Capitol, Chandigarh, India, 1950 - 1965
Chandigarh, the birth of a capital

In the summer of 1950, a letter from the government of the Punjab arrived at 35, Rue de Sèvres, announcing that a mission would corne to Europe, to engage two architects to undertake the construction of the new capital of the Punjab. In the autumn this mission consisting of Mr. Thapar, State Administrator, and Mr. Varna, Chief Engineer of the Punjab, arrived in Paris. Le Corbusier told them without false modesty: "Your capital can be constructed here. You can rely on us at 35, Rue de Sèvres to produce the solu­tion to the problem." The mission went on to Belgium, Holland, Germany and England. They returned to Paris. There they signed a contract with Le Corbusier engaging him as adviser on the construction of the new capital of the Pun­jab. In this capacity he found himself with many tasks. The general and detailed urban lay-out, distribution of the various zones, the style of the buildings, type of dwellings and the architectural character of the palaces. Besides Le Corbusier three other architects were engaged: Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, both members of CIAM, from London, and Pierre Jeanneret, an old associate of Le Corbusier, from Paris. They agreed to run on the spot the ateliers which would be set up in the Punjab.

The site chosen for the new capital lies at the foot of the Himalayas on a vast plateau between two great rivers, which are dry for ten months of the year. Here, everybody except Jane Drew who arrived three months later, met in February 1951, and without delay work was started.

The new capital will eventually have 500,000 inhabitants, but the first phase, which is now under construction will house 150,000. It is served by an irreproachable circulation network, here the full benefit can be gained from ex­periences at "Marseilles-South" and Bogota, as there are no natural obstacles because the ownership of the land is entirely in the bands of the State, which will transfer it to individuals only in accordance with the plans.

This great freedom is itself a danger, because there is nothing more agreeable to many people than to wear blinkers. The name of the capital, Chandigarh, is borrowed from that of the nearest village. Chandigarh is a political capital, and its focal peint is the "Capitol", that is to say the place where meetings of parliament are held and where are the ministries, the High Courts and the Governor's Palace. The town must supply its inhabitants with all the amenities of modern life. There must be neither disorder nor sharp class distinction. The plan adopted aims at producing a pleasant social atmosphere, which will allow everyone to live together peacefully.

Following the theory of the 7 Vs the V 1, a national trunk road, comes from Delhi on the one side and from Simla on the other, also connecting with Lahore, the ancient capital of the Punjab which remained attached to Pakistan.

The V 2, the most important street in the town, tomes in from both right and left as far as the vertical axis leading to the Capitol. From the station end as far as this axis it runs through the business area, but alter crossing the axis it changes its character and becomes an avenue of museums and also serves the University and the district allotted to general education. Vertically from bottom to top of the town a great avenue which is 100 meters wide rises to the Capitol.

Halfway along its length it serves the business centre before turning off abruptly and finishing at the first outer boulevard at the present town limit, which will become in future a second great V 2 in the town with 500,000 inhabi­tants. Here also are the markets which at present lie eccentrically, but will become central in the finished scheme. The theory of sectors finds its perfect application at Chandigarh. Each sector is occupied by different classes of the population, to whom are allotted various ground areas-from the biggest to the smallest. The smallest are reserved for the peons (small employees or labourers). Each group of these smaller areas contains 750 inhabitants (sec the solution, illustrated further on) and is treated as a sort of small independant village, giving excellent architectural and living conditions. The solution is repeated in all parts of the town, in both the rich and the poor quarters, allowing social contacts which can not but prove educa­tional. A sector 875 x 910 yards can as well house 8000 inhabitants as 20,000.

Each sector is surrounded on all four sides by a V 3. This is a road reserved exclusively for fast-moving traffic. No doors open on these Vs 3, whose total length is nearly 25 miles. No car may stop except at certain points every 400 meters, from which they can get into the interior of the sectors.

The V 4 is the shopping street running from left to right, which supplies ail the needs of the sectors in the way of shops and tradesman's services, corresponding in a manner to "la grand-rue" of yesterday. This street is deeply rooted in Indian custom. The V 4 crosses the town horizontally. It ensures a continuity and a neighbourliness between sector and sector. Here the traffic moves more slowly.

The V 5 leaves the V 4 distributing the slow traffic to the interiors of the sectors. The Vs 6, very small, are extremities of the network to the very doors of the houses. This network of V 4, 5 and 6 is the most economic layout which allows slow moving traffic to reach every door. The area taken up with circulation is small, leaving vast spaces free from any motorised traffic-"the Green City". The Vs 3 and Vs 2 absorb the major part of the traffic. There remains only the Vs 7, dedicated to youth and to communal sports. These are ways which go from top to bottom of the town, through wide belts of green trees and grass which contain the schools and playing fields. These wide vertical green belts form links from sector to sector for the young people just as the V 4 forms links for commerce.

