Following independence from Britain in 1947, India was “partitioned,” resulting in the creation of West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The old Punjab capital of Lahore fell into the territory of West Pakistan, leaving Indian Punjab without an administrative center, and much emotional lament at the “loss” of Lahore. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addressed this through commissioning a new city that would manifest his vision of a free India emerging from colonial rule. It was to be an administrative and cultural replacement for Lahore, a destination for refugees fleeing West Pakistan, and a symbolic concept of a modernizing, liberated India. Although often viewed as a standalone project, it formed part of a suite of new towns being developed across India at this time (and stretching back to colonial rule). However, Chandigarh became the most famous and significant of these projects because of its association with the Swiss-French architect and planning visionary, Le Corbusier. Before his appointment, American planner Albert Mayer and Polish architect Matthew Nowicki produced the first plan for the town, but following Nowicki’s unexpected death and difficulty paying Mayer’s fees in foreign currency, the Indian government looked for alternative designers. Engineer P. L. Varma and Administrator P. N. Thapar were sent on a recruitment mission to Europe, eventually enlisting Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry, and Jane Drew. Le Corbusier designed the master plan (an orthogonal CIAM grid revision of Mayer’s Radburn-type plan) as well as the government offices. The rest of the design team, including a cohort of Indian architects, would take responsibility for planning each of the city’s rectilinear neighborhoods, known as “sectors.” Most sectors were self-contained settlements of housing, schools, and local shops. Others were more specialist, such as Sector-14, which contained the university. Running through the center of the plan was an area devoted to nature and parkland, known as “Leisure Valley.” Le Corbusier designed the vast concrete government Secretariat, Assembly Building, and High Court in Sector-1 according to his Modulor proportioning system. The most dramatic structure is the Assembly Building, with its bold concrete portico and debating chambers topped with pyramidal and truncated hyperbolic paraboloid forms. These grand projects have dominated the perception of the city, but more recently there has been research into the various housing projects, the designs and contribution of the Indian architects, unexpected additions to the city plan such as informal settlements, and the vast visionary environment known as Nek Chand’s Rock Garden.
Koenigsberger 1952 sets out the pre-Chandigarh scene and the intention to build ten new cities in India. This paved the way for Kalia 1999, with its detailed and reliable history of Chandigarh’s procurement and design process. For earlier, somewhat critical, receptions of the city, the most significant publication is Evenson 1966, which provides anecdotes captured onsite during the city’s construction and is illustrated with highly seductive documentary photographs. To really understand Chandigarh, it is necessary to know the “design rules,” and these are neatly described in the Chandigarh College of Architecture 2002 dossier, which fully explains the city edict. For an exceptional geographical analysis of the city (down to each individual sector), Gopal 1999 is essential reading. The best source for Le Corbusier’s Sector-1 “Capital Complex” work and general planning strategy is Le Corbusier 1957, and the subsequent volumes in the Oeuvre complète continue to add various projects as they were built during the 1950s and early 1960s.
Chandigarh College of Architecture. Chandigarh: Aesthetic Legislation, Documentation of Urban Controls in Chandigarh (1951–2001). Chandigarh, India: Chandigarh College of Architecture, 2002.
Full explanation of the design rules pertaining to Chandigarh. Clearly sets out the city edict and various “frame controls” for housing, shops, and private developments.
Evenson, Norma. Chandigarh. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966.
Indispensable for understanding the development of Chandigarh. Evenson offers a critical overview of the city (and the privately commissioned housing in particular) and the impossibility of producing a perfect piece of utopian urbanism.
Gopal, K. Inner Spaces–Outer Spaces of a Planned City: Thematic Atlas of Chandigarh. Chandigarh, India: Chandigarh Perspectives, 1999.
Systematic analysis of the city presented in large atlas-style format. Considers the population density, land usage, infrastructure arrangements, and geographical analysis of the landscape.
Kalia, Ravi. Chandigarh: The Making of an Indian City. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999.
The first attempt at a broad book length history of the city’s chronological development, using Indian archival sources and extensive primary data. Excellent coverage of Mayer’s first masterplan too.
Koenigsberger, Otto H. “New Towns in India.” Town Planning Review 23.2 (1952): 94–132.
An often-overlooked article by one of the leading pioneers of “tropical architecture”/ environmental design, on the ten new towns planned for India during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Le Corbusier. Oeuvre complète 1952–1957. Vol. 6. Zurich, Switzerland: Girsberger, 1957.
As the title explains, it’s the complete works produced by Le Corbusier and his atelier. This volume includes the major Chandigarh projects and Corbusier’s design rationale for the new town.
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