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Notes on the Geography of Northern India: Chandigarh

Chandigarh is famous as one of Le Corbusier's experiments in town design, but the city had more cooks than one. The city was the planned capital for the Indian Punjab and was conceived as compensation for the loss, at partition, of Lahore, which went to Pakistan and became the capital of the Pakistani Punjab. In building a new capital for the Indian Punjab, Nehru sought the advice of Albert Mayer, an American who is much less likely to get credit for Chandigarh than the more famous Le Corbusier, who joined the project later. Le Corbusier had a controlling influence in the design of the city's signature buildings, but it was Mayer who laid out the crucial pattern of roads and superblocks, of traffic and pedestrian flow. Here we look at the work of both men.

The literature on the city is large, but a recent bibliography is included in The Modern Historic Core of Chandigarh, a document published in 2007 by the Chandigarh Administration's Department of Tourism as part of the documentation required for placing Chandigarh on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

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Northern India: Chandigarh picture 1

The legislative assembly building, with its top-lit forum. It was built to house the Punjab assembly, but when the Indian Punjab was divided into a new, smaller Punjab and a new state, Haryana, Chandigarh had to adapt fast. It became a centrally administered Union Territory, and this assembly building since 1967 has housed the assembly for two states. Barbed wire is probably not what Le Corbusier had in mind when he designed this temple to democracy.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 2

The High Court, which similarly houses the high courts of both Punjab and Haryana. The plaza is called the Esplanade. It was supposed to have trees.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 3

Ditto, the Secretariat Building of both the Punjab and Haryana.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 4

Those three buildings form a loose cluster at the east end of the city, which spreads to the south in a system of rectangular superblocks. Moderately high-speed roads, like the one on the right, run between the blocks, whose buildings are reached through subsidiary roads approached through turnoffs like this. The superblocks measure 800 by 1,200 meters, which is something over 20 acres each.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 5

Trees were a part of the conception from the start.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 6

Within the superblocks, there was a range of houses, built by private hands but with planning controls. Verandas were required, for example.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 7

Slightly less fancy.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 8

All the houses were built with rear as well as front light.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 9

Something simpler.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 10

And simpler still.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 11

And yet simpler. All these houses, by the way, are located in proximity to one another in Sector (or superblock) 22, the first one completed.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 12

Greenery helps.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 13

Internal roads are very quiet.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 14

Shopping was handled not in centers but along certain streets. On the right is the main road separating two superblocks. In the center is the parking area for the shops on the left.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 15

Another view of this mixed-use street, with offices above the shops. Building heights are controlled.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 16

Sector 17 has the city's planned commercial center, including this movie theater with a hint of the master himself.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 17

At night.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 18

For housewives who want to grind their own.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 19

There are lots of parks within the superblocks. In the distance here, the Model Government Senior Secondary School, in Sector 22.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 20

A smaller park.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 21

The city also has a large, more carefully maintained park in Leisure Valley, adjoining Sector 17.

Northern India: Chandigarh picture 22

Meanwhile, global tastes and trends have arrived, here in the hands of a developer from Dubai. Most of the planned city was built by 1980; peripheral developments since then have not followed its precedent.

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