Le Corbusier had made many new plans for cities, but Chandigarh was to be his first built urban design. At the head of the city, the Capitol Complex was to be the government centre and whilst all of Chandigarh has his mark, this is where three of his most monumental buildings lie.
The three buildings consist of the Secretariat, Assembly Hall and the High Court. Originally there was to be a fourth, but sadly politics, time and money got in the way. Behind the three buildings lies the foothills of the Himalayas, where LC decreed nothing shall be built to save the Capitols backdrop. Between the buildings lies an open promenade with sculptures also designed by LC. The most famous is the open hand monument, symbolizing- open to give, open to receive.
Visiting the buildings is an exercise in Indian bureaucracy. Permission must be obtained from either the Chandigarh Tourism Office, the Corbusier Centre or the Chandigarh College of Architecture. Basically a letter for each building stating who you are and signed by the right person. Visiting the Secretariat involved a further three different offices before a soldier guided us to the roof and then back out again. The Assembly Hall also involved a guide, who showed the main hall and then again, the exit. The High Court was by far the most relaxed, no guide and the opportunity to enter all courtrooms (only one was in a closed public session). No photos were allowed inside any of the buildings.
While the style of the buildings may not be to everyones taste, you have to admire their sheer monumentality. They exist as large sculptures, displaying their construction material (reinforced concrete) proudly whilst splashes of the primary colours directly reference the artist who created them. They each have their own joyful architectural moment.
In the Secretariat it is the rhythmic facade which creates a delight for the eyes in an otherwise grey block.
The roof of the Secretariat with its sculptural shelter. The roof was an important feature of LC’s designs and was made for everyday use, unfortunately the Secretariat’s roof is barely used due to the intense heat which is not helped by the large amount of concrete.
The High Court clearly invokes the majesty of law with its raised roof whilst it’s large opening and colourful columns suggest law being open to all.
The Assembly Hall sits serenely next to its pools, while its sculptural roof overlooks the promenade. LC was big on symbols and it is said that the roofs sculptural elements are a reflection of the sun and the moon, which he thought would be a good modern guide for the deliberations of the politicians within. (Coming from Europe to be designing in and for India, LC became fascinated with India’s sun.)
So, what is the head of the city like now? Well, LC imagined the Capitol quite differently to how I found it; …the Capitol will be a splendid park, with mountains, trees, flowers and architecture. It is dedicated to the pedestrian: man his own master, on foot, walking and living without fear.
The biggest critique of the Capitol (and also with the rest of the city) is the scale is wrong. Whilst the buildings are large they are lost to each other over the large space they inhabit. Due to the hot Indian sun and the great distances, I was almost the only pedestrian.
What of course does not help is that this in-between space was never fully completed and even more so, it very poorly maintained. What was designed to be a park with splendid architecture, is open concrete with weeds and architectural sculptures so overgrown they were almost unnoticeable. Security has also created a blockade on the promenade making the long walk even longer and destroying the architectural gesture between the Assembly Hall and the High Court.
The buildings themselves are really only spectacular on the outside, inside they were cramped and showed their age. LC did carefully consider the climate and made an attempt to compensate for it in his designs with clever sun shading but it has become hotter and they never really worked well enough. Now, air conditioners have been installed and break up the carefully planned facades of the buildings. Like the promenade, the buildings are also in desperate need of maintenance and a refurbish.
Despite this lack of maintenance, the error in scale and the unwanted lessons in Indian bureaucracy, the Capitol Complex is still an impressive sight and provides interesting contemplation for future improvements.