Modernism in Delhi

Updated May 12, 2022

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Modernism in Delhi essay

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Modernism is the most important new style of architecture and design of the 20th century, which is associated with an analytical approach to the function of buildings, a strictly rational use of (often new) materials, an openness to structural innovation and the elimination of ornament. (RIBA, 2017) Modernism was first introduced to Delhi in 1911 when the British decided to shift the Capital of Colonial India from Calcutta to Delhi. New Delhi was broadly ‘designed’ & planned on Hexagonal grid pattern, two axes & Round-abouts. These pathways meant a lot to the designer, but not much to the users even today. Even after the help of Online Navigation Systems, the lack of unique identities of each road & round-about lead to an ever confusing navigation in the city. This is ‘The Way’ modernism teaches us to design; it rationalises design with respect to function & purposely ignores design elements like Ornamentation, diluting the purpose of design, which is, to enhance user experience in spaces.

Research Framework

– A critical review of relevant literature describing the following briefly – Modernism, Decentralization & District Centres.

– Site Inspection – studying what exists.

– Critical Analysis by drawing comparison between the proposals & ground reality.

– Inferences


The Modern Delhi is the resultant of the 1962 Master Plan by DDA, which was also a modernist approach towards designing the expansion of city & allocated the land only on basis of the projected percentage of the working force in various occupational groups in 1981. (DDA, 1962) It brought the concept of Decentralization of Commercial & work centres into the picture, which stated that – in order to secure balanced development & minimize frictions, decentralization of places of employment & their right relationship with residential areas is necessary. (DDA, 1962)

In order to decentralise commercial activity, 15 District Centres & 13 Sub-District Centres were proposed in the plan in addition to some small retail centres.

The Idea of District Centres

According to the Master Plan 62, “District Centres will provide, within easy travelling distance, all the facilities for every 1.5 to 2.5 lakhs of population. They are composite centres & will have retail shopping, general business, commercial & professional offices, local & central government offices, work-cum-industrial centres, small scale & light manufacturing, repair shops & service industries, cinemas, restaurants & other places of entertainment. Hospitals, colleges & parks are also planned in proximity to these District Centres so that each district is self-contained for most facilities & amenities. (DDA, 1962)

The essence that we get from above is that they wanted the District Centres to serve for everything to the citizens of Delhi, except their residence. This may have worked till late 70s, as the Master Plan 1962 projected till 1981. That is why the Master Plan of 1990 went a step ahead regarding District Centres.

“The district centres are to serve as a climax of the multi-nodal activities of community; these should be conceived as major shopping centres, which while serving the community with reasonable selection of shops & department stores are also centres of socio cultural activity where the community can get together. Each district centre should include a library & a multi-purpose meeting hall & also make provision for an exhibition centre which could hold art exhibitions.” (DDA, 1990)

The result as we see today is a poorly handled access to these centres mixed with traffic & circulation problem, haphazard utilization of open spaces, unsystematic planning of inform all eating joints/ restaurants/ kiosks, higher prices for parking & an overall confusion & dullness in the perception of these spaces in the district centres.

Nehru Place District Centre

The Nehru Place District Centre is spread over an area of 38.20 hect & was proposed to cater to “the multi-nodal activities of community, by functioning as a major shopping centre and also as centre of socio-cultural activity”. It now stands as a large commercial, financial, and business centre which is a prominent commercial area in South Delhi and is widely considered to be a major information technology hub of South Asia.

The Existing Scenario

The main activities taking place are shops-cum-offices related to IT-sector but these get out-shown because of the illegal encroachments on the central plaza, resulting in inactivity & the lack of formal and informal food joints in the place.

Nehru Place, as a system, has many flaws in it. Instead of being owned by builders, all the buildings in the complex are on lease. The land is owned by DDA but the maintenance comes under SDMC. This conflict leads to none of the agencies contributing towards the district centre, giving birth to another set of problems. Because of absence of any enforcing agency, there is negligence towards maintenance of the building services & emergency exits by the owners.

The main activities and shops are placed along the linear arrangement of plazas across the central spine, which also houses the hawkers. The exposed condition of services – even on the façade of the Centre lends an ill-maintained & poor image to District Centre. It is not equipped well for fire-fighting as the roads are narrow & filled by parked cars, obstructing movement of fire tenders. Due to no charge taken up by SDMC for the maintenance, problems like muddy pits, filths, garbage dump yards and dilapidated state of buildings have aroused. The pedestrian movement through the plaza is also hindered by water dripping from the upper storeys of buildings.

Comparison of the Document & the Truth

Designed according to norms & regulations of DDA, Nehru Place has failed to meet the desired standards regarding the Quality of environment of indoor & outdoor spaces, adequate parking facilities, need for socio-cultural & recreational activities, & a lack of lively spaces for family outings & shopping activities during evening and sometimes even at night.

Over time, Nehru Place has adapted itself to become a successful market. Sometimes adaptation is confused with growth but growth isn’t equal to adaptation. Growth is a natural process of evolution, while adaptation is more forced. The notion of Nehru Place being a market was initiated in 1990 when there was a demand of computers in the country.

The activity layout is no more the same as proposed in the original scheme. There is a range of activities missing including Hospital/ Health Centre; also there is no cultural zone for community surrounding the centre to get together.

In terms of architectural image conveyed, the commercial centre lacks sensitivity towards the issue of aesthetically appeasing environments. The façade treatment of the buildings built by individual plot owners is deplorable & unattractive. The multi-storey towers are not only susceptible to fire hazards, as they have inadequate fire fighting arrangements, but also are lacking in the contemporary image that needs to be conveyed for healthy perception of urban development.

Inferences & Conclusion

From above bases, we must believe that the problem with Nehru Place was its institutional framework – resulting in negligence from almost everyone in the system, which resulted in dilapidated state of the complex. The flawed framework of the place, highly dependent on the government agencies, was an outcome of high ambition & possessiveness for District Centres in the Master Plans. The main problem which has led to this situation of this place is the modernist approach in the Design. Being highly analytical & rational, the approach towards the design had become too rigid, which didn’t provide for any scope for flexibility beyond 15 years. But the structure was designed to withstand for more than 60 years.

Being a commercial hub, the designers failed to recognise & provide for Adaptation over time. Commercial buildings change more rapidly, as compared to residences, reacting strongly to market forces, whether to succeed or fail. (Brand, 1994) Not only Nehru Place, even other district centres were influenced by creation of different markets in different parts of Delhi, & therefore in result, whole of the Delhi is travelling to each part of the city – overloading the main arterial roads.

Modernism in Delhi essay

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Modernism in Delhi. (2022, May 12). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/modernism-in-delhi/


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