lanning of the embassy complex began in the early 1950s, with the allocation of a 28-acre site in the Chanakyapuri area of New Delhi. The complex includes the Chancery, the Roosevelt House, office space, and living accommodations. Construction began on September 1, 1956, when the Chief Justice of the United States, Earl Warren, laid the corner stone and expressed the hope that the structure would become “a temple of peace.” The building was formally opened on January 5, 1959 in the presence of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The two-story U.S. Embassy in New Delhi stands as an example of Indian-American collaboration in design and craftsmanship and is symbolic of the long friendship between India and the United States. In designing the Embassy complex, architect Edward Durell Stone combined elements of South Asian architecture with Western concepts. The overall design is reflective of a Greek or Indian temple. Rectangular in plan, the embassy rests atop a platform, under which is a parking garage and a service area. To its front, is a formal pool not unlike the one at the Taj Mahal. The embassy stands out as a smooth, white form against the water and sky. A ceremonial staircase is located directly in the center of the embassy and leads to an expansive marble colonnade. Slender, decorated steel columns (eight lengthwise and three widthwise) support the flat roof slab, which hangs over the structure to provide additional shade. Stone created a perforated screen with 6” cast blocks of white glazed terra cotta and/or concrete. The screen protects the double-hung glass from the blazing sun. The interior of the two-story building is open to an aquatic internal garden, which also acts as a means to further cool the building.
Living quarters for ambassadors and staff were built to the back of the embassy. The building is less ornate than the embassy, though borrows some of its central elements, such as an interior courtyard with pools, fountains, and perforated screens to protect from the blazing sun.
The U.S. Embassy was built by hand, and is the result of a combination of Eastern and Western skills. The builders moved to the site with their families where they built straw matting houses; at one time, as many as 1800 Indians lived there, and during the four years of construction, dozens of children were born on the site. Its structural support is a reinforced concrete frame. The roof is supported by the steel columns.
Occupying a prominent 28-acre site, the embassy was the first building of architectural distinction on Shantipath, the broad avenue that forms the central axis of New Delhi’s diplomatic quarter, and remains an important landmark today.
Much work was done by hand; the grillwork was cast in foot-square molds of concrete and marble aggregate, then finished and polished by hand. U.S. manufacturing techniques were applied locally for other items, such as teak woodwork, aluminum window sash, hardware, lighting fixtures and concrete piping. The result is a merger of the aesthetic styles and construction techniques of the cultures of the two countries.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, relations between India and the United States were at an all-time high, with leaders in both countries (Nehru in India and Kennedy in the U.S.) who had an idealistic vision for the future that included cooperation and mutual interchange. Stone’s embassy complex sought to express the friendly relationship between the two countries, and ultimately stood as a symbol of the growing ties between the world’s largest democracies. At the embassy’s opening ceremony on January 5, 1959, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker said, “To me, this building is symbolic of what can be achieved through the cooperation of our two countries. From beginning to end, it has been a joint venture.”
he embassy blends elements of both Indian and Western architecture. The design for the chancery building was inspired by traditional Indian architecture. It was organized around a central courtyard and, like many major Mogul monuments, was designed as a pavilion on a raised podium using design strategies to protect the building from the harsh sun. Overhanging canopies were separated from the second-floor ceiling by an 18” gap that served as a breezeway to reduce air conditioning loads, and pierced screens were used to dissipate penetration of sunlight and reduce glare. At the dedication of the American Embassy on January 5, 1959, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared himself “enchanted by the building and impressed by its combination of Indian motifs and modern techniques.”
The American Embassy in New Delhi was the first project to be guided by a directive issued by the newly formed objective board, chosen by the Director of Foreign Building Operations to select architects for government buildings purely on the basis of performance. An excerpt from this directive said, “To the sensitive and imaginative designer it will be an invitation to give serious study to local conditions of climate and site, to understand and sympathize with local customs and people…yet he will not fear using new techniques or new materials should these constitute real advances in architectural thinking.” According to Edward Durell Stone in 1959, this principle of “empowering objective professionals to choose architects for government projects successfully removed architecture from politics for the first time.” Stone, one of the first Americans to “comprehend and practice in the modern movement of architecture,” also had, “the pose to appreciate the past of another culture…” He also had the audacity to break away from the traditional style of U.S. embassies, introducing the United States government, architects, and citizens to “the possibility of a new government style.” The embassy won the AIA’s First Honor Award in 1961.
While Stone had faced criticism in the United States for his use of opulent materials and reintroducing ornamentation into modern architecture, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi was embraced in India. However, this design captured the imagination of some of the most important cultural figures at the time, including Frank Lloyd Wright and Jacqueline Kennedy, the latter of which was so enamored with the building, that she selected him to design the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
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Depicted item: "New US Embassy in New Delhi, India 1959/1/8", source: United States Department of State, retrieved from YouTube. January 1959, accessed August 2010.