As can be seen in the plans, a valley lies on the left of the V 2 leading to the Capitol, called the "Valley of Leisure". This valley is evenly carved out by natural water erosion to a level 15 or 20 feet below the general level of the plateau. The course of the river will be changed and this low ground will become a very favourable position for everything concerning recreation; running as it does from the Capitol at the top of the town, to the bottom. It will provide space for spontaneous acting, lectures, dancing, open-air cinema and children's games, and will be a pleasant place to walk in the cool of the evening-which the Indians love to do.

The 7 Vs have been very carefully designed and have absolutely no circulation difficulties. The colored plates show traffic circulation diagrams. Roads reserved for fast traffic are shown in red. In the yellow colored areas no traffic at ail is allowed; being entirely reserved for pedestrians. The colored plate shows one of the two rivers hatched green. This defines the area which will completely dry up when a dam is built above it. Here vegetable gardens and fruit trees with properly organized irrigation will be set out, in what is now the stony river bed.

It must be repeated that the Vs 3 of Chandigarh will not carry any private vehicles, but only autobuses and autocars which will transport the population very economically and with equal efficiency. Six weeks alter the arrival of the counsellor, Le Corbusier, and the architects at Chandigarh, the smallest details of the life of the city had been decided, and plans produced. By summer the bulldozers had begun work on the roads, and these were surfaced shortly afterwards. By this time, work was also beginning on the designs for the public buildings and the various types of housing. The problem appeared in a favourable light. Chandigarh being a political capital must house some 10,000 officials, making about 50,000 with their wives and families. The 100,000 other inhabitants of the first stage of the town must work within the bounds of the town's production programme. The 50,000 inhabitants who are living at the state's expense take over the houses according to their rank. It is this which has allowed such quick decisions to be made. It has been almost the same with the buildings of the Capitol for which Le Corbusier is responsible. These are a great architectural venture using very poor materials and a labour force quite unused to modern building technique, with the tremendous obstacle of the sun and the necessity of satisfying Indian ideas and needs, rather than imposing western ethics and aesthetics. The problem is accentuated by the ruling factor of the sun, under which this new Indian way of life must be treated. The sun is so violent that until now the habits of siesta and laziness were inevitable, in native architectural conditions which allowed no work whatsoever at certain hours and seasons. The rainy season also bas its problems. From the mass of information assembled by Le Corbusier it was possible to make a Climate Graph. This Climate Graph was made in the studios at 35, Rue de Sèvres, with the help of Mr. Missenard. Thanks to this graph it was possible for the first time to see immediately on the drawing board, the consequences of any possible set of climatic conditions. Le Corbusier had a revelation about the manner of construction to be used while in his Bombay hotel at the end of his first visit. The sun and rain are the two controlling factors in an architecture which must be both parasol and umbrella.

The problem of shade can be taken as problem number 1. Here the brise-soleil take the place of the weather-drips on a classical façade, but they cover not only the windows but the entire façade and influence the whole structure. In contrast to all contemporary problems, the town of Chandigarh bas a freedom which is in itself a dangerous difficulty. The space devoted to the Capitol is vast, the buildings occupying a fabulous ground area. How could sufficient visual cohesion be given to such a huge conception? This was one of the most difficult problems which was solved by Le Corbusier.

The design for the Capitol can be seen on plan number 4445 showing the form, ground plan, and exact position of the buildings together with their vehicle and pedestrian traffic circulations, the best conditions for which have been realized.

If any opportunities on such a scale have existed in the past they have certainly not been grasped, and Le Corbusier has been well aware of the immense responsibilities which he has undertaken both from the technical and architectural point of view. Responsibilities of aesthetics and of ethics equally dominate the work. The ethics of loyalty, honesty and the right approach to the work: no idea taken from folklore or art history can be allowed to weigh in an enterprise where the buildings are constructed in mass concrete braced occasionally by thin membranes of reinforced concrete (gunnite-canon à ciment). The whole pro­blem here is one of construction. The aesthetic which arises from this will be entirely new.

In eighteen months the atelier in the Rue de Sèvres had solved the problems of the Capitol and had finished the plans for the High Courts, on which work has already begun, and for the Palace of the Ministries. The sketch-plans for the Parliament Palace and Governor's Palace have been ac­cepted by the Authority.

Something must be said about the "Open Hand" monument of Chandigarh, which in its superb sitting creates such a moving effect. The design dated 12 April 1952, that is about thirteen months after the arrival of Le Corbusier in India, shows the exact positions of the "Open Hand" and the Capitol palaces: Parliament Palace on the right, the High Courts on the left, and the "Open Hand" in the centre. A special mention must be made of the Modulor, which has so surely brought under harmonious rule all the dimensions which have been used in these two years of work. The Modulor has really shown on this occasion the infinite richness which it possesses, as well as the exactness and certainty, by virtue of which the solutions achieved their architectural ends.

Extract from Le Corbusier, Oeuvre complète, volume 7, 1957-1965
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Capitol, Chandigarh
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