Profile: TANYA GOEL – Remains of a future State utopias from New Delhi

  • 18.12.2018

The task of building a democratic Indian nation, and establishing a modern identity post - independence from the British empire, and partition, was undertaken by Prime Minster Jawaharlal Nehru. Under his government, India saw the very first modern conception of a city: Chandigarh. Envisioned by Albert Myer and his partner, but completed by Le Corbusier, the city became a symbol for a new India, distinct from its imperial past, and reflecting Nehru’s socialist vision for a new India that looked to the future.

Nehru’s masterplan for Delhi, the capital, was to become the new model of development for the post colonial cities in India. Nehru commissioned planners and architects led by the New York based architect Albert Mayer, working under the Ford Foundation. (http://rockarch.org/publications/ford/overview/FordFoundationHistory1936-2001.pdf) The team drew the masterplans for a high modernist dream, to be executed by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). This masterplan emphasized on beauty in the design of all public and private buildings: modern industrial buildings surrounded by landscaped grounds, shopping centers, and simple and aesthetically designed schools and homes. The plan was a social vision as much as an architectural one and the city was to incorporate all the languages and regions of India. For Delhi’s planners, the key to implementing this vision was centralization as previously Delhi was a disjointed urban centre with no interest in the the public.

However, Mayer’s masterplan remained a fantasy. As the DDA acquired most of the land, the entire city turned into a public project, marginalizing all development of the private sector, and moving toward the creation of an imperial capital. The undertaking was ambitious: a large land nationalization, formal employment in the government, and the state building all levels of housing to construct a more equal and mixed city rather than a real-estate market, but many parts of it fell apart slowly. Bankruptcy, and an inflexible structure that did not accommodate the large number of migrants moving to Delhi. Over time, Delhi’s periphery steadily urbanized outward. It had become a “partition city”, but the DDA refused to recognize the migrants. Under its public ownership of the city, informal settlements were illegal, and their residents were trespassers.

In the last decade I have been collecting and archiving, in the form of architectural debris, and maps, a precipitously vanishing period of socialist modernity in Delhi.


Tanya Goel's text was published in the third Issue of 'Arts of the Working Class', which you can purchase on the streets and also here.