Lutyens’s drawing for the Viceroy’s House, New Delhi, 1912 © RIBA Collections

Members’ Tour of RIBA Exhibition Palladian Design: The Good, The Bad and the Unexpected

Thursday, 10 December, 2015

By co-curator Charles Hind

On 10 December, 15 members gathered at the RIBA for a curator-led tour of its exhibition on Palladian design, which Margaret Richardson reviewed in the last Newsletter. The show was co-curated by Vicky Wilson and myself, and it was I who spoke to the members. Margaret’s review gave a general outline of the exhibition, which was international in scope and covered 400 years of Palladianism. Although Edwin Lutyens was an admirer of Palladio — his remark of 1903, “In architecture, Palladio is the game!!”, is famous — in practice his classical work drew on a wide variety of sources. Thus it was by no means a foregone conclusion that it would be included in this exhibition. But the show offered the opportunity to reveal a little-known perspective view of his first design for the Viceroy’s House, New Delhi. This was drawn in September, 1912, four months before he actually received the commission and therefore before the brief had been settled.

His choice of style is revealing. Lutyens conceived the building as an 18th-century Anglo-Palladian country house on an inflated scale, combining a Pantheon-like shallow dome with the expansive portico of Palladio’s unbuilt Villa Mocenigo. The only concessions to India are the materials — the buff and rhubarb-red sandstones used locally at Shahjahanabad (now called Old Delhi). It is a splendid, practical example of Lutyens’s view that the appropriate style for architecture in India was “to build as an Englishman dressed for the climate”, conscious only that the tailor was Indian and not English. In the end, Lutyens was forced to rethink his design entirely in terms of creating a fusion of the styles of East and West, and the result was a masterpiece. Yet his first proposal was a worthy addition to the broad church of Palladian design represented in the exhibition.