While Lutyen’s Delhi remains a defining aspect of New Delhi’s colonial era architecture and other ancient architectural marvels are dotted all over the city from the Mughal and Sultanate times. There remain few post-colonial landmarks as notable as Kuldip Singh’s NCDC and NDMC Pallika Kendra designs. City planner, architect and builder passed away recently at the age of 86 due to a bout of Covid-19, yet his open concrete, geometric designs stand proudly over New Delhi. The man not only designed these two buildings which almost any delhiite would instantly recognize but was also the creator of the Golf View Apartments in the 70s which were instrumental in bringing affordable and livable housing to the rapidly expanding population of New Delhi.
Kuldip Singh was an avid reader of Urdu Poetry and collected South Indian Thanjuvur paintings, yet his modernist designs speak nothing of this man's artistic inclinations. His manners were perfect and he was rather soft spoken. Yet his designs reflected bold geometrical shapes and were made from practical open concrete which did little for beautification but have stood the test of time solidly and aged like a fine wine. The art and softness of his personality was sharply contrasted by the boldness and sharpness of his works.
Kuldip Singh’s modernist work was his way of inspiring younger generations of Indian artists to experiment and break free from traditional techniques. The NDMC Pallika Kendra stands right next to the UNESCO heritage site of Jantar Mantar. Many architects note how the architect's work is modern and experimental enough to create a relationship with the iconic monument yet at the same time not inspired by the monument so as to become a part of it.
The NCDC building recognized by Delhi’s autowallahs as the ‘Pyjama Building’ is an unforgettable site. The two legs of the building zigzag their way up to the top of the building, each leg housing a different wing. The building is an exemplar of practical design, with ventilation for every room in all 9 storeys for a time before air conditioning and connectivity between every part of the building.
The east-west facing design also makes it easy for rooms to be sheltered from delhi’s extreme sun in summer months. The extensive use of concrete provides the unique geometric looks Singh is known for and are reminiscent of a time when timber and labour were cheap.
The two buildings remain some of the proudest exhibits of Brutalist architecture in the national capital, distinguished by their large blocky appearance, sharp geometric cuts, use of poured concrete and monolithic aesthetic.
Kuldip Singh’s contributions to Delhi don’t just end here. Under former classmate Raj Rewal he also helped in the making of Pragati Maidan’s overall site plan, one of India’s largest exhibition grounds spread out over 150 acres. He was consulted in the designs of both New Delhi’s metro rail system and Bengaluru’s metro. His expertise in zoning, circulation and organization of large public places was unmatched and was reflected in his design of the Qutub Metro Station in New Delhi as well as the Saket District centre, home to multiple large shopping malls, corporate offices and residences in the heart of New Delhi.
Directions by Harkrishan Alag
Written by Aditya Chopra