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Three Capitals Study Tour Report

by User Not Found | Jun 29, 2012
Scott Opler Travel Fellowship recipient Gretta Tritch Roman reports on her experience on the recent SAH Study Tour, "Three Capitals: Dhaka, New Delhi, and Chandigarh."

The title of the tour, “Three Capitals: Dhaka, New Delhi, and Chandigarh,” hardly captures the intensity and depth of the eleven-day journey across South Asia. With the generous award of the Scott Opler Travel Fellowship by the SAH, I was able to join this incredible tour to Bangladesh and India organized and masterfully led by Adnan Morshed (Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Planning at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC) and Anubha Kakroo (Architect and Design Consultant, New Delhi). The tour centered on the heroic and monumental plans of these twentieth-century capitals—from Louis Kahn’s Parliament Buildings and Hostels in Dhaka to Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker’s axial composition along Rajpath (formerly Kingsway) in New Delhi to Le Corbusier’s expansive complex surrounding a plaza in Chandigarh. Yet, in visiting these sites, discussing the long and difficult histories that formed them, and seeing and experiencing how they are constantly shaped and reshaped to use, I found the monumentality of these designs was reinvested with more complexity than the studied, sleek photographs and plans could ever convey.

My research interests have focused on issues surrounding eclecticism in architecture, from commercial buildings in nineteenth-century America to imperial palaces of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century South Asia. Most intriguing about this research has been exploring the cultural exchanges demonstrated in such design choices, and it was this factor that prompted my interest in this particular study tour. The designs of the three capitals — Dhaka, New Delhi, and Chandigarh — all point to often delicate and contentious issues evident in the intersections of culture. Though I have had the fortune to study these cities as a part of my graduate education, little compared to actually visiting them, walking the streets, boulevards, and plazas, and standing inside these iconic buildings.

Adnan and Anubha’s familiarity and studied expertise of the three cities also opened up many fascinating tours outside the capitol complexes. In Dhaka, we wound through the tight, narrow corridors of the old city and visited the landscaped and comparatively spacious campuses of Dhaka University and the Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh (75 miles north of Dhaka). Visits to a few of the six previous capitals of Delhi (Shahjahanabad, the Qutb Minar complex, and Purana Qila) also provided us with instructive comparisons of capital building and political dialogues. Without Adnan and Anubha’s generous dedication of time and effort in organizing and planning the tour and their patience and enthusiasm in guiding us through the tight streets and expansive plazas, the trip could never have been such a success in convivial learning. I also have SAH and those who have contributed to the Scott Opler Foundation to thank for providing this opportunity to participate in this tour, to meet so many thoughtful people, and to share in such an incredible experience.

- Scott Opler Travel Fellowship recipient Gretta Tritch Roman

Learn more and see great photos on the SAH Study Tour Blog