The Case Of New Delhi Cultural Studies Essay

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In recent times, certain parks, market spaces were cordoned off with rather high boundary walls. This was a measure to enhance security and block off public spaces from private residences. As a move, it backfired because incidents of trespassing, illegal activities in these zones increased even more, thanks to the lowered visibility and access.

This paper seeks to analyse the social dynamics that necessitate segregation and division of spaces and to rationalize such arguments against the need to preserve community spaces as public spaces in the city of New Delhi and NCR.

Akshay Khurana

New Delhi

Do we need the boundary wall in a modern, democratised society?




Need Identification



Research Methodology

History of the Boundary Wall

Pre- Civilization Settlements

Protective Walls: Emergence of the Boundary Wall as Defensive Architecture

Defining Edges in the 19th Century: Planned Urbanism

Boundary Walls in Post-Modern Cities

Need to divide: Growing disparity in Post-Modern Cities

Percolating need for Security and Privacy

The Case of Delhi/NCR

Public Space

Defining Public Space

Impact of Edge Conditions on the activity within Public Space

Changing face of Public Space: Malls and Commercial Complexes as Public Space

'Privatisation' of Public Space and Consequent Need for Stricter Boundaries

Boundary Walls: Necessity or Overindulgence?

Effect of Boundary Walls

Visual Disconnect

Auditory Disconnect

Denial of Access

Social Impact

Exclusivity v/s Exclusion

Case Studies

Primary Research

List of case studies within Delhi/NCR

Public Buildings

Rashtrapati Bhawan

Parliament House

Parks/Recreational Spaces

Local Parks in Delhi's Residential Colonies

Children's' Park, India Gate

Malls/ Commercial Complexes/District Centres

Select Citywalk, Saket

Connaught Place


Secondary Research

List of relevant case studies overseas




1.1 Introduction

Boundary Walls are not a recent innovation. The idea of putting up physical barriers to separate space has been around for as long as there have been conflicting interests. However, it is interesting to note that the boundary wall has percolated through the ages from being a large scale defence mechanism against hostile forces threatening the community to creating little insular fortresses within the community itself. Many reasons can be ascribed to this phenomenon - a growing sense of individuality v/s a dwindling sense of community living, increased economic disparity and extreme social stratification, changing lifestyles that enable self-sufficient living etc.

This paper traces the evolution of the boundary wall from its beginnings as a protective town wall to its modern day avatar. It briefly discusses modern day societal problems that necessitate the use of such restrictive architecture and rationalizes that need against unnecessary disunion. The prime focus of this paper is the city of Delhi but the problems addressed are global in nature and the reader may draw parallels to other cities/situations.

Also, this paper seeks to understand the close relationship between dying Public Space in the city and increased separation with hard boundary conditions. This paper argues that the relationship between Public Space and Boundary Walls is reciprocal; boundary walls can activate or deactivate Public Spaces that they bound and conversely, inactive badly designed public spaces attract higher boundary walls. The paper further establishes that public space is increasingly moving into the private realm and that in itself is counter-productive to public good.

The paper then looks closely at some instances of well-designed v/s ill-designed boundary conditions in the city of Delhi and then makes recommendations as to the optimum boundary condition for different spaces. In some cases, it may be proved that a boundary is unnecessary and promotes division whereas, in other cases it may be realized that certain restrictions need to be placed.

Need Identification

The city of Delhi is extremely diverse in terms of the people inhabiting it. Being a capital city, it attracts people from different geo-cultural regions of India and the world and also houses a wide array of economic sections. According to the 2009 census by the Government of India, a total of 12,259,230 people call Delhi/NCR home. Given the large population and its diversity, there are bound to be conflicting interests in the city. This conflict causes marginalisation of the ill-disposed and monopolization of city infrastructure by the urban rich. The full reasons for the cause of such disparity are debatable but it reflects and feeds of the architecture of the city which is clearly becoming exclusionary instead of being at best exclusive. While it is okay to encourage creation for spaces for specific clientele, it is, in the opinion of this paper, wicked to impose the same restrictions on public space, which by definition cannot be exclusionary.


