booths v. shops

In the sectors, I have learned there are two types of shopping facilities: booths and shops. Shops were part of the original design…subject to architectural controls, and built usually as 3 story mixed use structures with shops at the ground level. These contain a number of variations, but the structure in each is relatively similar. The arcade is embedded in the building structure, a result of opening up the ground floor as walkway. In general, the commercial buildings become larger as the city grows southward, because of increasing height allowances.

Booths began as temporary structures, filling in vacant space with 8’x8’ sheds for smaller merchants…those either without means for a whole shop, or with less merchandise. Since these booths filled an important gap in Chandigarh’s commercial options, they slowly crept in to supplement the shopping areas in most sectors. There are many variations of the booth. Some, like those in Sector 24 are still makeshift bamboo structures with aluminum or plastic cladding. Others are more developed, and some sectors (I have found these in 15, 20 and 22) hold whole booth markets, with which architects were involved. I have yet to come across a sector market without at least a handful of booths.

temporary booths were the originals…occupying extra space mostly at v4 intersections, in the commercial center of the sectors.

The Palace Bazaar in Sector 22 is a designed variation in which the walkway is a ventilated barrel vault with booths on either side.

Designed booths in Sector 18, with some occupant additions included.

The city has also begun to build 2-story booth buildings at many of the open corners of the sector centers. Because the original plans often made green space buffers at the corners adjacent to roundabouts (for traffic safety), the booths first encroach there. Chandigarh administration, concerned about the disheveled appearance of its markets, has put a lot of effort in legalizing and revamping the temporary situation.

Verka booths deliver dairy products to local residents, and are scattered as stand-alone booths throughout the city. There were shops designed for this purpose in the original plan, but because people don’t want to walk all the way to the market in the early morning, booths have sprung up at intermediate points.


The Shastri Market in Sector 15 is a huge booth complex that filled in old parking areas. Sector 15 is one of the major markets in the city, and these booths supplement the shops. Covered in signs and goods, the structure appears to be informally built, but once you see the skeleton and the roof structure, you can see the carefully designed (though slightly claustrophobic) market space.

The market uses booths, with 3 load bearing brick walls, as its structure. These are roofed with a concrete pyramid. The walkway, whose ceiling is far higher than the booths, is created by an RCC frame the rests on top of the brick booths. In an interesting inverse of the shop arcade structure, the arcade here is the focal point, rising higher than aggregated booths below. This also allows it to be ventilated.

The arcade runs all the way around the building, as per Chandigarh aesthetic requirements. But this market distinctly shows the push and pull between the planned concept and the residents needs that is happening throughout the city.


chandigarh’s periphery

A generous couple, two new friends of mine, Harbhajan and Jit Singh, took me around the periphery of Chandigarh, driving down all the back roads of Chandigarh that I couldn’t quite reach on my own. Thank you for your time, and the delicious paranthas, chaat and gulabjammun that came along with the ride!

Chandigarh’s Sectors are the topics of many discussions on the city. But what about the edge? How do the sectors end? Where does farmland start? I spent that day and a few others looking at various supporters of Chandigarh: INDUSTRIAL (phases 1 and 2, and the Rajiv Gandhi Chandigarh Technology Park), COMMERCIAL (D2, the “city centre” mall in CTP, and the Grain and Timber markets), RESIDENTIAL (6 story flats continue endlessly in the outer sectors of Panchkula and in Zirakpur), ADMINISTRATIVE (institutional architecture throughout the territory), and LEISURE (a golf course skirts the river).

In organization, these areas hardly conform to the structure of Chandigarh. Some structures, notably those in older parts of the Industrial Areas and in the markets, maintain the brick standard and follow the ‘modernist’ vocabulary. But overall, these non-conforming areas, which cover more area than the city itself and house an equally large population, begin to break down the idea of Chandigarh as a city in isolation, the only (successful) completely planned city in India. The grid has become the city center, almost equivalent to the “old city” in other metros, and Chandigarh’s growth has extended far beyond the plan.


A light industrial phase for Chandigarh was planned at the southeast edge of the city. Original buildings followed the Chandigarh brick mandate, but are organized into arms that branch from the main route into the city, Madhya Marg.  The grain market in the north takes the most from Chandigarh’s building codes by simply scaling up the facades and enlarging the central “park” space for the movement of trucks. Alongside it, a vegetable market uses the space in front of the buildings to show produce. Phase 1 uses brick, but that is where the similarity ends. Phase 2 moves even further away with its (now commercial) glass and aluminum clad concrete frame structures. Here the brick is hidden deep within the wall.

Rajiv Gandhi Chandigarh Technology Park

Rajiv Gandhi Technology Park is the new high tech economic incentive zone, located between Chandigarh and Panchkula. Designed to hold various tech company headquarters, whose buildings compete to outdo each other in glass, steel and cantilevers, it now also includes Chandigarh’s biggest cinema complex. Housing at this point is limited to slums.

