The Public Works Department, established in 1854 during the British Raj, was the main central government run developer of large-scale public sector works in India. As the Industrial Revolution radically transformed Europe in the late 19th century, the PWD was one of the conduits to implement those same ideas across the subcontinent. With the proclamation of the change in the capital of the Raj from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911, the PWD assumed a primary role in building the new capital including housing for the thousands of bureaucrats needed for the functioning of the Raj. The designers behind these housing developments drew from the early modernist Garden City movement with its revolutionary aims to remake society. Architects and engineers working for the PWD would also have been influenced by other design movements in Europe, such as the influential International Congresses of Modern Architecture (CIAM), with its emphasis on rationalized production, standardization and a need for a more equitable distribution of wealth in terms of low cost housing.
With the collapse of the British Raj and the independence of India, these ideas played a critical role in definition of modern India as a secular democracy built around Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision of a technocratic society free of class and caste divisions. Post independence, the rechristened Central Public Works Department continued to promote a steadfastly modernist ideal with numerous housing projects around Delhi, and the country, employing a roster of highly educated Indian architects. As development in India was very much a socialist, center driven affair, these projects were tested in Delhi and then exported around the country forming a ubiquitous part of the India’s urban fabric.