This paper will seek to understand the evolution of the boundary wall and the reasons that necessitate its continued usage as an architectural element

This paper seeks to identify various boundary walls (may also include special boundary conditions, not qualifying as walls) and understand their impact, both immediate and long-term

The importance of public space is discussed as well as the inter-dependency of boundary walls and public spaces in New Delhi.

Functional, efficient, significant boundary conditions will be discussed and contrasted against seemingly dysfunctional walls.

Recommendations to the concerned policy making authorities will be added as the closing chapters of this Dissertation


Given the vast nature of the exercise, research will be restricted to the following categories

Public Buildings

Green Spaces/ Recreational Spaces/ Parks

Commercial Spaces/Malls/District Centres etc.


These case studies are by no means exhaustive; a maximum of 4 will be discussed. Relatively well known, significant case studies will be preferred.

The research will be restricted to the city of New Delhi and NCR. Relevant Case Studies from overseas may be used for comparative analysis

Social issues that interfere with the phenomena will be discussed only shortly, the focus remains on the architectural experience of the boundary wall.

Research Methodology

Understanding the Boundary Wall

Trace the evolution of boundary walls from defensive community structures to insular defence systems.

Study ancient settlements for evidence of boundary walls

Study Medieval settlements/towns for the way boundary walls were used as primary defence against hostile forces

Study the boundary wall in the modern context as a barrier between unwanted elements or as architecture that restricts access

Degrees of disconnection (discussed later)

Understand the core issues of privacy and security that necessitate boundary walls in the post-modern city

Crime prevention

The wall as a psychological barrier

The wall as a source of comfort

Briefly discuss issues that create social divide, hence, making physical separation necessary

Discontentment due to economic disparity

Incompatibility of certain socio-cultural groups

Religion, Race, Gender any other concerns

Typify boundary walls by degree of disconnect achieved

Visual disconnect

Auditory disconnect

Denial of Access

Others if any

Understanding Public Space

Defining Public Space, Private Space, Semi Private space

Historical significance of Public Space

Privatisation of Public Space

Private Spaces acting as public spaces in post-modern cities

Understanding the interdependence between boundary walls and public spaces

Case Studies-

Primary Research

Primary Research will involve data collection using to-scale sketches/ drawings and interviews of the users of the space. The information thus collected will be presented as drawings, pie charts, bar graphs for analysis.

Secondary Research

Wherever data may be collected from a trusted source, it will be presented as is for analysis.

Public Buildings

Rashtrapati Bhawan - As one of the most secure buildings in Delhi, the building does not seem inaccessible or hostile.

Parliament House

Parks/Recreational Spaces

Local Parks in Delhi's Residential Colonies

Children's' Park, India Gate

Malls/ Commercial Complexes/District Centres

Select Citywalk, Saket

Connaught Place



2.1 Pre-Civilisation

The earliest human settlements did not have definite, solid boundary conditions. Most early civilizations grew around a central core and had permeable or no boundaries. The houses themselves opened directly into streets or into other public spaces. It can be assumed that the earliest boundary condition must've been created to keep out hostile animals and that the earliest attempt at defining edges may be by fencing or other temporary means.

2.2 Protective Walls: Emergence of the Boundary Wall as Defensive Architecture

Remnants of Boundary walls can be seen in the settlements of various early civilizations across the globe. These masonry structures were built primarily for defence against other hostile colonies. The earliest examples are those at Uruk in ancient Sumer (Mesopotamia) and the walled city of Jericho, possibly dating back to 8000 B.C. In southern Asia, there is evidence of fortifications having existed in the Indus Valley Civilization around 300 B.C. The earliest masonry boundary walls were relatively short and not as sizeable as their future counterparts.

Over time, the boundary wall encompassed entire cities and fortified them. These walls were often guarded, patrolled by sentries/ armies and had defined openings that restricted access to the city. One of the earliest examples of a large-scale, well defined and still preserved boundary wall is Hadrian's Wall. Built in 122 A.D. in Great Britain the wall fortified Britain against the barbaric Romans (as noted by an unknown historian who wrote the biography for King Hadrian (Unknown. "11.2". Scriptores Historiae Augustae)). Another great example is the famous Great Wall of China, a series of fortifications that protected the Chinese Empire against barbaric attacks by nomadic groups or other warlike people or forces. Construction on the walls that constitute the great wall began as early as the 7th Century B.C. Most of what is visible today was either built in 200 B.C. or repaired/rebuilt by the Ming Dynasty in the 14th Century A.D.


