In early September 2019, the Central Public Works Department issued a press notice inviting competing proposals from architects for a project to redevelop Delhi’s Central Vista. The precinct came into being as a colonial project to symbolise British rule and was appropriated after independence to become the seat of the new nation’s power. It houses Rashtrapati Bhavan, the parliament building, major ministries, national cultural institutions and the iconic India Gate with its surrounding lawns.
The government seems to be in a tearing hurry to execute the project. In the short space of seven weeks, it completed all stages of the competition: the submission of expressions of interest, the shortlisting of eligible architects, the preparation of designs by the candidates, the evaluation of those designs, financial bids and, finally, the selection itself. The timeline for completion of the project is ambitious. A new parliament building is to be constructed by July 2022, a new central secretariat by March 2024, and the Central Vista’s landscape is to be reshaped by November this year.
Ideally, for an undertaking of such national significance, the government should have cast as wide a net as possible, both for ideas and firms. This did not happen. Eligibility criteria specifying minimum thresholds on financial turnover and project sizes handled were structured to limit participation to the very largest architectural firms. There was clearly no desire to follow the internationally established precedent of a two-stage competition, in which the first stage seeks to maximise ideas on the table, from which a few are shortlisted for further development by selected architects—either on their own or through partnership with a larger firm—in a second stage. Only six firms were deemed eligible and submitted proposals.