blocks & slivers

I’m getting nicely settled in Chandigarh—many thanks to the numerous people who have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable, find access to various parts of the city, and discuss my discoveries (Preeti & Urmi, Singhs, Sumit, Sheenam, Sangeeta, Bindu, Nikharika…)

Chandigarh commercial spaces

Originally, the commercial buildings in Chandigarh were designed by government architects, as block-long buildings comprised of a ground floor of shops, and residential upper floors. Shop entries were pushed back about 9’ from the building façade to make room for an arcade protected from the sun by the floors sitting above it. The continuous building demarcated the commercial area, and shops operated within it.

In the old, northern sectors of Chandigarh (1-28) this pattern remains. Some buildings have begun to crumble a bit, and the autonomy of the shop owner has increased, as brightly colored signs creep out from underneath the shady arcade, portions of the facades receive a variety of paint shades, and upper windows serve as display cases, whether they are attached to a store that has moved up in the building, or just rented from the family living there. Even behind the building, in the service alleys, enterprising cybercafé owners have enclosed a rear entry, painted their wall and opened shop.

In the south, and in satellites Panchkula & Mohali, the pattern has morphed further.

Here, the same urban development laws exist regarding façade treatment, setbacks, arcade etc. However, the buildings were constructed by private entities, not by the government. This shift in ownership shows up in the building itself. Because private developers build these shops, the lots are sold one by one, and built as and when money and demand is there. So instead of building as block, shops are built as slivers, waiting for eventual neighbors. In the end, the building (usually) is built in full, and the traces of the process remain in the slightly uneven parapets, doubly thick columns where the party walls meet, and discrepancies in window frames, brick color and details down the length of the fused slivers.

In Zirakpur, a village just south of Chandigarh that has grown up into a large town (mostly of cheaper housing for Chandigarh hopefuls), the  commercial building takes on yet another twist. Here, unlike Panchkula, Mohali and Chandigarh, there are no building codes restricting façade and material decisions. There are fewer, if any setback rules. However, the sliver typology remains. A shady arcade works really well in Chandigarh’s summer sun, and my guess is that for the construction industry, this has become a standard, and is built whether or not the law requires it. Here, however, the differences between each sliver are almost irreconcilable, and the resulting building holds patches of every variety of modern Indian commercial construction.

And for anyone who knows any more about this…please let me know!

2 thoughts on “blocks & slivers

  1. very informative and a great reminder of the differences in whole scale productive vs. piece by piece development. it seems to show the influence is strong and real of the original architecture, but it is nice to see if evolving within some framework….surely there are some exceptions, where people are just kind of buidling whatever they want? or is it all similar aside from minor variations that you alluded to?

  2. There are definitely exceptions….only in the villages though, where there are no regulations. There people also build typical brick load-bearing structures, stacked on top of each other, and use canopies, if anything, for shade. This seems only to happen when density is extremely high.

    Chandigarh/Mohali/Panchkula enforce the building codes, although I am not sure to what extent (whether volume, or architectural control, or a mix, and where…) I have seen a number of variations on the way that the arcade is constructed (to be further elaborated in a new post coming soon!) but it is surprising how ubiquitous the form has become in that region.

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