The severe, blank bulk of St Martin’s Garrison Church formed of three and a half million bricks, has an elemental ageless air, resembling something like the bastard child of the Ziggurat of Ur and a power station. The thick walls and minimal openings of its massive abstract form serve a practical purpose, keeping the lofty basilica-like interior coolly isolated from the often blazing heat outside.
Built between 1929–31, St Martin’s was designed by Arthur Gordon Shoosmith (1888–1974) as the parish church for the military cantonment of New Delhi, the newly minted capital of British India. Shoosmith was assistant to one of its planners, Sir Edwin Lutyens, who had advised him: “get rid of all mimicky Mary-Anne notions of brick work and go for the Roman wall”. Shoosmith followed his advice – and then some – producing a building that in its stolid, fortlike presence seems at first sight to express the uncompromising solidity of British imperialist power.
However after the decorative excesses of earlier imperial pomp-fest buildings, which had superficially riffed off the intricate detailing of Hindu and Mughal monuments and temples, its sober severity exudes more an air of introverted defensiveness appropriate to a time when questions over British rule in India were growing louder, resulting in Indian independence less than two decades later in 1947. I (rgw)