Chandigarh and the New India


In 1947 post-partition, the historical capital of Punjab, Lahore, found itself on the Pakistani side of the border. A new capital was needed not only for Indian Punjab but to represent the modernization of India as a whole, and its capacity for self-organization and rule. Though not the original designer, Le Corbusier would be responsible for planning the city from its system of roadways to its architectural guidelines. Of course he had already envisioned an ideal city as described by Towards a new Architecture (1923) and The City of Tomorrow (1929) – but Paris in the 1920’s was not India in the 1940’s politically, technologically, economically or culturally. While some of the ideas behind his earlier books are apparent in Chandigarh (it must also be stated that his design also bears some relation to the earlier plan by Albert Mayer), the manner of execution is necessarily distinct and has created a particularly livable and modern city.


Drainage cover with plan of the city


Open hand monument



The Capitol Complex


“We can create rational forms, with their basis in geometry; our trend is towards higher and more impartial gratifications, by reason of the mathematical spirit which inspires us; we can create in a detached and pure manner. Such are the epochs which we call classical.”

      – Le Corbusier. The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning


Palace of Assembly


Open Hand | Tower of Shadows

“A thought which reveals itself without word or sound, but solely by means of shapes which stand in a certain relationship to one another. These shapes are such that they are clearly revealed in light. The relationships between them have not necessarily any reference to what is practical or descriptive. They are a mathematical creation of your mind. They are the language of Architecture. By the use of raw materials and starting from conditions more or less utilitarian, you have established certain relationships which have aroused my emotions. This is Architecture.”

      – Le Corbusier. Towards a New Architecture


High Court | Secretariat

” Culture is an orthogonal state of mind. Straight lines are not deliberately created. They are arrived at when man is strong enough, determined enough, sufficiently equipped and sufficiently enlightened to desire and to be able to trace straight lines. In the history of forms, the moment which sees the straight line is a climax ; behind it and within it lie all the arduous effort which has made possible this manifestation of liberty.”

      -Le Corbusier. The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning


Palace of Assembly

“Things are not revolutionized by making revolutions. The real Revolution lies in the solution of existing problems. ”

      -Le Corbusier. The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning


High Court



Iterations of Chandigarh


The Chandigarh College of Architecture has been attributed to Le Corbusier [1] but was likely designed and executed by Aditya Prakash [2], his assistant on the College of Art in Sector 10 which appears to be the thematic basis for the architecture school. Due to a reduced program and budget (and the use of a smaller typical brick size in India) the building and the basic module have been adapted [2] and the roof form between the larger studio bays transformed. The two buildings appear initially to be similar, but there is an evolution towards the later College of Architecture.


Mural in College of Architecture


Studio space

The architecture building itself can be seen as a “variation on a theme” with a similar program and built shortly after. Inside, murals analyze the motifs of Le Corbusier’s work around the city, the modulor, etc. It seems only natural in the largest executed urban project of one of the most significant designers of the 20th Century, that much of the curriculum for an architecture school be focused on examination of the city and its buildings. The question then arises: when does repetition cease to be productive? Le Corbusier’s ideas were intended to be revolutionary. His proposal to tear down the center of Paris to build the Voisin plan is not a repetition of the ideas of his master but as a response to the assessed projected needs of the modern city. As such, his designs for Chandigarh cannot be repeated there today, let alone transposed to another site.


College of Art Sector 10


Chandigarh College of Architecture



“If we challenge the past, we shall learn that ‘styles’ no longer exist for us, that a style belonging to our own period has come about; and there has been a Revolution. Our minds have consciously”

       -Le Corbusier. Towards a New Architecture

In Le Corbusier’s eyes the Capitol Complex was never a completed composition; there was to be a fourth building at the north of the complex, first proposed as the Governor’s Palace, and later with a new design as the Museum of Knowledge. There is some ongoing discussion regarding whether his final design for the Museum should be realized [3] but just how beholden should we be today to a design which might no longer hold water, and to a composition for the site adjacent to the main plaza which is relatively uninhabited and not necessarily occupied in the manner for which it was designed?

As an alternative, a competition was convened in 2015 to consider other ideas of what the museum could be [4], approximately coinciding with a conference to commemorate Le Corbusier’s death 50 years earlier. All of these proposals needed to contend with the buildings that exist today, and demonstrate an attitude towards the history of the complex. But they were all clearly competing against the ghosts of two unrealized projects.


Chandigarh Government Museum & Art Gallery | Sanskar Kendra Museum in Ahmedabad both by Le Corbusier


Chandigarh Architecture Museum from the 1970’s, based on Le Corbusier’s the Heidi Weber Pavillion in Zurich

1. Bansal, Anupam and Malini Kochupillai. Architectural Guide: Delhi.
2. Prakash, Vikramaditya. CHD Chandigarh



Housing in Chandigarh


Le Corbusier wrote the “Statue of the Land,” a manifesto for Chandigarh outlining its aspirations and planning principles. It includes ideas promoted through CIAM, such as a hierarchy of roads in 7 systems for various means of transport, speeds, and capacities. His master plan provided for public space both in the large city-scale greenpath, as well as the green bands distributed throughout the individual sectors. However, due to the metaphor of the city as a body with its head at the capitol complex, there is clearly a hierarchy of residential organization that is apparent in the parcel and house sizes which are much larger towards the NE sectors of the city. There do persist (or exist) social stratifications throughout the city, as even the government-built housing was distributed based on salary [1] (although at least in Chandigarh this was not a way to effectively segregate the city as it had been in colonial New Delhi [2])

Above | MLA Housing sector 3

Sector 22 was built as a prototype for organization with model housing by Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew. It has a variety of middle and upper middle class types with small gardens (eg. some units still have exterior facilities but most are within the house itself. [1])


Housing Sector 22


Housing Sector 22

Despite the planned nature of Chandigarh, much of the work served as a framework for future building, and within this armature are a number of unexpected cases. Some sectors have been laid out, but not yet densified. Sector 34 is the second commercial sector of Chandigarh, built in the second phase. The site has not filled up and has been occupied with impromptu businesses.


Sector 34

There are also existing villages that have been absorbed into the city, a strange geometry given they are oriented N/S while Chandigarh is oriented NE/SW. They have either been absorbed, or will be as the city grows. The density is quite unlike elsewhere in the city.


Village of Burail in Sector 45

Slums exist in Chandigarh, as elsewhere in India, many of the inhabitants are manual laborers or construction workers who built the city and then stayed, but had no provisioned housing. Since the 1970’s the government has worked on relocation programs [3]. For example in the neighboring city of Panchkula to the East parcels of land have been provided, along with utilities, schools and markets. Here inhabitants have built their houses on provided concrete plinths all using similar design but with varying number of floors.


Mauli Jagran

And then there are developments on the outskirts, empty and waiting for their neighbors:


Buildings near airport

1. Prakash, Vikramaditya. CHD: Chandigarh.
2. Legg, Stephen. Spaces of Colonialism: Delhi’s Urban Governmentalities.
3. Chandigarh Architecture Museum



Impressions – Chandigarh



High Court


Open Hand monument


Palace of Assembly


High Court