Chandigarh City: Most prominent examples of Urban India

Chandigarh city, a union territory in India, serves as the capital of the two neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana. Moreover, is one of the most historical landmarks of the post-independence development history of India. It is one of the early planned cities in India and is internationally known for its architecture and urban design.  When Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India visited the site of this new city in 1952, he stated: “Let this be a new town, symbolic of the freedom of India, unfettered by the traditions of the past, an expression of the nation’s faith in the future”. Also, as per an article published by BBC, the Chandigarh city planning was known as one of the few master-plans in the world to have succeeded in terms of combining monumental architecture, cultural growth, and modernism.

An early image of the city during its initial Development Years

Architects involved in Chandigarh planning:

The initial Chandigarh planning concept was done by the Polish architect Maciej Nowicki and the American planner Albert Mayer. It was later finalized by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. The majority of the government buildings and housing in the city were designed by the Chandigarh Capital Project Team. It was headed by Le Corbusier, Jane Drew, and Maxwell Fry.

Le Corbusier’s team used 20th-century modernist principles to create a master plan for the urban core. Therefore, they proposed a rectangular grid to organize the self-contained neighborhood units (sectors). It used a hierarchy of circulation routes, with city functions (government, commerce, and leisure) neatly separated into different sectors.  

The Site:

A site at the foothills of Himalayas was selected by the Indian team in 1948 for the new capital city. It was selected, keeping in mind, the cost, location, soil condition, and access to water for Chandigarh planning.

The Planning of Chandigarh City:

Master plan of Chandigarh City

Basic concept behind Chandigarh town planning:

Mayer’s proposed a garden city plan for Chandigarh. A concept that was being interpreted in the United States as ‘‘greenbelt towns’’ by the likes of Lewis Mumford. Mayer refined the concepts of the superblock as neighborhood units like those used by the Regional Planning Association of America’s founder Clarence Stein in Radburn, New Jersey in 1929, for Chandigarh city planning. Further, Le Corbusier made some refinements to Mayer’s plan, he created a more rationalized grid network, with all-rectangular sectors.

  • The city was planned to be built in two phases. Phase I, containing sectors 1 to 30 for 150,000 people, and a more dense, Phase II (sectors 31–47; 350,000 people), for a total population of half a million.
  • Also, Corbusier organized the city’s modern urbanism along with the ‘‘4 functions’’ (living, working, circulation, and recreation, or ‘‘care of the body and spirit’’) presented in the Athens Charter formulated by Congre`s International d’Architecture Modern (CIAM). Le Corbusier engaged nature in the urban context by providing open spaces in each of the sectors. He also reclaimed a dried riverbed as an urban greenbelt, the Leisure Valley, running through the heart of the city.
  • This network of green spaces in the urban core was meant to function as the ‘‘lungs of the city’’ in accordance with the ‘‘care of body and spirit’’ principle of CIAM ideology.

Outside the urban core:

  • The project team created approximately an 8 km greenbelt. It was built as a tradition of the garden city movement as a part of the Chandigarh planning concept: Periphery.
  • This area contained agricultural lands of the fertile Indo- Gangetic Plains intermixed with forests on three sides. The northern-eastern section encompassed a forested portion of the Sivalik Hills. The plateau beyond that separates them from the main ranges of the Himalayas.
  • In addition to numerous small agricultural settlements, the Periphery included some sizable villages. The most prominent ones: Manimajra (east of the new city) and Kansal (immediately north, and adjacent to the Capitol Complex).
Typical Layout of a Sector

Critical Analysis:

More developments have also been proposed recently. The proposals include additional townships, a large technology park, luxury high-rise residential towers, and recreational facilities. All these projects appear to go against the idea of the Periphery as a greenbelt. Moreover, their preponderance would suggest that the concept of a green buffer in Chandigarh’s master plan is all but dead.

Critics state decolonization in India has marked a shift from segregation based on race to segregation based on class. Moreover, they also state that planned cities are truly “designed” ones which represent the values and interests of a westernized middle-class Indian elite which ignore the complexities of India’s diverse ethnic and cultural landscape and enabled neocolonial hierarchies such as the imposition of the Hindi language on non-conforming castes.  Moreover, the early over-saturation of the minimalist International Style on building design in Chandigarh has attracted criticisms of effecting “democratic, self-erasing unoriginality”. However, this criticism is perhaps negligent of how this was necessary for setting higher standards of urban living throughout the country.

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