This is a published article in a book of essays and commentary:
Le Corbusier, Chandigarh, and the Modern City
Insights into the iconic city sixty years later
Editors: Hasan-Uddin Khan with Julian Beinart and Charles Correa
Published 2009, Mapin, India & Grantha (UK)
This piece was aimed at those who were less familiar with the city's history and concept; it is essentially a Chandigarh 101.
Architecture to a large extent is a product of the age. It cannot isolate itself from the social conditions, the thinking and the objectives and the ideals of the age to which it belongs. … Many people argue about [
Seminar and Exhibition of Architecture,
This meant that there was an administrative vacuum to fill – the
Why build a
The site at
The two architects’ ideologies clashed, and this difference in opinion is visible in
Le Corbusier considered himself the “Spiritual Director” of
Albert Mayer’s city would have been fan-shaped and firmly rooted in a naturalistic, almost anti-urban vision. Nowicki developed this into a leaf plan: curving roads branched off from a central stem or trunk road, like the veins of a leaf, further subdividing into neighborhoods, so that the edges of the city would be mostly composed of the smallest roads (Joshi 15).
Mayer’s overarching vision was based around his attempts to solve the problems he saw in American cities in the 1940s. He distilled these into three major issues. The first was the land-crowding tradition, for which he blamed the high cost of real estate; his solution was to emphasize open spaces, green areas, and above all plenty of natural light for offices as well as residential areas. Green areas were a pet idea, especially the idea of a green belt of forest, farms, and parkland around the city to prevent excessive expansion. From large parks to small hedged backyards, he wanted to give people outdoor places “to meet and dine” (Kalia 51). The second problem was the widening of downtown streets and narrowing of sidewalks caused by the automobile; to relieve car traffic he advocated that parking and loading areas all be off-street. The last problem was the un-integrated feeling of most American neighborhoods; Mayer wanted to “remake our cities so that they will be places in which responsible parents will desire to have children.” This meant a community that included residential, retail, and recreational areas and facilities as well as office space, all focussed around an elementary school (Kalia 62). This planned neighborhood unit became known as the Superblock, and it also formed the basis for Le Corbusier’s master plan, composed of large Sectors subdivided into Superblocks.
The concept of the Sector was a self-sufficient, introverted unit, containing shops, schools, health centers, places of recreation and worship. It was bounded by four fast-traffic roads and connecting to them only at four specific points (Joshi 14). It measured 800 by 1200 meters, which Le Corbusier claimed meant that no-one would ever have to walk more than ten minutes from the farthest point to the center of the Sector. Each Sector was divided into three major density groupings by income level, the housing planned in fourteen different categories of grandeur for the various governmental employee ranks (Kalia 106-8).
Le Corbusier’s Vision
Le Corbusier presented a plan to Nehru which he called the “CIAM Town-Planning Grid” (CIAM being the Congrès Internationeaux d’Architecture Moderne, of which all four major architects of
Despite this nod towards climate, Le Corbusier’s ultimate goal was, in Chandigarh as well as in most of his other city plans, to discover or apply a universal plan – “attention was devoted to the physical aspects of planning while important social functions were neglected [… in an] attempt to formulate simple ‘rules’ which would be applicable the world over” (Nilsson 95). Thoroughly a product of the classic western tradition, Le Corbusier’s ideal cities were those of Ancient Rome, which he described in La Ville Radieuse: “The Roman city is a city of
The basic design was hammered out in less than four days, relying on the Mayer plan even while changing it, and thereafter only details were refined without changing the original idea much (Nilsson 96). The city plan contained four main work areas: the Capitol, the University zone, the
Le Corbusier’s cure for the urban congestion he saw around him rested on the separation of automobile traffic and pedestrians (Kalia 106). He first divided traffic into seven categories comprising a hierarchy of circulation and congestion: V-1 roads were regional highways leading into the city; V-7s were the parkland footpaths. [added details in map caption] He believed that using them to divide up the Sectors created “order” in the city (Kalia 108).
As always, Le Corbusier’s designs remind one of geometrical exercises. The High Court, first to be completed, was a huge parasol of concrete, held over the court roofs by arches. The structue of the Secretariat, the biggest building in the Complex, resembles a huge wall visually broken up with recesses, projections, stair towers and changes in pattern. The Assembly, third to be built, is a play of concrete cubes with a pyramidal prism and a hyperbolic form that resembles the cooling tower of a nuclear power plant. Nehru vetoed Le Corbusier’s plan for a governor’s residence within the Complex as being undemocratic. Other planned but never-built structures included a futuristic science museum, a cultural center, and a “leisure valley” for the performing arts. Eventually,
Design Weaknesses, Slums, and Cultural Cross-Purposes
Illegal commercial areas, industrial ventures, and especially habitations sprang up all over the city. Planned growth lagged far behind due to administrative indecision (exacerbated by the lack of any municipal authority – as opposed to central or regional – until 1996, when a mayor and councilors were elected), artificial shortages in building materials (corruption), and general lack of funds (Kalia 122-132). All these factors combined to the rise of slums, which squat in stark contrast to the neighboring planned housing and give the lie to
“Shacks are squeezed onto every square patch of land, starting at the edge of the airport runway… There are even shack-shops sporting Coca-Cola signs, and shack-temples” (Kalia 161). It is estimated that a quarter of the population lives in unauthorized structures; the city’s total population is almost double the original maximum capacity estimate and is still growing; power consumption and water supply demands cannot even remotely be met, resulting in frequent shortages of both; and nearly all room for expansion has been exhausted, necessitating new communities to be planned beyond Chandigarh’s bordering rivers (Kalia 157-8).
The city’s plan was trying to solve Western urban problems, not Indian ones, and this is the root of many of
Additionally, the planners had made an effort at an artificial social engineering, by assigning homes in
In all fairness, it is said that though Chandigarh feels like “an alien concept in which people have been forced to live,” today’s Indian architects might end up designing a similar master plan simply due to the fact that the majority of their educational training is Western (Kalia 154).
In 1966 the
Today, due to spatial restrictions, the city region is dottoed with the new satellite towns of Parwanoo, Punchkula, Sahibzada Ajit Singh (S.A.S.) Nagar, Hindustan Machine Tools (H.M.T.) Township, and Chandimandir Cantonment – none of which are included in
No longer a mere administrative capital,
It was once hoped that
“Chandigarh began as the cherished hope for equality; it now stands charged as a socially segregated city, a fortress of privilege. Yet, it is a city with beauty, with space, with light …”
Joshi, Kiran. “
Nilsson, Sten. “