It gladdens my heart to read that one of the biggest restoration projects in the world has begun in Delhi as the architectural historians and builders set to work to restore the presidential palace of India – Rashtrapathi Bhavan (which means President’s House). The great Lutyens would be so relieved because he envisaged a palace that would be there in 300 years’ time and was thinking far beyond the time of the British Raj.
India reaches 70 years of Nationhood next year and the palace was completed in 1931 so that adds another 15 years on to its age. Now 85 years old it needs careful overhaul and renovation. At the time of the inauguration of Viceroy’s House in 1931 it was hailed as an ‘architectural gem’ and a fusion of eastern and western Palladian styles, incorporating a vast dome that drew on the Pantheon in Rome and also reminded one of the Great Stupa at Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh.
Swapna Liddle says ‘The brief was it should not just be a testament to British rule of India but for Indians proud of their India’. Along with the extraordinary vast palace Lutyens designed the Mughal Garden. The various cracks and leaks plus the use of rooms for purposes for which not intended and a vast army of civil servants along with the paraphernalia of modern communications and IT systems and telecommunications has imposed itself on this great wonderful building.
I had the pleasure of being taken around Rashtrapathi Bhavan in March 2006 just after President Bush’s state visit to India and then again in early March 2013. I saw a huge beneficial difference in the latter visit and the Mughal Garden was looking so much better in 2013 and was ablaze with dahlias in every hue and form, even climbing dahlias it seemed. The general public are allowed to visit the garden for four weeks during springtime in mid-February to March.
Security is intense understandably and one is not allowed to photograph naturally in the interior nor in the Mughal Garden but I have a few photos of the exterior. Some 3,000 artisans, masons, carpenters and gardeners were employed on building the palace, which ended up costing more than double the £400,000 that Lutyens had projected and it took 17 years to complete not the intended four!
Mr A G Krishna Menon, the architect leading the project has made frequent visits to London over the past few months to the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Lutyens’s Trust to pore over the original plans. Menon has put no limits on the cost of the present works. ‘It will cost what it will cost’.
Now that is the responsible sensible reply for someone who is helping India become Custodian of her great buildings, be they 85 years old or 850 years old…. that is the essential thinking for a great nation eager to preserve its antiquity but also grasp the modern age.