An anecdote on the city beautiful

Planned and designed in 1950’s by Le Corbusier, Chandigarh is the epitome of modern architecture and city planning for a country like India. Ours is a country where megacities have mostly grown huge without a master plan, rapid expansion based on the need of the hour and creating peripheral cities has been the order for much longer.

But just after becoming a republic, the work for Chandigarh began and a revolution in the context of planning and architecture began as well. Spearheaded by the father of modernistic architecture Le Corbusier, the city was a stark contrast with the idea of India’s urban centers.

A layout of straight wide roads, gardens, open spaces around structures and the audacious philosophy of utility underlining aesthetics, no wonder why Chandigarh is also called the ‘City Beautiful’.

Corbusier’s vision was to create a city that was not plagued by the shortcomings of the old design values and would stand as an example of modern and functional planning. That is why the roads were designed to accommodate a large number of vehicles and designated open spaces around properties were meant to eliminate the look of cluttering structures. But what stands as the most iconic figure, is the Capitol Complex. A World Heritage site declared by UNESCO, is a structural compound of constitutional and governmental importance, as it houses the State assembly, the High court and the Secretariat building for two states. This arrangement is the result of Chandigarh’s unique demographical placement, as it serves as the capital for two states, Haryana and Punjab.

This complex is the embodiment of Corbusier’s architectural vision and is monumental in appearance. The idea is abstract, as it doesn’t conform to any of the previous school of architecture. This development of superb composition has inspired many visionary Indian architects to design with modernistic approach even in a society that has limited scope in many parts.

But ‘City Beautiful’ is not glory all the way. What Corbusier designed, was a plan that came from a very personal space and is defined by the needs of today, despite being modern. Chandigarh falls short on the scale of hospitable spaces. Being a city with the extreme climatic spectrum, where summers and winters, both are extreme, the open spaces of the city fails in providing proper shade to its inhabitants. The same goes for the Capitol Complex and the city’s wide streets. Also, the use of heavy and naked concrete is not very coherent with Chandigarh’s climate. So, what Corbusier planned and designed may not have been perfect in terms absolute planning, but what he did and proposed, was an idea that could help in building more sustainable and flourishing cities in the Indian context. Even after 70 years, Chandigarh seems like a city apart from many Indian urban centers. It speaks in its own language, of what a good and visionary plan could do in developing a city. Though, not the most climate-friendly design, but Corbusier’s vision and action call out to all the pseudo modernistic architecture that is popping around in Indian cities in the form of glass and concrete worshipping.

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