This dissertation considers the urban landscape of Delhi at a time of dramatic social and cultural upheaval. British conquest of Delhi in 1857 changed the social and economic structure of the city. After this time the new rulers started to deliberately reshape the city's landscape. In so doing, they implicitly sought to reform society-recast identities, and redefine relationships of people to their built environment. If British interventions in Delhi were guided by Victorian ideals, the visions of European modernists, and the ambitions of absolute imperial rule. in the lived city, they had to contend with customary spatial practices, competing local interests, and the contestation of colonial authority.
The shifting landscape of Delhi's mansions, the definition of public space, the formalization of private property, sanitary improvements, and the creation of idealized extensions to the walled city were some of the changes taking place in the city. Each of them provide windows to gain insights on the cultural landscape of Delhi. British policies and presence had the indirect consequence of transforming sprawling mansions into multi-family tenement houses. Parts of the city were deliberately demolished and rebuilt with the stated objectives of sanitation and improvement. The rhetoric of constructing a universally 'healthy' landscape masked the ambiguities in the official efforts. Official efforts at city building and improvement aimed not only to disrupt and undermine the traditional hierarchies of the Mughal elites but to establish a new structure of authority vested in a seemingly neutral bureaucracy under an imperial government. The inconsistencies in the policies and their implementation suggest the ways in which officials interpreted and sought to reconstruct the form and meaning of the city. The lack of uniformity in the applications of policies also reflected the ability of local residents to mediate the outcomes of such interventions. By the early twentieth century, Delhi had become a mosaic of the old, the new, the reformed, the rebuilt, and the redefined.
The changing cultural milieu of Delhi and planned urban interventions of the colonial officials brought together the opposing orders of custom and rationality, deliberate design and spontaneity, visual organization and complex experience. The result was a multiplicity of competing orders. The official imagination, though dominant, was not the singular force that shaped the cultural landscape of the city. Conflicting visions and contradictory official objectives resulted in a fragmented built form. Rather than being experienced in a coherent and integrated manner, Delhi's multiple faces contained negations rendering them incomplete.
Delhi was not a city that modernism neglected and that city builders forgot but one that systematically defied totalization. It absorbed within its folds, the attempts of officials, sweepers, and speculators alike to become a palimpsest that actively engaged with modernity.