The Airtel HQ, like most of the buildings in the brand new technology park, sits isolated among fields. Infrastructure is at a minimum as yet, and each structure must supply at least a complete back up system for power and water, usually more.


Chandigarh’s 3 and sometimes 4 story cap on structures has pushed the housing demand to the periphery of the city, where stacks of 6 or 7 story apartments line the newly paved streets. Here everything is a little bigger…the buildings, the roads, the commercial zones and parking areas, as well as the parks.

Sector 52, a border sector between Chandigarh and Mohali contains denser strips of housing, separated by lawns. Across the street, Chandigarh’s slum resettlement efforts are exhibited in the rows of aluminum roofed, 2-room houses.

Further out in Panchkula and south in Zirakpur attempts to maintain a Chandigarh fabric seem to be completely gone, and apartment blocks and societies mimic other metropolitan areas of India.


The administration follows the original intent of the bylaws to a T, peppering the landscape in and around Chandigarh with exposed brick buildings that carefully follow the styles of the sixties. These maintain a visual coherence even when private architecture has moved completely away from its origins.

So it seems that the further one moves from the center of the region, Chandigarh (and further from by-law enforcement) the less settlements resemble the structure of the original plan. A few strands remain: sector structure of Panchkula and Mohali, commercial arcade construction, and the presence of parks (though these are less) are a few. It makes sense that the pattern would have to change at the urban/rural edge…but how it happens appears to be an abrupt change from controlled rationality to random acts of development. I would like to make more sense of the seemingly random developments that make up Chandigarh’s edge…maybe patterns will emerge with more mapping.

thanks. more soon.

conversations with the chief architect

Today I had the incredible opportunity to take part in a meeting for Chandigarh’s master plan 2031. Last week I spent a few hours talking with the Chief Architect, Sumit Kaur, and she invited me to take part today with a number of former and present chief architects and town planners, all concerned with the problem of Chandigarh’s growth.

As “fee” for the invitation, I had to give a short talk on my observations of the city in my research and documentation thus far. They wanted to hear from someone with unbiased ideas…who didn’t know how things worked and therefore wouldn’t rule out possibilities!  So I gave a brief intro to my project, and a few preliminary thoughts on Chandigarh. I included my script [don’t worry I only wrote this up for myself…I didn’t actually read to them] at the end for those who are extremely interested.

After discussion about my talk, real negotiations began. This is beginning of a process to make a new master plan for Chandigarh that includes the peripheral cities of Panchkula and Mohali, which reside in two separate states. The conversation jumped back and forth between strict adherence to the original plan, and creative ways of solving the growth problem. I put my two cents in a few times; hopefully it was well received.

What came out of the talks for me was the delicate balance of maintaining Chandigarh. Chandigarh remains legible as a city because it has been strictly controlled throughout its history. Without that control, it would have likely lost its unique edge. But at the same time, the control can’t last forever. As it is, the city is bursting under its bylaws, and relying on Panchkula and Mohali, with fewer height restrictions and unlimited sprawl space, to house its migrants. Chandigarh cannot remain the city it was planned to be. So the talk is one of strategy. How do you preserve the character of a particular time without putting a stranglehold on development? Can you increase density and maintain open space? Can some parts of the city grow while others remain at capacity? What is the best use of currently undeveloped (not green space) land? Will more jobs bring too many people? Will too few fail to support current residents?

The team for (re)planning Chandigarh has an enormous task ahead…hopefully I will be able to see the process as it moves along!

21st Century Chandigarh: beyond the plan

[personal intro…]

My project begins in Chandigarh because it is the heart of my research begun 5 years ago; the city from which this project grew. Questions I am trying to address are first, the role of the original concept in current planning, which is to say, how much has the original design been used to guide recent planning endeavors, and in what respect? Physical guidelines, transit operations? Or is it more conceptually based…and what is the value of that concept in today’s situation? Second, I am looking at the role of adaptation in the city’s organization. How has it affected Chandigarh’s growth? Have some changes been necessary for the city, have some been detrimental? How has the plan of Chandigarh evolved because of these? Some examples I have discovered are the specialization of markets throughout the city, the introduction of booths, residential alterations, and actual transit routes versus intended routes. Finally, I am interested in the future of the city. How will Chandigarh continue to grow? With major “unintended” but now seemingly permanent alterations like the growth of Panchkula, Mohali, and  Zirakpur, how will the city adapt? In a new and very different economic situation, what will be new priorities, and how do they fit with the old?

Fueled by these questions, I have been exploring Chandigarh, talking to whomever will listen, getting familiar with the place by foot, rickshaw, auto, car and bike. I spoke with Sumit Kaur [Chandigarh’s chief architect] a few days ago, and she has asked me to prepare a few thoughts on Chandigarh.  These are based on my research and observation, and of course come from the perspective of an interested outsider and student of the city…although I have studied the city, I have yet to experience it as a resident.

At the immediate scale of architecture, of walking movement within close range of home, Chandigarh sings! The green gaps in the continuity of housing that open into market areas create a pleasant physical atmosphere. Strict frame requirements, combined with slow residential modification create a varied atmosphere in which light and air are accessible to all.

