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The Palace of Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, India

July 11th, 2006 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

The Palace of Rashtrapati Bhavan is the official residence of the President of India, located in New Delhi, Delhi. Until 1950 it was known as "Viceroy's House" and served as the residence of the Governor-General of India.

During the Delhi Durbar year of 1911 it was decided that the capital of India would be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. This was announced on December 12 by King George. As the plan for New Delhi took shape, the Governor-General's residence was given an enormous scale and prominent position. The British architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens, a key member of the city-planning process, was also given the prime architectural opportunity of designing the building.

The original plans of the viceroy’s house called for something which would be a mixture between western and eastern styles. There were some who wanted the palace to be a classical designed one, in the tradition of the Greeks. This would clearly show western power in India. Others desired a palace which would be modelled on Indian architecture, and designed by Indians. It was also suggested for various degrees of mixing the two styles. The Viceroy declared that the palace was to be classical, but with an Indian motif. This was close to what the design eventually developed into. While Lutyens wanted an almost totally classical building, it was probably due to pressure from others that forced him to include Indian elements in the design. It is thought that Lutyens believed he came to India to bring Western culture to it, rather than to conform to Indian designs. The palace developed very similarly to the original sketches which Lutyens sent Baker from Simla on June 14, 1912.

Lutyens' design is grandly classical overall, with colors and details inspired by Indian architecture. Lutyens was especially proud to hear that the palace would not be called "Government House" (as most British colonial governors' residences were and are) but instead "Viceroy's House." Apart from Edwin Lutyens, the Chief architect and Chief Engineer Hugh Keeling there were many Indian contractors who were involved in the construction of this building. While a Muslim contractor Haroun-al-Rashid did most of the work of the main building the forecourt was built by Sujan Singh and his son Sobha Singh. Surprisingly the names of these Indians did not find a place in the official biography of Lutyens.

Lutyens and Baker who had been assigned to work on the Viceroy’s House and the Secretariats, began on friendly terms, although they later quarrelled. Baker had been assigned to work on the two secretariat buildings which were in front of Viceroy’s House. Early on in the design process, Viceroy’s House was decided to be moved from the original position on the top of Raisina Hill. The original plan was to have Viceroy’s House on the top of the hill, with the secretariats lower down. It was decided to move it back 400 yards, and put both buildings on top of the plateau. While Lutyens wanted the Viceroy’s house to go higher up, he was forced to move it back from the intended position due to a dispute with Baker. Following the completion of the palace, Lutyens fought with Baker, because the view of the front of the palace was obscured by the high angle of the road.

Lutyens regarded this as his ‘Bakerloo’ (a reference to Waterloo) because he campaigned for its fixing, but was not able to get it to be changed. Lutyens wanted to make a long inclined grade all the way to Viceroy’s house with retaining walls either side. While this would give a view of the house from further back, it would also cut through the square between the secretariat buildings. The committee with Lutyens and Baker established in January 1914 said the grade was to be no steeper than 1 in 25, though it eventually was changed to 1 in 22, a steeper gradient which made it more difficult to see the Viceroy’s palace. While Lutyens knew about the gradient, and the possibility that the Viceroy’s palace would be obscured by the road, it is thought that Lutyens did not fully realise how much the front of the house would not be visible. In 1916 the Imperial Delhi committee dismissed Lutyens’ proposal to alter the gradient. Lutyens thought Baker was more concerned with making money and pleasing the government, rather than focusing on making a good architectural design.

Lutyens travelled between India and England almost every year for twenty years, to work on the building of the Viceroy’s house in both countries. Lutyens had to reduce the building size from 13 to 8.5 million cubic feet because of the budget restrictions of Lord Hardinge. While he had demanded that costs be cut, he nevertheless wanted the house to retain a certain amount of ceremonial grandeur.

