Architecture and Empire

British imperial architecture as epitomised by the work of Sir Herbert Baker was not tied to any geographic setting. Its elements could be re-ordered to fit any tropical dependency. As Thomas R. Metcalf explains, what had been hammered out in Pretoria, and redefined in Delhi, could be carried to such places as Kenya. But Baker, who designed the imperial acropolis of New Delhi with Lutyens, differed from his colleague, "the most original and creative architect of his age." For Baker architecture always served a political purpose: for Lutyens, Empire was incidental.

For years it has been a commonplace among historians that the British, in building their new capital at Delhi, sought to cast it in a Mughal mould. In much the same way as the great durbars and the awards of Indian titles were designed to symbolise Britain’s position at the head of an ongoing Indian political order, so too, it has been argued, did the British, by putting up buildings which embodied the essence of the north Indian tradition of imperial architecture, seek to capture for themselves the authority, unquestioned and legitimate, of their Mughal predecessors. The use of red sandstone as a building material, and the decorative scheme of turrets, pierced stone screens, chattris and porticoes, as well as the placement of the new city adjacent to the old Mughal capital of Shanjahanabad, have all been taken as evidence of the British endeavour to create for themselves an imperial capital in the Mughal grand manner.

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