Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Urban Arches of the British Raj

Cambridge, February 13, 2013

Seems that in the early part of the 20th century the British were emphatic in marking their imperial way into India.  They built not one but two triumphal arches: the Gateway to India in Bombay and India Gate in New Delhi.  The were completed in 1924 and 1931 respectively... just in time to serve as their way out in 1948.

The arch in Bombay was built to commemorate the 1911 visit of King George V and Queen Mary.  Designed by the Scottish architect George Wittet in a style referred to as "Indo-Saracenic", a pastiche of Indian and Indo-Islamic motifs mixed with Gothic Revival and Neoclassic features (!) it's an 80-foot tall rather elaborate structure, with a central arch flanked by four turrets and lower wings, also with arches.  The one in Delhi was designed by Edwin Lutyens as a war memorial (one of the many he designed after WWI) and it's much taller, almost 140 feet, but more vertical in its proportions and certainly much more elegant and restrained in its language.

The two monuments are quite different not only in their proportions and styles but also in their urban deployment.  In a way, they represent the geographic location of the two cities, one on the coast and the other in the middle of the country.  The Bombay Gateway is at the edge of the water, truly an entry landmark on the harbor, aligned with a park behind but otherwise at an angle to its surrounding fabric.  By contrast, the Delhi Gate is a key element in Lutyens's scheme for the new capital of the British Raj, situated at one end of the long monumental central axis of the plan.  You could almost say that the one in Bombay establishes a two-point perspective while the one in Delhi is definitely part of an axial one-point perspective.

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