Chandigarh Welcomes You With a New Military Airport covered in “Advertise Here” Signs
As a follow on from my post about Shimla and Himachal Pradesh, I would be remiss not to write a little bit about Chandigarh — gateway to the Himachal Pradesh region and capital of both the Punjab and Harayana states. While the mountains to the north get most of the attention, the city of Chandigarh has its own unique place in the story of “modern” India. After independence in 1947, Nehru commissioned Le Corbusier, a Swiss architect and urban planner, to create a city on the plains of Northern India that could represent the way India wanted to see itself — cosmopolitan, wealthy, clean, comfortable. Being an architects dream to build a city from the bottom up; Le Corbusier took the job.
The Chandigarh City Plan (with all three phases of development included)
Le Corbusier designed a city that had 30 sectors. Each sector was completely self-contained and separated from its neighboring sectors by brick walls and wide, sweeping boulevards. Government and civic buildings, education centers, residential neighborhoods, commercial shops, industry, parks and recreation facilities; each on has their specific place in the city plan. As we drove into town, the newer high-tech compounds of Infosys, Airtel, and L&T Infotech rising from the arid plain (outside the original plan) gave way to the older sector comprising police headquarters and residences (inside the plan). Then we drove through sector 7 — home to government bureaucrats. According to Le Corbusier’s plan, housing should be arranged such that people doing substantially the same type of work and/or of the same class lived together. Lower level bureaucrats have smaller bungalows and, as they become increasingly important, are provided with much larger facilities. Homes and other buildings were to incorporate his five design principles — use of reinforced concrete columns, open floor plans, a freely designed facade with no structural function, horizontal windows, and gardens.
The High Court for Chandigarh — Primary Colors Offset the Solid Grey of the Building Facade
Crossing over the boulevard, we entered into a wealthy neighborhood where the section plots had been auctioned to the highest bidders. Each plot is about 2 kanals (roughly 1/4 acres). Homes are elaborately designed, yet maintain uniform building codes set by the original urban planners in the 1960’s. Residences surround a public park and central commercial district within the sectors — Le Corbusier’s attempt to make a city focused on “human” life. Like the residences, the commercial buildings are also all chock-a-block similar buildings with small shops, restaurants and businesses. The only differences on many of the buildings are those of the changing times — 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s each with their own unique design features and colors.
The Gandhi Bhaven — Home to a Collection of Reading Materials and other Works about Gandhi
All of this planning has put Chandigarh among the top in terms of livability rankings for Indian cities. And yet…while definitely a unique experiment…it is surprisingly un-“human.” Perhaps it is the stark contrast between life lived fast and furious out in the open in Mumbai, perhaps it is the lack of hustle and bustle up and down the empty boulevards and in the parks, but the “modern” city of Chandigarh — not withstanding its architectural interest — is missing something. Sectors are walled off, homes have walls between them, government buildings are large and designed to be imposing to those that view them, with stark grey, concrete facades. The plan, probably without intention, actually seems to break down the social connections that people create in everyday life. It also allows people to be uniquely oblivious to the problems faced in the city. It was not until phase 2 and phase 3 of Chandigarh were constructed that the issue of where lower- and middle-class urban dwellers would live. Even today, they tend to be relegated to the outer reaches of the city; living in un-planned settlements that provide relief for the eyes from the monotony of the urban core in Chandigarh. The city is working on plans to resolve some of the issues caused by the plan; time will tell if they are successful.
Standing in Front of the Symbol of Chandigarh and a Favorite Image of Le Corbusier’s, the “Open Hand” — standing for being “open to giving and receiving.”
The natural human reaction to overly planned and structured environments — think 1984 — is rebellion. One man in Chandigarh, Nek Chand, started his own crusade against the city planners in a forested area within a stones throw from the main governmental center of the city in the 1950’s. Initially on a small scale, he began by taking old waste products from the construction of the city to his workshop in the woods. There he used them to design artistic pieces that he began to place into what he called the “Rock Garden.” After years of work, it was finally discovered by the government authorities in 1972 who threatened to bulldoze it and return the forest land to its intended purpose within the plan. Advocacy on his part and people in Chandigarh convinced the local legislative assembly to give the rock garden “heritage” status. It was a good decision, as the rock garden now forms one of the most compelling reasons to come to Chandigarh for both foreign and local tourists. Winding lanes, curving landscapes, and uniquely designed sculptures provide a marked contrast and demonstrate subversive human defiance to the planned city that surrounds it.
Below you can check out a series of photographs from the rock garden —
Sunset at the Rock Garden
Broken Bangle Baby
Old Light Sockets Holding Up The Wall
Too many to Count…
At Times it Felt Like You Are Walking through a scene from the Walt Disney “It’s a Small World Afterall” Ride.