Renowned architects of the likes of Lutyens, Edward Frere etc. laid layout plans for some modern Indian cities and designed exquisite buildings during this period. Notable architectures of that period are – The Madras Government House, Bombay Town Meeting Hall, Victoria Memorial, Viceroy Palace (which is now Rashtrapati Bhawan) etc.
Both European and Indian elements were used and there was no uniform style in British architecture. Herbert Baker and Edward Lutyens were the prime architects of New Delhi. In Lutyen’s Delhi, a fusion of Mughal, Buddhist and Hindu architecture was used. Rashtrapati Bhavan is example of such fusion. It is built of sandstone and has design features like canopies from Rajput tradition. Its dome was copied from the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi, and the red sandstone and carved screens or jalis were borrowed from Mughal architecture.
In Delhi and other places, the British made many big big public buildings. The large structure of the India Gate, the Viceroy House which is now the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament House and the North and South Blocks in Delhi, Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, Gateway of India in Mumbai etc were all made to impress the Indian subjects of the British rule. They were meant to show the supremacy, the majestic power as well as the regality of the British.
New Delhi was constructed as a 10-square-mile city on Raisina Hill, south of the existing city. Two architects, Edward Lutyens and Herbert Baker, were called on to design New Delhi and its buildings. The government complex in New Delhi consisted of a two-mile avenue, Kingsway (now Rajpath), that led to the Viceroy’s Palace (now Rashtrapati Bhavan), with the Secretariat buildings on either sides of the avenue. The features of these government buildings were borrowed from different periods of India’s imperial history, but the overall look was Classical Greece (fifth century BCE). For instance, the central dome of the Viceroy’s Palace was copied from the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi, and the red sandstone and carved screens or jalis were borrowed from Mughal architecture. But the new buildings had to assert British importance: that is why the architect made sure that the Viceroy’s Palace was higher than Shah Jahan’s Jama Masjid.
New Delhi took nearly 20 years to build. The idea was to build a city that was a stark contrast to Shahjahanabad. There were to be no crowded mohallas, no mazes of narrow bylanes. In New Delhi, there were to be broad, straight streets lined with sprawling mansions set in the middle of large compounds. The architects wanted New Delhi to represent a sense of law and order, in contrast to the chaos of Old Delhi. The new city also had to be a clean and healthy space. The British saw overcrowded spaces as unhygienic and unhealthy, the source of disease. This meant that New Delhi had to have better water supply, sewage disposal and drainage facilities than the Old City. It had to be green, with trees and parks ensuring fresh air and adequate supply of oxygen.
For public buildings three broad architectural styles were used. Two of these were direct imports from fashions prevalent in England.
I. Neo-Classical/Greco-Roman – The first was called neo-classical or the new classical. Its
characteristics included construction of geometrical structures fronted with lofty pillars. It was derived from a style that was originally typical of buildings in ancient Rome. The Town Hall in Bombay was built in this style in 1833. Some Greek and Roman influence can be observed in the colonnades or pillared buildings. Parliament House and Connaught Place in Delhi are other good examples. Another group of commercial buildings, built during the cotton boom of the 1860s, was the Elphinstone Circle.
II. Neo-Gothic or Victorian Architecture – Another style that was extensively used was the neo-Gothic (Goths were barbaric tribals in Europe, later a style of architecture was named after them which developed in France in 12th century for making of churches. Gothic, was distinguished by high pointed arches, the use of stained glass,
often painted with scenes drawn from the Bible, and flying buttresses), characterised by high-pitched roofs, pointed arches and detailed decoration. An impressive group of buildings facing the seafront including the Secretariat, University of Bombay, Writer’s Building in Calcutta and High Court were all built in this style. The most spectacular example of the neo-Gothic style is the Victoria Terminus (now called Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus), the station and headquarters of the Indian Railways. It looks more like a cathedral than a railway station. It contains carved stone friezes, stained glass windows and flying walls. However, in a bid to fuse oriental elements, Victorian architecture in India lost its orginal vitality and was not as impressive as original Gothic architecture.
III. Indo-Sarcenic or Mughal-Gothic – A new hybrid style called Indo-Saracenic was also developed during this period. ‘Indo’ was shorthand for Hindu and ‘Saracen’ was a term Europeans used to designate Muslim.
The inspiration for this style was medieval buildings in India with their domes, chhatris, jalis, arches. By integrating Indian and European styles in public architecture the British wanted to prove that they were legitimate rulers of India. Modern architectural science and material like iron, steel and concrete was used to give strength to the structures. Construction was grand in size. Walls were thinner, archs were pointed and windows were large. The Gateway of India, built in the traditional Gujarati style to welcome King George V is the most famous example of this style. The industrialist Jamsetji Tata built the Taj Mahal Hotel in a similar style. Similarly, for the Victoria Memorial, Kolkata designed by William Emerson an attempt was made to revive the grandeur of the Taj, but failed to yield similar effect. The Victoria Memorial was made up of white makrana Marble from Rajasthan. Emerson was asked to design the building in the Italian Renaissance style, but he was against the use European style and instead used ‘Indo-Saracenic style’, blending Mughal elements in the architecture. However, it also carried the elements of Victorian architecture which is evident in the sculptures, drains etc.
IV. Baroque – Many a buildings like General Post Office in Kolkata, ‘Baroque’ is evident in scale and movement.