Chandigarh – what you might not know what you know.
Everyone loves to love Chandigarh and then everyone loves to hate Chandigarh. And then a few more years down the line and you get to the hate to love Chandigarh feeling…. And then you can’t live anywhere else but Chandigarh.
I don’t know what got into my head when I thought of doing a write up on Chandigarh. But for all its blandness and sameness, there’s an incredible amount of brilliance about this city. (I haven’t spent an exceptionally large part of my life in Chandigarh, so hopefully that nostalgic – “my city is great – hoo hoo” feeling is not an overly big underlay of this write up.)
If we really want to understand this city, we’ll have to start a little way back…
Before all these buildings conceived by Le-Corbusier came up, Chandigarh was a wide marshy area.. Weird aquatic and amphibian life lived here. Then the Harrapans, from the Indus Valley civilization came and they made it some kind of their lazy sub-urb. It was a fertile, easy and well connected area and having a holiday-home made the perfect sense.
**excavated harrapan culture era findings from sector 17 and other areas.
Quite a co-incidence then, that 7000 years down the line, this piece of land continues to have a similar positioning – that of two almost identically planned cites, serving a similar purpose, almost as if time meant to perpetuate a tradition of planned settlement in this part and on this very land.
So those among’st us, who are born on this soil of Chandigarh, are blessed with some awesome legacy.
Ok, cut to recent history.
I am not sure when exactly did Pt. Nehru first think of Chandigarh, but it probably must have happened right after the partition. Lahore, till then the biggest city of the region, now fell in Pakistan.
Everyone was really sad and upset. And then someone in East Punjab must have suddenly woken up like, oh fuck – we don’t have a capital anymore, let’s go get one. And so was born the concept of having a Chandigarh.
**a map showing the bifurcation of the state of Punjab.
After the consideration of 8 possibilities, the location was selected in the spring of 1948.
Those must have been fun moments for Pt. Nehru. He must really gotten excited and kicked with himself, because he would say all kind of fancy things. Like let this new town be symbolic of freedom of India… unfettered by the past… country’s faith in the future etc. This must be that little glamour thing in his job.
So Chandigarh was going to not only be the new capital of East Punjab but would also serve to settle thousands of refugees. Hence, its DNA needed to be of ‘welcoming’ sorts. And so it was.
Anyways, the foundation stone was layed in 1952.
A little more than a decade had passed. Then another jarring thing happened. Someone, somewhere, decided that Punjab, was still too big. Break up time again.
Some were happy, some were sad. Chandigarh, from being Punjab’s city, now got to be the capital of both Haryana and Punjab. So Chandigarh definitively must have been happy. Hoo-hoo….. And it also got a union territory status.
This is where all of the awesome-ness is. I have never seen a city as well made as Chandigarh. And I doubt whether you have either.
So here goes the story.
The initial master plan of Chandigarh was prepared by the American architect-planner Albert Mayer who was working with the Polish-born architect Matthew Nowicki. It was previously supposed to be a Radial City like Delhi. But Albert died while working on the plan, which creep-ed out Nowicki and then he just refused to work on the project anymore. So a French dude, Le Corbusier was called to complete the master-plan. He further called in 3 more of his folks, Maxwell Fry, his wife Jane B Drew and Corbusier’s cousin, Pierre Jeanneret.
First thing, He discarded the old radial plan and suggested a new Grid Iron Plan which we see today.
**The original plans, as conceived by the different architects.
** Chandigarh like it is today.
Somewhere along the line, Corbusier got massively impressed with his grids. So much so that thought about having lots of grids. Everywhere
**Buildings in chandigarh
Things get a little weird when even the man-holes have grids on them.
**Just a regular manhole. Weird, but highly in love with its master.
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Now the initial plan had two phases: The first for a population of 150,000 and the second taking the total population to 500,000. Today the population of Chandigarh is a little more than 1.0 million, and I’m not sure if Corbusier really thought so many people would want to live in his city, so he dint really plan a third phase as such. But I guess it’s doing just fine, other than the sprawling suburbs mushrooming everywhere around it. And I don’t mean Panchkula and Mohali. Those are cities, and because I live in one of them I wouldn’t want to think of them negatively.
So Le Corbusier divided the city into units called “sectors”, (as you can also see in the plan), with each representing a theoretically self-sufficient neighbor-hood with space for living, working and leisure — Each with its own market, places of worship, gardens, schools and colleges. – all within 10 minutes of walking distance from within the sector. These sectors were linked to each other along the line of the 7 Vs, or a hierarchy of seven types of circulation patterns. Corbusier called it “Les Sept Voies de Circulation” which i think is just some fancy term in French and doesn’t mean anything extra.
If you want to know more about this, then you can stare hard into the picture below and try and read. Else, just give it a skip.
Now each of these sectors are pretty similar looking, with each sector measuring 800 m x 1200 m. Now compare it with Delhi. Dwarka, GK, Punjabi bagh..
Strangely, there is no sector 13, because apparently this number creep-ed out Le Corbusier. So he just decided against having a sector 13.
The city was to be surrounded by a 16 kilometer wide greenbelt that was to ensure that no development could take place in the immediate vicinity of the town, thus checking suburbs and urban sprawl; Stud-li-ness yes.
Post Corbusier, unforeseen growth and influx of people ensured the development of the third phase of the city. But ill give this a skip, because I find it boring and irrelevant.
