The building stock in Old Delhi that we see along the streets and lanes throughout the old city, if it hasn’t been altered in recent decades, is mostly from the late-19th c and early-20th c. Among the buildings constructed in the early-20th c, there is an interesting variety of architectural styles used in the design of the buildings. Some use versions of colonial neoclassicism, some use a hybrid form that mixes colonial architecture with elements from local haveli designs and late-Mughal architecture.
From the 1930s into the 1950s, among the popular styles employed were versions of Art Deco architecture, which I am calling “Desi Deco”. Buildings in this style used Art Deco and/or Deco elements and modified them to suit their architectural needs, to create designs and motifsthat are indisputably Art Deco, but with modifications and changes from what could be considered “canonical” art deco, as seen in the famous deco residential buildings of Bombay (what itself is sometimes termed Indo-Deco) and Miami Beach, and very far from and in a completely different context from the iconic skyscraper deco of cities such as New York. It is to distinguish these altered and modified versions of Art Deco, altered not just in physical style and elements but also in their venue, scale, purpose and meaning, that I have labeled it Desi Deco, to highlight the “indigenized” nature of it.
While this Desi Deco style was used outside the walled city of Shahjahanabad as well during the 1930s-50s, specifically in the “western suburbs” of Old Delhi such as Sadar Bazaar and Karol Bagh, in this post I’m highlighting some of the examples I came across while exploring the different neighborhoods of Old Delhi. These are examples of buildings in the old city that were modified in the 1940s and 50s using desi deco. I have excluded the area of Daryaganj from this post, since there are too many examples of desi deco in the Daryaganj area, which I have covered separately. Enjoy!
The general sequence of examples goes from the northern areas of Old Delhi to the southern areas.
Along Nicholson Road, Kashmiri Gate Area
I’m starting with an example that could barely be labeled desi deco, but this is a good example of a “round cornered” building in Old Delhi
A legitimate desi deco example from Nicholson road
A plain “regular” building from the period, with deco elements
Deco elements and motifs mixed with plain colonial-style columns
Along Ram Lal Chandhok Marg, Kashmiri Gate Area
Along Hamilton Road, Kashmiri Gate Area
Along Chandni Chowk
I didn’t want to put this one up because it is proof of the horror that is having a multinational fast food chain outlet on Chandni Chowk road (there’s now one in Daryaganj too), but this cinema hall is an example of more “canonical” art deco on Chandni Chowk, the most important commercial road in Old Delhi
Commercial building along Chandni Chowk
I couldn’t resist putting this photo up, even though the only deco bit is the design on the door panels!
Town Hall Area
Deco motifs on the balconies
Katra Neel Area
This could be filed under the crazy desi deco decoration category!
I’m not sure that this example comes under deco, but the curved balconies are great!
Khari Baoli Area
More crazy desi deco decorations like in Katra Neel, above a more “traditional” haveli entrance
Lal Kuan Area
The first photo is from 2009, and when I revisited the building in 2015 the screens had been removed
Deco elements and neo-Gothic arches
More crazy desi deco!
Along Esplanade Road
Along Chawri Bazaar Road
A commercial building named Raghu Ganj
Sita Ram Bazaar Road Area
Deco elements on a doorway
Churiwalan Gali Area
There are a lot of doorways in this style with deco motifs in mosaic
Around Jami Masjid
There are a few budget hotels around Jami Masjid that I feel are representative of a “post-deco” style that continued into the 1960s, which used heavily-altered deco elements and motifs in various innovative ways
Chitli Qabar Bazaar Road Area
Another “post-deco” example
More regular desi deco