The architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and 7 of his finest buildings

Best known for designing beautiful English country houses and the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi, Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869-1944) enjoyed a prolific career over a timespan of significant change.

A master of traditional architectural styles, Lutyens was admired for taking the best from the past and adapting it to suit contemporary living.

Lutyens’ ideas were influenced by the arts and crafts style, and as well as private houses, he designed many public buildings and war memorials around the world.

Let’s look at the life of one of our greatest British architects and some of his most famous buildings.

The English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. Picture from the Lutyens Trust.

Early life and career

The tenth child of 13 and the ninth boy, Lutyens, known as Ned, was born in London. He suffered a long illness as a child and didn’t go to public school or university as his brothers did but was educated at home. He discovered an interest in houses and how they are built, and this combined with his flair for drawing and maths made him decide on a career as an architect. Lutyens studied at the Royal College of Art in London but didn’t finish the course; he felt that after two years he had no more to learn there and went as a paying apprentice to the office of Ernest George and Peto. Here he met Herbert Baker, his senior by seven years, who was to later collaborate with him in the building of New Delhi.

Swift progress

Lutyens quickly set up his own practice and worked on traditional Surrey buildings. The style of Lutyens’ houses changed after meeting the landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll who taught him the `simplicity of intention and directness of purpose’ she had learned from John Ruskin. Aged 28, in 1896 he designed Munstead Wood in Godalming, Surrey, for Jekyll, according to her aim of integrating the house with the garden which she had already laid out. This grade-I listed house with its sweeping roof, high chimneys, and long windows, established Lutyens’ reputation, launching him as a young architect in the arts and crafts style. People then began to want a Lutyens house and a Jekyll garden.

As a young man, Lutyens possessed a rich imagination and was a prolific designer. Known to be unorthodox and witty, he was good at dealing with clients; he also got the best out of workmen as he understood their craft. He married Emily Lytton in 1897, the daughter of a former Indian Viceroy, and they had five children.

Lutyens’ Delhi

Around 1910 his focus shifted to civil projects and in 1912 he was asked to advise on the planning of a new city near the Indian capital at Delhi during the British Raj. Lutyens’ idea was for a garden city involving hexagons separated by broad avenues lined with trees. He became the main architect designing the Viceroy’s House, built between 1913 and 1930, which combined classical architectural elements with Indian decoration. Lutyens worked with Herbert Baker who designed the twin secretariat buildings, (now the North and South Blocks) on the huge site.

Lutyens was knighted in 1918. After the war he became the architect for the Imperial War Graves Commission, designing memorials for the fallen in the First War in London, and in large cemeteries in France. Sir Edwin Lutyens’ final work was the Roman Catholic cathedral in Liverpool which was incomplete when he died.

7 buildings designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens

Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi (the Delhi Palace)

Sir Edwin Lutyens’ design blended Western classicism and Indian architecture on an immense scale here, creating an `H’ shaped building covering five acres on a 330-acre estate. Originally built to be the residence for the Viceroy and known as Viceroy’s House, it was renamed Government House in 1947 when India became independent, before becoming known as Rashtrapati Bhavan, an emblem of Indian democracy. Completed in 1929, it boasts 340 rooms over four floors, a banquet hall, drawing rooms, and several gardens.

This was his masterpiece and life’s work in many ways – he had mastered his craft and confidently created a monumental building with fitting grandeur. He included Indian elements such as a frieze around the outside of the building to create shadows and shield it from rain during the monsoon season. Pierced screens in red sandstone were inspired by Rajasthani designs and there are also Mughal architectural influences. Lutyens also designed the furniture, clocks, and lighting. The project was planned before the outbreak of war and Lutyens refined it during the war years. It is now the official residence of the President of India.

The Whitehall Cenotaph

An initial temporary structure was made in wood but was so popular that it was created in Portland stone. This national memorial to the British and Commonwealth dead in World War I was unveiled on Whitehall in 1920. In 1946 it was rededicated to include those who fell in the Second World War and now represents those who died in later conflicts. Lutyens’ design involves a tomb on top of a tapering rectangular pedestal tower, with three flags on each side. It’s austere, with little decoration. Standing at 35 feet in height, this is one of many war memorials designed by Lutyens and it became grade I listed in 1970.

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme

This 1932 Anglo-French memorial at Thiepval, Picardy in France, commemorates over 72,000 British and South African servicemen missing after The Battle of the Somme between 1915-18. Lutyens’ design created archways representing the British and French alliance, and 16 pillars, providing space to carve the names of all the missing into 64 huge stone panels. Made from red brick and limestone, it stands on a high ridge of ground in view of the battlefields. In this moving war memorial, Edwin Lutyens stripped the elements of classical architecture back to their basics.

Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island

Lutyens took on the commission of taking a ruined Tudor castle and former defensive fortress and turning it into a holiday home for the wealthy owner and Country Life editor Edward Hudson, who bought it in 1901. The result in 1903 was a private residence with a difference, involving numerous corridors and pillars. Lutyens added elements of fun, such as a portcullis to the front door, and kept a staircase to a former gun platform. He also created an upper gallery with mullion windows and a stage.

Castle Drogo

Following the success of Lindisfarne Castle, Lutyens was commissioned to create another private residence, Castle Drogo in Exeter, Devon, the last castle to be built in England. Between 1911-30, Lutyens’ design for a 20th-century castle came to life, using local granite found on Dartmoor, complete with turrets and a crypt garden. The resulting Grade I listed building includes influences from Norman, Tudor, and Georgian times, and Lutyens added elements such as battlements and a portcullis alongside modern comforts including electricity and telephones. Lutyens’ work was not completed until 1930 due to the war intervening.

Great Dixter

Here, Lutyens renovated an existing house from the mid-15th century and combined it with a nearby 16th-century timber building in east Sussex. Built between 1910-12, Lutyens added brick and tile to the structure which includes a great hall and a parlour. This house laid the foundations for Lutyens to become one of our greatest architects; it’s now a grade-I listed building and the family home of the former gardener and garden writer Christopher Lloyd.

India Gate

This huge sandstone arch in New Delhi officially called the Delhi Memorial, is dedicated to the British India troops who died in wars fought between 1914 and 1919. Around 138 feet high, it is one of many British monuments built by order of the Imperial War Graves Commission. Construction continued until 1931 when New Delhi was formally dedicated as the capital of India. Lutyens adopted a classic design with no Asian motifs for this war memorial. On the rooftop, there is a bowl intended to be filled with flaming oil for ceremonies. The base of the structure shelters four eternal flames at the small Amar Jawan Jyoti monument, India’s tomb of the unknown soldier.

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