Chandigarh was the only total urban design scheme Le Corbusier completed in his life. (Although Albert Mayer, Jane Drew, Maxwell Fry and Pierre Jeanneret had perhaps more to do with the resulting city than he did.) Designed and built in the 1950s, the city was the project of a freshly independent India. Visionary President Jawaharlal Nehru commissioned the design as a means to put India on the modern map, and to quickly establish his political power. The original city consisted of twenty-five sectors in the established Union Territory, which have now expanded to over seventy, sprawling into neighboring states.
As one of the late modernist cities, Chandigarh was built to export a fresh national image, dissociated from the recent violence of the Indian Partition. In this case, the structure of modernism attempted to both create the image of an energetic, youthful nation on the path to prominence and clean up the messy remains of the violent struggle at this nation’s birth.
Chandigarh is set among villages located at the base of the Himalayan foothills, on the northern plains of India. At the scale of the district, fluid village boundaries negotiated the landscape. At the street level, narrow alleys with densely packed edges characterized village centers, while winding dirt roads linked these hubs. Building scale conditions included dense housing made mostly of rammed earth and brick, party wall systems and roof terraces.
The initial 1950s plan was conceived as a body with separate systems: administrative head and commercial heart, sectors as other organs, and transportation infrastructure for circulation. At district scale the sectors supplied daily needs, and major institutions were located centrally in Sector 17. Street scale separated road systems for different scales of movement, with fences and green space to maintain hierarchy. Buildings were built as superblocks, privileging the overall façade over the parts contained.
The Union Territory can no longer hold Chandigarh, which has crept into neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana (it is now capital of both). Satellite cities Panchkula and Mohali absorb much of the population and industry growth as the city markets itself for new technology enterprises. Satelllite towns form a developing hinterland that may soon connect to Delhi.
AREAS FOR EXPLORATION:
I will explore district change involving a decrease in the autonomy of the sector: Most families function in multiple sectors, because of school or work. As sectors sprawl out through Panchkula and Mohali they maintain Chandigarh’s structure but shed the ideologically driven ordinances, so I plan to examine the architectural differences between the original Chandigarh and the satellites. Slums eat into the edges of the city, creating another condition worth examination. Because streets have become mixed use, I will spend time looking at new uses that spill out. I will examine building scale changes such as enclosed ground space, additional shanties, extra ornamentation, additional layers on concrete. A condition at the periphery that should be mapped is that the once massive undertaking of the superblock is now done piecemeal.
See Chandigarh for posts on my findings in Chandigarh.