Tag Archives: Chanakyapuri

Wat’s up

The new Ethiopian Cultural Centre ♦

Set in a couple of low-lying whitewashed buildings with red tiled roofs clustered around a courtyard, the unpresuming new Ethiopian Cultural Centre brings a taste of Addis Ababa to Delhi. Director Ashok Verma, who set up the centre in tandem with the Ethiopian Embassy, met us in the coffee “tukul” (a type of thatched building) on the premises. “Ambassador Gennet Zewide is a proactive lady with a lot of Indian friends,” Verma told us. “She decided to set up a cultural centre with a museum, a coffee shop and a restaurant for Ethiopian food, since food is an integral part of a country.” Indeed, the Ethiopian chef at Blue Nile restaurant is a capable diplomat for her cuisine and we enjoyed a varied meal of injera (traditional bread) and various stews (wat) and salads there at a reasonable rate.

The museum with gift shop is reminiscent of our own sarkari cultural outposts, but Verma assured us it would be expanding and that the centre would organise film screenings, Ethopian dances, music and so on. “We will not accept walk-in clients and there is no commercial activity, but we will have a cultural calendar,” Verma elaborated. The centre is still fairly new and not exactly buzzing with patrons yet, so it wouldn’t hurt to try calling ahead and pay a visit.

Ethiopian Cultural Centre 7/50- G, Niti Marg, Chanakyapuri. For membership details contact the Embassy of Ethiopia (+91 11 2611 9513).

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, April 2012.

Published: April 26, 2012

Mission accomplished

An American architect in Delhi ♦

scan0004Some of Delhi’s most beautiful buildings sit on foreign soil. In Chanakyapuri, the American Embassy’s Chancery and Ambassador’s residence are two of independent India’s oldest diplomatic buildings – and arguably the most successful at blending modern minimalism with motifs from Mughal and British architecture. Architect Edward Durell Stone, who had already co-designed the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, completed the Chancery in 1959. The Ambassador’s residence, called Roosevelt House, opened in 1963.

The complex was much admired in the West, garnering a Time magazine feature and the praise of Frank Lloyd Wright, who called it “a perfectly beautiful building”. The Delhi buildings were especially celebrated because they were the first to implement a new American diplomatic policy of building foreign missions in a culturally sensitive manner. After a trip to Agra, Stone was inspired by the Taj Mahal, and drew on Indian elements to design a climate-sensitive building. A roof canopy above the top-floor ceiling dissipates the heat, and there was extensive jali-work in the residence, which became climbing walls for Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith and his sons in the ’60s. It became a tradition for guests, including Jackie Onassis Kennedy, to step across the water garden in the Chancery’s central courtyard. Once, a visiting US Colonel marched straight into the pond.

The building contracts went to Mohan Singh and his sons, who would later extend American influence in Delhi by partnering with Coca Cola when it arrived here. Stone formed long-lasting friendships with the Singh family: Stone’s son Hicks told us that the Singhs nicknamed the building the “Taj Maria”, after Edward’s new wife, who had helped him through a low point in his career just before the Embassy project. Besides being the backdrop for 50 years of diplomacy between Delhi and Washington, DC, the Embassy buildings had a far-reaching architectural impact. Stone took the same ideas and spun them into landmark buildings in the US, notably the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, back in the American capital.

Watch a newsreel of the inauguration of the US Embassy in New Delhi:

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, September 2011.

Published: September 5, 2011