An Epitome Of Urban Planning: Corbusier’s Chandigarh
The union territory, an architectural marvel designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, is a shining example of city planning in modern India
Modernist. Urbanist. Brutalist. This perhaps aptly defines the city plan of Chandigarh, which was taken up as a successful architectural experiment by the Swiss-French urban planner-designer-architect Le Corbusier in 20th century India post-independence. Platforming some of the most striking structures created by the legendary urbanist and polymath, the city has long served as an icon of transformation across the international architectural landscape.
Corbusier (1887-1965) introduced a progressive approach to architecture, better known as Modernism, before which the more popular building styles of architecture were dominated by Greeks, Romans and other traditional schools.
Founded on the future
One of the most significant features of modernist architecture involves setting it in the social and cultural context rather than basing it on extravagance and ornamentation. Following this principle, Corbusier embraced the city’s picturesque position between the foothills of the Shivalik hills — Chandigarh is a portmanteau of “Chandi” and “garh” referring to goddess Chandi, the warrior form of Goddess Parvati and “garh” meaning fort. The name has been derived from an ancient temple devoted to the goddess near the city.
Broad boulevards bridge all the living and industrial sectors in Chandigarh, each designed by Corbusier as a self-reliant neighbourhood with their respective set of schools, shops and leisure hubs. Lush green parks and tree-lined avenues perfectly balance the concrete and block-shaped buildings. Each of the sectors is 800 m by 1,200m and is flanked by roads created for fast-moving automobiles, and comfortably removed from direct access to the residential complexes.
The architect transformed the plans earlier made by American urban planner Albert Mayer and Polish architect Maciej Nowicki to create a practical system that featured right-angled street grids, geometrically subdivided buildings with vast open spaces that are full of greenery, light and air. The plan lays special emphasis on scale, proportion and detail, and embraces the real life of the city while creating a larger-than-life spectacle in the form of its brutalist structures. Even today, Chandigarh is considered as a prototype for the ideal planning of any modern Indian city. It is a living legend of a space infused with powers of the soul, science and society.
Spirit of the Cosmopolitan
Honouring freedom of expression and the then newly won independence of the country, “Chandigarh was conceived as a symbol of a free, modern and resurgent India,” recalls Pradeep Singh, CEO, Mohali Campus and Deputy Dean of the Indian School of Business (ISB). He explains that Jawahar Lal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India and Partap Singh Kairon, the then chief minister of Punjab, shared the dream of a planned city and sought the best talent from around the world under Corbusier’s leadership to manifest that reality.
Six decades of the dream later, Chandigarh flourishes as one of the fastest developing cities with a cosmopolitan, progressive culture, thus standing testimony to this unmatched, masterly collaboration. “Corbusier gave us a new way of creating and governing a city as also a new urban culture and values that have withstood the test of time. The fact we discuss the success of Chandigarh is perhaps the greatest contribution he made to India,” says Singh. One of the most incredible illustrations of this mastermind lies in the Capitol Complex, comprising the Secretariat, Legislative Assembly and High Court. Sculptural and monumental, it stands towering across time and space.
“We realise today that a good city is the result of human choices; that good quality urban life is a matter of design, implementation and governance. These lessons should serve us well as we move towards the 100 Smart Cities announced by PM Modi,” offers Singh.
Some of the other architects who worked with Corbusier on the Chandigarh project include Charles Correa and Pritzker Prize laureate Balkrishna Doshi. Even today, the latter’s work continues to adapt these learnings creatively in the Indian context, immortalizing this remarkable legacy.