Delhi’s Art Deco Buildings Are Also Part of India’s Heritage
One point made at that time was obviously not internalised by either the authorities or the perpetrators: the installation of heavy generator sets and extra water tanks on the line and mortar roofs. Once the upper floors use had changed from residences to restaurants and shops there was no supervision of these additions.
The same situation exists in Connaught Place, a lovely - and unique- Art Deco era shopping and eating complex. And there is no telling how much damage has been done already to the buildings with the tunnelling of the Delhi Metro system and what will be the long term effect of the constant vibrations of the trains.
There was some concern about the Delhi Metro’s Heritage line (again the insincere use of that word) tunnelling past Mughal era monuments. But, with respect, it’s not only Mughal and Lodi era structures that deserve love, care and respect. Indeed, so many Art Deco era buildings in New Delhi have been treated atrociously.
While “Lutyens Delhi” inhabitants may justifiably attract ire for being insular and entitled, the buildings should not end up bearing the brunt. There has to be some understanding of what these buildings are made of, what they can withstand when it comes to “modern amenities” and what care they need in order to stay standing.
It is unfortunate that while specialised conservation and renovation organisations like the Aga Khan Trust for Culture can be roped in to revive, say, the Humayun’s Tomb complex, most gracious buildings that Lutyens, Baker, Tor Russell, Bromfeld and others designed are left to the tender mercies of the public works departments.
Even many of the non government architects and interior specialists hired by people to “renovate” stores in Khan Market and Connaught Place show precious little regard for the old structures. Facts like load bearing walls and non-concrete roofs are forgotten in the move to “open up spaces” and “let in light”, leading to collapsed roofs.
The old Indian disregard for what is in use, persists. Government functionaries treat their heritage abodes with scant respect. Jawaharlal Nehru probably initiated this disregard when he ordered the demolition of the largest of the gracious bungalows to make way for Udyog and Krishi Bhawans, Vigyan Bhawan, et al.
That culminated in the monstrosities that are Shastri and Nirman Bhavans, not to mention even uglier later constructions such as Sena Bhavan and Lok Nayak Bhavan. Indeed, most new buildings in Central Delhi with a “Bhavan” suffix are the best examples of how dire the aesthetic inclinations of government agencies are.
As more and more of the neglected or badly maintained Delhi’s Lutyens era buildings begin to show inevitable signs of stress - including the Parliament - there will be calls for them to be replaced with new constructions. And we have a good idea of what they will probably look like, going by the new government residential enclaves.
Why don’t the Art Deco and other “younger” heritage structures of New Delhi deserve the same tender loving care as Mughal and other medieval era structures get? Surely these are now as much a part of India’s “virasat” - legacy? Unless these structures are as strictly protected and renovated, such cave-ins will continue to happen.