Need to Divide: Growing Disparity in Modern Cities

Economic liberalization has brought about disparity in the society due to marginalisation and we have a society is becoming increasingly exclusionary. Unequal opportunities push the divide further making the divide wider.

Percolating Need for Security and Privacy

Interdependence and self-policing communities are fast giving way to insular households as individuals expand their circles to city/national levels. The loss of sense of community has made the boundary wall, once a community defence mechanism; percolate down to individual units within the settlement.

The Case of Delhi/NCR


Defining Public Space

Public space is the stage upon which the drama of community life unfolds. The streets, squares, and parks of a city give form to the ebb and flow of human exchange. These dynamic spaces are an essential counterpart to the more settled places and routines of work and home life, providing the channels for movement, the nodes of communication, and the common grounds for play and relaxation. There are pressing needs that public space can help people satisfy, significant human rights it can be used to define and protect, and special cultural meanings that it can best convey.

(Carr, Francis, Rivlin and Stone, 1993, pg.3)

The need for community space is evident. Throughout history, the evolution of society has thrived on community interaction which was facilitated by the government like the Forum of Rome or the Agora of Greece where locals met to meet, talk, trade and vote, intertwining the concepts of democracy and citizenship with public space. Such interaction has since moved to a plethora of community spaces within the urban fabric that constitutes modern society. Parks, local marketplaces and streets formed the bulk of such public space until recent times, the ownership of which was held by the government which is a democratic body that strives for public good.

All space cannot be categorized into Public and Private Space. Modern cities have grey areas where Public and Private Space intermingle and interact. Also, this paper will argue how public space is becoming increasingly private. In such a scenario, it is crucial to re-establish what public space is and the role it has to play in Modern Society.

Boundary Conditions Affecting Usage of Public Spaces

Space may be demarcated by various boundaries however, for the sake of remaining true to the scope of this paper, only the boundary wall is addressed here. Relevant case studies will be cited as examples of how boundary walls influence the experience of a public space.

4.3 Changing face of Public Space

Essentially privately owned spaces are increasingly becoming spaces for large gatherings and community interaction. Notably, malls, plazas etc which are restrictive by virtue of ownership and not truly accessible to 'The Public' are the new 'Fora' and the 'Aghoras'.

4.4 Privatisation of Public Space in the Post-Modern City

In the post-modern city, the concept of public space is fast being replaced by essentially private spaces such as commercial centres, malls etc. as the society becomes more liberalized and the boundaries of the neighbourhood blend due to lifestyles that enable city-wide access. This new paradigm takes public space out of the domain of democratic, self-nurturing governance and hands control to private organisations whose prime concern is not public good but profit.

In such times, the weaker sections of the society find themselves yearning for equal public space

Public space has developed dialectically with definitions of who counts as "the public." In American democracy, "the public" is constituted by private individuals. The presence of homeless people in public spaces raises important contradictions at the heart of this definition of "the public." Many commentators suggest that these contradictions have led to "the end of public space" in contemporary cities, or at the very least, the removal of its political functions to the "space" of electronic communication.

(Mitchell, D., 2010)

The result of this polarisation is a pattern of segregation increasingly reflected in the urban landscape. In the US this is demarcated particularly sharply by gated communities, which now account for 80% of all new development, alongside an increasingly privatised public realm.

(Minton, A., 2006, pg.6)

In such a scenario, the growing paranoia of the 'haves' gives rise to an urban fabric that has restrictive architecture. In the opinion of this paper, boundary walls are such interventions that are used to divide the 'haves' and 'have-nots'. The need for the same is highly debatable in certain situations such as boundary walls for public parks/marketplaces/district centres/city centres etc.

An interesting phenomenon is the claiming of public space by virtue of proximity. Parks, recreational spaces etc. that are defined as public spaces are claimed by nearby residents who may choose to exclude unwanted socio-economic groups from using the space or restrict access using boundary walls etc. In this manner, public space, intended for public use is monopolized by the elite.