Now the Grid Iron plan is itself inspired from a human body form. But that is another story. But it is freaky fun. And it is relevant. So we will take it up.
The biological inspiration:
So Le Corbusier was strangely spiritual. Or the fact that Chandigarh was once a part of the Harrapan culture could have played a part… though probably this bit is just a figment of my imagination.
He conceived the master plan of Chandigarh as analogous to the human body. He felt that cities also have a brain, heart, lungs, limbs and arteries like human beings. And other such stuff. Anyways to cut a long story short, slightly below is also an illustration that will help to make it simpler.
- Head (The Capitol Complex: Sector 1.. #high court, vidhan sabha, secretariat)
- Heart (The City Centre Sector-17)
- Lungs (The Leisure valley, Sukhna Lake, Rose Garden, Innumerable open spaces and other prominent gardens/greens): With its green lungs, the valleys and gardens ensure the urban eco-system functions efficiently and provides the inhabitants the principle of care of the body and spirit. **clockwise: 1. One of the many city parks. 2. Sector 17. 3. Sukhna Lake. 4. Rock Garden.
- The intellect – The right hand (The Cultural and Educational institutions, ie Punjab University, the PGI and other campuses and museums etc)
- The circulatory system, veins and nerves (The gridlock of roads, water, electricity.) The 7V’s act just like the bloodstream, lymph system and respiratory system act in biology.
- The other hand ( The activity area ie The Industrial Area, grain market etc) The Human body representation.
Each time I read up about this, it amazes me even more. Mind-blowing.
Some other random interesting facts about Chandigarh, which I just feel like telling you.
- Located near the foothills of the majestic Himalayas, Chandigarh has grown to a population of about 1 million. This is roughly the same as that of Mizoram and slightly more than Sikkim. And is about 1/16th that of Delhi. The Chandigarh capital Region has a combined population of about 1.7 million.
- There are no statues/memorials/edifices. Corbusier wanted this city to be free of personality cult. Of-late the new authorities have compromised with this, with the new IT park being named after a former PM, and this still pisses me off.
- Taking it further, no road is named after any person, living or historical. So probably Chandigarh is the only city without an MG-road. Phew, thank God.
- The only monument is the open-hand structure, a sign of peace and reconciliation. It stands for “open to give and open to receive”. It represents peace and the give and take of ideas. **1. The open hand structure, and 2. the monument to peace.-at Sukhna Lake complex
- The sex ratio of Chandigarh is 818. The national average is 940. Which is strange considered the number of times iv heard in my life “Chandi chicks man”.
- Chandigarh has a literacy rate of 86%, and I don’t know what relevance this stat. has or why it is in this blog.
- Chandigarh has the highest per capita index, and the highest human development index, and is the cleanest city in the country, amongst others. Such accolades for the city don’t stop, no bragging.
- Industry: After going slow for years, industry seems to be picking at a good rate of late. The city is ranked 9th in list of top 50 cities identified globally as emerging IT service destinations. Ahead of cities like Beijing.. Ooh really !!
- There is no sector 13. But the sum of adjacent sectors follow a pattern that is divisible by 13. I guess even though Corbusier hated 13, he was scared enough to not ignore him totally and did give it some role after all.
- The V8 road system was so designed, that never a door will open on a V3 or greater road. Quite cool.
- Architectural controls: In order to curb undue individualism, there are some crazy controls to limit randomness and regulate development. The basic aim was to ensure uniformity in skyline, heights and architectural character. For eg. Even for signage/hoarding of a shop, the dimensional limits is set. But this oddness is a good thing. Chandigarh doesn’t look like a mithai shop.
- Also, there are no advertising hoardings. Anywhere in the city. So Chandigarh doesn’t have any of those crazy mobile phone posters sticking out of everywhere. Yes, unbelievable in today’s time, but this is true.
- Language: Punjabi is pretty predominant here, and its quite a loud language. Sometimes I would’nt know if someone was just greeting me or trying to fight me, and id have this little panic while trying to figure out. English and Hindi are very common as well, and im fine with them.
- Chandigarh has two satellite cities: Panchkula and Mohali, along with smaller urban agglomerations like Kharar, Zirakpur, mullanpur etc. Together they constitute the Chandigarh Capital Region.
**The Chandigarh capital region
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Le Corbusier famously said, in Chandigarh we will walk without automobiles. And New York’s fifth avenue and 42nd street will appear grotesque. The new city may have become India’s most “spacious” metropolis, but its avenues are so broad, distances so wide that pedestrian paradise isn’t as easy as originally thought of. A fledgling transportation system, perhaps a bi-product of the grand design, has failed to help. No doubt then, that Chandigarh has the highest per capita cars in India.
Although Chandigarh began as a cherished hope for equality, for oneness and for hope, it has become a socially segregated city, a fortress of privilege. It’s often accused, that it lacks culture.
Chandigarh is too western, too sub-urban, too middle class.
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So then, what does Chandigarh mean to mean. Today, does it mean the hope for future. Does it give its residents the quality of life it promised. Is it unfettered from the traditions of the past… And is it the India, that India wants to be like. Yes, a big YES, is my answer.
“Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.” – unknown.
Some more, really interesting pictures, which should be seen.
*1. human body diagram – by Le Corbusier.
*2. Letter by then PM-Jawaharlal Nehru- to then CM of Punjab Pratap Singh Kairon.
*3 Original drawing of the open-hand structure.
*4 Photograph of Chandigarh in the late 1940’s
Sidharth Sarda – October 2014