Urbanisme, Chandigarh, India, 1950 - 1965
Chandigarh, the new capital of Punjab, has been under construction for several years. The first stage will provide living accommodations for 150,000 inhabitants in addition to the government buildings. The second stage will provide for a population of 500,000. This enormous enterprise is taking place in India, land of a thousand-year-old civilization, which has had no architects for the last several centuries. In two hundred years the English trained no Indian architects, but instead their own men erected English, Scottish, and... Tuscan buildings in the Tropics. New Delhi (in Tuscan inspired style), the capital of imperial India, was built by Luytens over 30 years ago with extreme tare, great talent, and with true success. The critics may rant as they will, but the accomplishment of such an undertaking earns respect.

Indian currency is three times as worthless as French currency which in turn is x times as worthless as the U. S. Dollar ... It is with such a difficult financial barrier, which separates and isolates, that we (several Indians, two English: Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry, two French: Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret) have had to contend in order to make the construction of the capital city possible. The project was expedited for the Indians by P. N. Thapar, State Administrator, and P. L. Varma, Chief Engineer of Punjab, two able men; Le Corbusier was advisor to the government and architect of the Capitol Building. Mr. Nehru always provided his support, especially in difficult situations, as did also the Governor. Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, after three years of work, returned to London in 1954. Pierre Jeanneret, who remained and was in charge of the design office, built houses, schools, dispensaries, etc.... India has the treasures of a proud culture; but her coffers are empty. It must be made clear that it was without thought of profit that we undertook and participated in the task of which we here speak. It had to be decided that there would be no financial gain, but instead we would give all our time, all our hearts, all our energy, all our knowledge. Moreover it was necessary to adapt this knowledge to the requirements of a tropical climate. It was not only necessary to give one's all, but also to look forward to the possibility of a dramatic achievement.

The distance doubled our difficulties. The climate is wonderful, heroic, and at times overwhelming.

In order to achieve a measure of peace the jobs were distributed-the three permanent architects were busy with dwellings, schools, dispensaries and hospitals, while Le Corbusier was in charge of the Capitol Building and the park. Also, as "Advisor", he directed the task of planning, in detail, for the future growth of the City. Was this a comfortable "armchair job"? Not in the least. The Master Plan for the city was developed in February and March 1951. The Capitol was planned in four weeks, discussed by the authorities, accepted by the authorities, and brought to actuality on the site by the most advanced methods of execution. Thanks to Varma the site work was realized with a minimum of exa­speration from the beginning on, without a major setback.

Of course doubt and dispute arose. The city is bounded by two large rivers which are dry for ten months of the year. The monsoon of July and August, a cosmically timed event, causes tremendous quantities of water to rush down from the towering Himalayas. Then the torrent ceases, the waters penetrate the soil, and in the course of ten months' time the red earth is covered throughout, in successive stages, by verdure, by the gold of the harvest, and finally by burnt vegetation. Suitable water for drinking purposes is located 80 meters below the earth's surface. Knowing this, the engineers finally declared, however only in the second or third year of the enterprise (1953-54), a rumor which had been growing: "There will be no water in Chandigarh !" That is why the contractors and city planners christened as "Boulevard des Eaux" the traffic artery which rings the city and upon which the Capitol is located; they had projected basins for rowing and sailing...

The Parliament was temporarily located in one of the newly constructed schools and thereupon took up its legislative activities. The Deputies were restive, posed questions, and raised vigorous objections, etc ... as they must (of course). But last year (1955) the "Boulevard des Eaux" was extended by means of a dam, a massive dam more than 20 meters high and 4 kilometers long, of earth and sand and executed by means of bulldozers and power rollers, which backed up one of the two rivers. The dam was crowned by a curving esplanade 24 meters wide. Work progressed on this day and night until the deadline. The deadline was the monsoon which was due to arrive on the 1st of July 1956. Had the dam not been completed it would have meant the destruction of all hitherto completed work-a catastrophe! The water overflowed its normal channel and formed what is now a lake, a body of water which has transformed the local climatic conditions. For two or three years the soil was irrigated by means of a network of pumps, so that today the entire surface of the dam is covered with flowers, bushes, and trees. Dwellings, schools, and dispensaries appear throughout. The entire terrain has been sold out for a long time. The epic adventure of the promoters has become a reality: Chandigarh exists !

It must be said here that Chandigarh's program of construction was established by high officials, who, having made their studies at Oxford, have known and often appreciated the English civilization. Chandigarh is a horizontal city. The Oxfordian program comprises thirteen categories of individual dwellings, from that of the peon to that of a government minister. Up to now the peon has led an extremely primitive existence, without a dwelling house. But now he has a dwelling planned and built with the same love and tare lavished on the homes of the ministers, or on the dwellings of the twelve other classes.
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Urbanisme, Chandigarh
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Photo : Lucien Hervé
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Photo : Lucien Hervé
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