The city has an easy rhythm. I spent one day walking from NE to SW, through the centers of sectors 19, 20, 33, 45, and Burail. Although V3s and V4s chopped up my route, the sector layout…moving from edge to housing to green to market and back again, made itself very clear. [This, unfortunately is only the path of an architecture student…typical residents do not normally walk so purposefully through sector sections.]

My experience was enlightening, but Chandigarh is not a city for walkers. Transportation seems to me to be one of its major issues, and this has been supported by others in the area. Car travel works best for long distance, but most people do not have cars, and the city itself wasn’t designed to park so many cars residentially.  Moving between sectors can be difficult, especially at night, and as even the daily markets specialize in specific goods, this movement is more and more necessary.

Despite the problem of idealized sector living, where all daily goods are evenly distributed and every school is equally as good, at the scale of the whole city, these sectors play an important role in organizing traffic and infrastructure, as well as providing an easy model for further development that is efficient for resource allocation. Mohali, for example, extends and uses the Chandigarh grid, which guides its development in ways atypical of a satellite city, and avoids unnecessary expenditures that would normally follow the development.

At the scale of the city, I think that the most valuable treasure Chandigarh has is its continuity of green space. In an age where older cities are desperately trying to figure out how to mend their undifferentiated urban sprawl, Chandigarh has a green corridor running its entire length, with multiple supplemental green areas pocketed around it. Right now, the Leisure Valley is discontinuous, breaking for each sector border and even for V4s. But the space is there, and it would be relatively easy to connect these disparate parts, making Chandigarh one of (if not the) first modern city to have a functional system of green corridors, which could be redesigned to include habitat space for wildlife movement in the city. This kind of approach would alleviate the pressure from the loss of a greenbelt, which ultimately was only idealistic, and makes best use of a system already in place.

And with that, I want to say that I am excited to be a part of the discussion about Chandigarh’s future, and would happily take any comments and questions. Thank you.

le corbusier’s chandigarh

Despite whatever actual record of Le Corbusier’s involvement in the city, Chandigarh belongs to him. Most people I have met, architect or not, must tell me, with (usually) pride or (once) disdain, that “this city was designed by a Frenchman….Le Corbusier.”

Le Corbusier designed the master plan, gave an edict for its realization and operation, and designed the Capitol Complex at the head of the city, as well as a handful of institutional buildings in the city (Colleges of Architecture & Art, City Museum, & (sort of) the imported City Archive…others? What am I missing?)

He is also responsible for the hierarchic road system, which contains 7 layers, or V’s.

V1:  national highway: coming in and out of Chandigarh, fastest traffic

V2: main roads in Chandigarh: Madhya Marg and Dakshin Marg, a lot of fast traffic

V3: roads between sectors, fast traffic

V4: east west roads through the middle of sectors: shops and residences, slower traffic

V5: main loop road within sector, slow traffic

V6: roads leading to houses, slowest traffic

V7: pedestrian paths, blocked by walk-though gates and turnstiles to every other form of traffic

Below are images of Corbusier’s buildings…the famous monuments of Chandigarh…all most definitely worth seeing in person.

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!

welcome to chandigarh


Please keep your sector neat and clean.

Dogs are not allowed in the park.

Smoking in public places is an offence.

-House Owners Association, (Regd) Sector 20-A, Chandigarh

I will be living in Chandigarh for the next 3 weeks. While it resonates with various facets of metropolitan India, in many ways the city feels very different from any other urban area in the country. Public spaces are kept clean with foliage trimmed, traffic follows (most) rules, and leafy, tree-lined streets face nothing but walls.

In my first few days here, aside from organizing the logistics of living, eating and moving around, I have walked and walked and walked. So far I have seen 26 sectors, twice that many traffic circles, a surprising number of public restrooms,

and 1 exotic bird (anyone know what that is?).

The people of Chandigarh have been incredibly warm and generous…many have bent over backwards to help me arrange things, and have given their time to answer my questions. I have also been invited to tea by at least one family each day, and have had multiple offers for hosting me! I have appreciated all the help as I navigate the city on my own.

To understand how the city has grown away from its plan, I am looking at examples from each of its different, separated functions (commerce, administration, residence, leisure and transit), in each case measuring what was there versus what is, and how these separations have, in some cases, begun to melt, while in others they remain firm.

The city consists of 47 sectors (but actually over 80 if you include Mohali, which extends the grid but sits across the border of Punjab), organized by a gridded road system.

Sector 17, the “heart” of the city and the main commercial area, contains most of Chandigarh’s restaurants, shops, banks and services in a large plaza flanked by grandiose pedestrian pathways offering more alternatives for consumption. 4-story buildings surround pedestrians with their signs.

In the remaining sectors, commercial areas should include just daily needs, since all other commercial needs would be met in Sector 17. However, many of the markets have become specialized (sarees in sector 11, bikes and mechanics in sector 15 etc.). Commercial zones are creeping outward as well.

More to come…