Vaissnavi Shukl


Lotus Blooms and Fighter Jets: New Delhi’s Central Vista Project and the Architecture of National Identity

Advised by Erika Naginski

This thesis addresses ways in which nation-building and contemporary architecture are intertwined in India. I take as my subject the ongoing, controversial, and much-publicized Central Vista Project in New Delhi, which was commissioned by the Government of India’s Central Public Works Department in September 2019. The project invited architects to imagine the “Development/Redevelopment of Parliament Building, Common Central Secretariat and Central Vista”—a two-and-a- half-kilometer stretch that forms the so-called ceremonial axis of New Delhi. What is remarkable about the six video submissions to the competition is not only the exclusive participation of Indian design firms but also the pointed exploration of how contemporary architectural forms attempt to negotiate new visual terms for national identity; from a central square unfurled like a lotus flower above which fighter jets zoom, to a sustainable parliament building with a porous steel structure and solar panels, these videos reflect an ideologically potent perception of Indian nationalism.

By bringing to the forefront solutions expressed in filmic terms as part of this state-sponsored competition, I seek to explore the complex nexus of official architecture, political power, and national identity in India today. The driving questions here are: How do the politics of reenvisioning national identity enter into contemporary architectural production? What, in the end, does this tell us about the ease with which contemporary design adapts to changing ideological premises and offers the semblance of fixity to what is, in reality, always subject to the volatile rhythms of regime change?

Vaissnavi Shukl, MDes. Architect Hafeez Contractor’s proposal highlighting eight new towers (presumably the housing the Central Secretariat) and a giant star-like object emerging from the lotus-inspired water bodies.
Vaissnavi Shukl, MDes. On the left, Edwin Lutyens’ plan of Imperial Delhi, 1910-12 and, on the right, an aerial view of the Central Vista with the Council House (now the Parliament House) on the left, followed by the two secretariats, with the Viceroy’s House (now the Rashtrapati Bhavan or President’s House) in the centre and the Jaipur Column in its forecourt. At the far end of the King’s Way (now Rajpath) is the All India War Memorial (now the India Gate).
A time-lapse of the Central Vista in the last two decades.
Vaissnavi Shukl, MDes. On the left, a schematic diagram of the colonial three-chamber parliamentary structure and, on the right, C. P. Kukreja Architects’ interpretation of the colonial diagram in the new Parliament House (center) as it relates to the existing Parliament House (front and left).
Vaissnavi Shukl, MDes. On the left, INI Design Studio’s proposal for the new Parliament House by inventing a novel diagram, on the right, that reflects the contemporary two-chamber parliamentary structure.