Some various Indian designs were added to the building. These included several circular stone basins on the top of the palace, as water features are an important part of Indian architecture. There was also a traditional Indian chujja or chhajja, which took the place of a frieze in classical architecture; it was a sharp, thin, protruding element which extended 8 feet from the building, and created deep shadows. It stopped harsh sunlight from getting to the windows, and also stopped rain during a monsoon season. On the roofline were several chuttris, which helped to break up the look of the flat part of the roofline not covered by the dome. Lutyens himself did not like the complicated ornamentation used in traditional Indian architecture, which he saw in a very negative light. He did not like the way that buildings would be covered in patterns and motifs. Instead he appropriated some Indian designs, but used them sparingly throughout the palace. There were also statues of elephants and fountain sculptures of cobras in the gardens. There were also grilles made from red sandstone, called jalis or jaalis. These jalis were inspired by Indian design, yet Lutyens used them only in small areas, unlike how they are used extensively in Indian buildings.

The front of the palace, on the east side, has twelve unevenly spaced columns with the Delhi order capitals. These capitals have a fusion of acanthus leaves with the four pendant Indian bells. The Indian temple bells are a part of the culture of Indian religions, such as Hindu and Buddhist, the idea coming from a Jain temple at Moodabidri in Karnataka. One bell is on each corner at the top of the column. It was said that as the bells were silent British rule in India would not end. The front of the palace does not have windows, except for the wings at the sides.

Lutyens put several small personal touches to the house, such as an area in the garden walls and two ventilator windows on the stateroom to look like the glasses which he wore.

Viceregal Lodge was largely completed by 1929, and (along with the rest of New Delhi) officially inaugurated in 1931.It is interesting to note that the building which was completed in seventeen years and on the eighteenth year of its completion India became independent.

After Indian independence in 1947, the now ceremonial governor-general continued to live there, being succeeded by the president in 1950 when India became a republic and the house was renamed "Rashtrapati Bhavan."

The dome, though claimed by Lutyens to be inspired by the Pantheon of Rome, is primarily derived from the Sanchi Stupa built during the Mauryan times.

The layout of the palace is designed around a massive square, although there are many courtyards and open inner areas within. There are separate wings for the Viceroy, and another wing for guests. The Viceroy’s wing is a separate four-storey house in itself, with its own court areas within. The wing was so large that the first president of India decided not to stay there, staying in the guest wing, a tradition which was followed by subsequent presidents. At the centre of the main part of the palace is Durbar’s Hall, or known as the Throne Room during British rule with thrones for the Viceroy and his wife, which is underneath the main dome. The interior of this room and almost all the rooms of the palace are bare, relying on the stonework and shapes to show an austerity rather than intricate decoration. In the hall, the columns are made in the original ‘Delhi’ order which combines vertical lines with the motif of a bell. The vertical lines from the column were also used in the frieze around the room, which could not have been done with one of the traditional Greek orders of columns. The hall has a 2-ton chandelier which hangs from a 33-metre height. On each of the four corners of the hall is a room, including two state drawing rooms, a state supper room and the state library. There are also other rooms such as many loggias (galleries with open air on one side) which face out into the courtyards, a large dining hall with an extremely long table, sitting rooms, billiards rooms, and a large ball room, and staircases. Water features are also through the palace, such as near the Viceroy’s stairs, which has eight marble lions spilling water into six basins. The lions symbolise Britain, as the lion was often used for this purpose. There is also an open area in one room to the sky, which lets in much of the natural light.

The dome in the middle involved a mixture of Indian and British styles. In the centre was a tall copper dome surmounted on top of a drum, which stands out from the rest of the building, due to its height. The dome is exactly in the middle of the diagonals between the four corners of the building. The dome is more than twice the height of the rest of the building. The height of the dome was raised by Lord Hardinge in the plan of the building in 1913. The dome combines classical and Indian styles. Lutyens said the design evolved from that of the Pantheon in Rome, while it is also possible that it was modelled after the great Stupa at Sanchi. A porch goes around the dome with evenly spaced columns which support the dome, with an open area between the columns. Because this goes the whole way round, it makes the dome appear from any angle that it is ‘floating’ as seen in the heat haze of Delhi. The reinforced concrete shell of the outer dome began to take shape near the start of 1929. The last stone of the dome was laid on April 6, 1929. However the copper casing of the dome was not laid until 1930.

Send by: Jeronimo

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