Chandigarh: A Modern Indian Social Experiment 1/4

Usual Indian organised chaos.

The idea of building a Capitol city from scratch may seem a little strange at first but has actually happened throughout history a fair bit, eg. our own Canberra in Australia. It is not often we think of the cities we live in as being a carefully planned environment or how much the city environment affects us? Are our ways of living in a city predetermined by its planners?

In India in 1947, history led to the need of a new Capitol in India’s Punjab state. India had just gained Independence from the British, had been separated from Pakistan and World War ll had happened. The country was in a state of change and needed a new national identity.

A main road in Chandigarh.

The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru was very enthusiastic about India becoming a modern country and initiating a national pride in his citizens. The opportunity to build a new Capitol provided him with a chance to create a symbol for modern India. The new capitol, Chandigarh was to be, “…the last word in beauty, in simplicity and in standards of such comfort as it is our duty to provide to every human being”. The city’s primary goal was to house the Punjab government (again like Australia’s Canberra), but it was also to be the first Indian city where drainage and electricity would be available to even the poorest of the poor.

A modern city needed a modern architect to design it, and who better than one of the pioneers of modern architecture, Le Corbusier. (Originally, the brief was given to an American designer Albert Mayer, assisted by Matthew Nowicki. However, Nowicki was tragically killed in a airplane crash and Mayer was replaced by Le Corbusier’s team in 1951).

Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier is one of the most influential architects in history. He was not only an architect but worked as a designer, urbanist, writer and artist. In fact, I read that he used to paint every morning for 2 hours and was known for believing art and architecture are one and the same. He was a creative genius and while his architecture may be looked upon now as climatic failures and difficult to live in, the ideas and energy he brought to his projects still shines through.

One man cannot of course be responsible for the design of a whole city, and LC worked with a fairly large team of architects. These included, Pierre Jeanneret, his cousin and practice partner; Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, a British husband and wife team who had experience designing for a tropical climate from working in West Africa; and a large team of Indian architects, both new and experienced.

For foreigners to come into a completely new climate and country and create a city out of almost nothing certainly posed tremendous challenges to all involved. Not to mention, this is India! How do you create a modern city for traditional Indian living? India is known for being chaotic, can a planned city change it’s residents ideas about living and working?

A map of one of the city’s sectors.

LC left an edict behind for the residents of Chandigarh with fairly strict guidelines as to how his designed city was to be used. I don’t expect anyone to thoroughly read it, but skim it and keep in mind, which country this is in.

The object of this edict is to enlighten the present and future citizens of Chandigarh about the basic concepts of planning of the city so that they become its guardians and save it from whims of individuals. This edict sets out the following basic ideas underlying the planning of the city.

The city of Chandigarh is planned to human scale. It puts us in touch with the infinite cosmos and nature. It provides us with places and buildings for all human activities by which the citizens can live a full and harmonious life. Here the radiance of nature and heart are within our reach.

This city is composed of sectors. Each sector is 800 meters by 1,200 meters, enclosed by roads allocated to fast mechanized transport and sealed to direct access from the houses.

Each sector caters to the daily needs of its inhabitants, which vary from 5,000 to 25,000 and has a green strip oriented longitudinally stretching centrally along the sector in the direction of the mountains. The green strip should stay uninterrupted and accommodate schools, sports fields, walks and recreational facilities for the sector.

Vehicular traffic is completely forbidden in the green strips, where tranquility shall reign and the curse of noise shall not penetrate.

The roads of the city are classified into seven categories, Known as the system of 7 V s, as below:
V -1 – Fast roads connecting Chandigarh to other towns;
V-2 -arterial roads.
V-3 –Fast vehicular roads;
V -4 -Meandering shopping streets;
V -5 -Sector circulation roads;
V -6 -Access roads to houses;
V -7 -footpaths and cycle tracks

Buses will ply only on V-I, V-2, V-3 and V-4 roads. A wall shall seal the V-3 roads from the sectors.

Certain areas of Chandigarh are of special architectural interest. Where harmonized and unified construction of buildings is aimed at, absolute architectural and zoning control should remain operative.
Along V -2 central, dual carriageways Madhya Marg and Uttar Marg, where skyline, heights, character and architecture of buildings as planned shall not be altered.
No building shall be constructed north of the Capitol Complex. Along V -2 beyond dual carriageway areas are reserved for cultural institutions only and shall never have any residential buildings.

The centraI plaza in Sector 17 was designed as a “Pedestrian’s Paradise”. No vehicular traffic will be permitted in the plaza.

Only such industry as is powered by electricity would be permitted in the Industrial Area, so that atmosphere is saved from pollution.

The Lake is a gift of the creators of Chandigarh to the citizens to be at one with me lake and its environments and its tranquility shall be guaranteed by banning noises.

The landscaping of this city is based on careful observation of the vegetation of India . Selected ornamental trees, shrubs and climbers have been planted according to color schemes to beautify it. In future planting and replacements, these principles must be kept in view. There should be no haphazard replacements, so that the avenues retain their harmony and beauty.

The Leisure Valley, the Rajendra Park and other parks shall be developed as parks only and no building other than already planned shall be permitted.

The age of personal statues is gone. No personal statues shall be erected in the city or parks of Chandigarh , The city is planned to breathe the new sublimated spirit of art. Commemoration of persons shall be confined to suitably placed bronze plaques.

The truthfulness of materials of constructions, concrete, bricks and stone, shall be maintained in all buildings constructed or to be constructed. The seed of Chandigarh is well sown. It is for the citizens to see that the tree flourishes.

A fairly strict list of restrictions for a new city, especially in a country where rules are for bending and living each day takes precedence over what an architect decrees.

So, aren’t you curious to know what has happened in the 60 plus years since?

This entry was published on September 4, 2012 at 12:46 pm and is filed under Architecture, India, Le Corbusier, Travel. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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