IN recent weeks, a slew of mega building projects were inaugurated in the national capital, ranging from Bharat Mandapam (the G20 venue) to the Yashobhoomi Convention Centre, besides the formal opening of the new Parliament building with the holding of a special session. Meanwhile, Santiniketan and the Hoysala temples got listed as UNESCO heritage sites, giving India the distinction of having 42 such heritage sites.
Just as India’s phenomenal cultural and civilisational heritage is being showcased to the world, a ‘Naya Bharat’ is being crafted during the ‘Amrit Kaal’. Delhi’s skyline is getting a makeover with an architecture of ambition, audacity and a show-and-tell glitz.
The seven historical cities of Delhi were layered with the building of the colonial New Delhi by the British, who made monuments of imperialist authority to awe the subjects they ruled. Architecture has from time immemorial been employed as a tool for making political and ideological statements by the rulers. The Viceroy’s House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan), designed by Edwin Lutyens, made for perfect symbolism, looming large over the city and the ensemble of the Secretariat buildings of North and South Blocks. It extended to a grand Central Vista, a landscaped visual axis inspired by the scale and grandeur of French Renaissance gardens. The old Parliament building — originally the Imperial Legislative Council — designed by Herbert Baker, with its colosseum-like form — was on the sidelines of this Vista and never quite the main spectacle on show.
When the British left, the newly independent country continued to use these monuments, such as Rashtrapati Bhavan, for housing various ministries and Parliament. Many post-Independence edifices that the nation required for its key institutions, such as the Supreme Court, National Museum, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Vigyan Bhawan, were built.
Most of these Nehruvian-era (1950s and early 1960s) buildings largely followed the architectural idiom of Lutyens’ sandstone claddings, employing Indian elements such as domes, cupolas, chhatris and ancient motifs. The Chaitya arch threshold of the Vigyan Bhawan and the Yaksha-Yakshi figures guarding the RBI entrance showcased Indian civilisational iconography. This was the second layering of the city that grew as a palimpsest of evolving architectural styles.
However, this placid continuity got a new spark with the making of the Pragati Maidan in 1972 for the mega India International Trade Fair with modernist and daring structures like the Hall of Nations. Its innovative use of a space frame structure in concrete over a huge span became a technical milestone. Other elegant modernist buildings by leading Indian architects such as Charles Correa, Raj Rewal and Kuldip Singh became inspirational works for up-and-coming Indian architects. Organic structures like the India International Centre and Habitat Centre, done by Joseph Allen Stein, a brilliant American architect based in Delhi, were known for their connect with nature and New Delhi’s parks.
By the 1990s, with the liberalisation of the economy and hordes of multi-national corporates setting up bases, the fulcrum of architectural momentum moved out of Delhi to the adjoining cities of Gurugram and Noida. In these areas, gleaming post-modernist glass high-rise towers began to mushroom rapidly.
Since the architectural features of the new hexagonal Parliament building as an adjunct to the old colonial one — now called Samvidhan Bhavan — have been talked about sufficiently, it’s the recently built Bharat Mandapam and Yashobhoomi that take centre stage in the discourse. The two new landmark additions, designed with bold post-modernist flair, stand out for their sheer scale and size more than their architectural timelessness. They seamlessly blend hi-tech state-of-the-art features with aesthetic showcasing of traditional Indian arts and crafts and civilisational features.
The Bharat Mandapam, according to its architect Sanjay Singh, “derives its inspiration from an elliptical conch shell” floating on shiny chrome slender columns set in a formal geometric stylised landscape. It drew inspiration from the adjoining Yamuna river, expressing its fluidity with smooth, unbroken lines and a design that expanded equally to both sides, resembling the flow of the Yamuna when viewed from any point.
It has been designed to promote India as a premier global business hub to host large-scale international exhibitions, trade expos, conventions and various prestigious assemblies. It includes an impressive multi-purpose hall capable of accommodating 7,000 attendees, surpassing the seating capacity of Australia’s Sydney Opera House.
The other major objective was to showcase India’s craft, culture and way of living in the form of art. The motive was to integrate India in all manners to show its cultural diversity in each aspect of the design. A prominent feature of Bharat Mandapam is the monumental bronze statue of Nataraja, towering at a height of 27 ft.
The India International Convention and Expo Centre (IICC), also known as Yashobhoomi, strikes an Indian chord with its filigree of trellis work facades, enveloping the inverted pyramidal structure. It will be the largest convention centre in Asia.
Since the two buildings have not yet been opened to the public, any definitive appraisal would be premature. But enough images and information exist in the media to comprehend their core concepts.
What’s very impressive about these key projects — the new Parliament House, Bharat Mandapam and Yashobhoomi — is that a major emphasis has been laid on incorporating galleries, showcasing Indian art, cultural artefacts and civilisational objects. This, indeed, is a welcome concept and very enriching.
What Jawaharlal Nehru said about the making of Chandigarh in the 1950s — “Whether you like it or not, it strikes you on the head” — rings true for the ‘Naya Bharat’ edifices too. But please tone down the multi-hued razzmatazz lights that Bharat Mandapam was drowned in during the G20 summit.
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