Colonial intervention and urban transformation : a case study of Shahjahanabad/Old Delhi
This study addresses issues that pertain to the urban transformation of the builtenvironment
of a pre-colonial city of the Indian sub continent following British
occupation. The research centres on the city of Shahjahanabad / Old Delhi as the
recipient of change that transformed the architecture and urban form of the 17`h
century city built by the Mughals to conform to the British vision of urbanism
shaped by political needs and belief in the superiority of European civilization.
The study extends the past scholarship on the city by presenting a total picture of
Shahjahanabad / Old Delhi's built-environment and the transformation of its urban
form at macro and micro levels as one culture made way for the next.
The study acknowledges the presence of political considerations, both in their
direct manifestation and as an undercurrent, in all architectural interventions,
given the colonial relationship between the city and its British occupants. The
Mutiny was the fulcrum about which two architecturally distinct approaches
towards addressing the city's urban form can be discerned. The year 1911, when
the politically significant decision to transfer the capital of British India to Delhi
was announced, also had a bearing on the relationship between the British and the
city. As the British attention was diverted towards building New Delhi
interventions in the older city, now referred to as Old Delhi, were directed to make
it a presentable neighbour of New Delhi. The study explores how British
architecture, planning and urban design inputs contributed towards the creation of
a British identity, in the backdrop of the political climate, by transforming the
urban landscape of 17th century Shahjahanabad from the early I 9th century to the
early 20th century.
It is concluded that the degree of interventions made in the built-environment of
Shahjahanabad / Old Delhi was the outcome of contemporaneous political
developments. The interventions were directed to make Shahjahanabad / Old
Delhi habitable for the resident European community and to create a British
identity. The study draws attention to the difference in the pre-Mutiny and post-
Mutiny architectural scenario as well as to the post-1911 neglect of the city.
The following themes are scrutinised in a chronological sequence: (i) the
development of the built-environment of Shahjahanabad under the Mughals, from
Emperor Shahjahan and his successors, till its British occupation, (ii) the British
response to Delhi's Mughal institutions and built-form types as rulers of the city
and subsequent introduction of European institutions to forge their own identity in
an alien cultural milieu. This is discussed as two distinct sets of reactions
underpinned by the Mutiny, as in pre-Mutiny and post-Mutiny scenarios, (iii) the
contributions of the institution of the durbar (court) with its transient trappings of
ceremony, festivity and cardboard architecture as harbingers of a permanent
identity, (iv) the building of a new capital as a symbol of the permanence of
British Raj (rule) and the concomitant diversion of attention to the New Delhi
project leading to the neglect of Shahjahanabad / Old Delhi.
The outcomes of this research, based on the interpretation and description of
empirical data and documentary sources, are presented in two parts. Part-I builds
the picture of the city at the macro level as it traces the evolution of the builtenvironment
of the city as a whole. Part-II delves into the city fabric to present the
micro level architectural scenario as it examines case studies of various built-form
precincts whose urban form was transformed following British intervention.