of time.
Advocates have sought legal protection from the New Delhi Municipal Council that have so far been denied. The fate of the Delhi Hall of Nations illustrates what could be at stake. The Hall of Nations, a complex of exhibition halls, was built for the 1972 International Trade Fair, which took place on the 25th anniversary of Indian Independence. Designed by architect Raj Rewal and structural engineer Mahendra Raj, it symbolized Indian self-confidence in industry, innovation, and progress. In April 2017 this iconic modern building was demolished overnight, a shameful episode that took place only days before a court hearing that might have granted legal protection to the site on the basis of the 2013 survey. Through the 2018 World Monuments Watch, World Monuments Fund is urging authorities to recognize the need to honor and protect Delhi’s post-independence built heritage.
INTACH, Delhi Chapter organized a Watch Day in April 2018, to celebrate the Post-Independence Architecture of Delhi and to raise awareness of the significance of this period’s built heritage. Activities for schoolchildren and college students included a guided walk around the Lodhi Estate, which boasts a number of post-Independence buildings including the India International Centre (1962) and India Habitat Centre (1994), both designed by Joseph Allen Stein; INTACH Headquarters (1997), by B V Doshi of Vastu Shilp; and Alliance Francaise (2004), by SPA Design and ABRD architects. Close to 250 students from 93 schools across the National Capital region of Delhi participated in a competition that focused on the history and significance of this iconic architectural period. Watch Day concluded with a public lecture by Dr. Kaiwan Mehta, a theorist and critic in the fields of culture, architecture, and city studies, followed by a panel discussion about an initiative to grant legal protection to 62 buildings of the post-independence period. The Watch Day event gathered various stakeholders, including owners, building users, and the general public in a day dedicated to shaping local support and activism for Delhi’s modern heritage.