June 19, 2017
Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh – A must see in India for those with a keen eye for great architecture
Let this be a new town, symbolic of freedom of India unfettered by the traditions of the past … an expression of the nation’s faith in the future.
With its grid-like city map, perfectly planned and identical sectors, and streets where traffic flows unhindered through roundabout after roundabout, Chandigarh is like no other Indian city.
Designed by Swiss–French architect Le Corbusier in the 1950s, Chandigarh is one of India’s earliest planned cities and arguably one of the best examples of modern planning and architecture.
Following the turmoil that tore across India during partition in 1947, the nation’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru set out to build a new India. Chandigarh, located about 240 kilometres north of Delhi, embodies his quest.
Sitting at the foothills of the Himalayas, the city is a gateway to mountain towns including Shimla, and a popular weekend retreat from Delhi because of its proximity. The city bears none of the gridlocked traffic, the cramped, high-density living, or lack of green spaces that are common features of other cities.
According to our city guide, the design of Chandigarh has a clear effect on its residents.
“People from Chandigarh find other cities disorganised; it takes time to adjust to other cities,’’ said Pyush Jassal. The city’s planned structure encourages people to be more civil minded generally, he says.
Chandigarh, now the joint capital of the Indian states of Punjab and Hariyana, was created from scratch after independence, with Le Corbusier taking on the task of designing a master plan for the city in 1951. Punjab was governed from Lahore before partition, but after independence Lahore went to Pakistan, creating the need for a new capital for the Indian Punjab.
Chandigarh is laid out in a system of sectors, which on paper looks like a grid. The sectors are all 800 metres x 1200 metres, each is numbered and where those rectangles meet – the four roads – sits a roundabout. There are very few traffic lights (and certainly no traffic snarls) and those that are there now were added later.
So unusual is the number of roundabouts for India, we were reminded of the 1967 Jacques Tati movie Playtime as we drove through them one after the other. The contrasts to other Indian cities are stark.
As well as the city’s grand design, Le Corbusier’s work can also been seen at the heart of Chandigarh’s working sector at the Capital Complex, which comprises of the High Court, Assembly building and Secretariat, all designed by Le Corbusier.
Constructed of raw concrete and featuring the cube-like windows evident in other Le Corbusier buildings around the world, these grand and solid buildings are wonderful examples of the modern architectural movement and Le Corbusier’s distinct style. It is here also you can see the giant open hand, a 54-tonne metal sculpture that revolves with the wind, also designed by Le Corbusier and now embraced as the symbol of the city.
Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh is impressive and quite unexpected of what you might think you will discover in this fascinating country.
Oberoi Hotels recently opened Sukhvilas, a luxury resort located just outside of Chandigarh. The property is an ideal special stay during your tour of India and a good base from which to explore Chandigarh. You can also head to Oberoi’s Wildflower Hall in Shimla from Chandigarh to conclude your Indian journey in style.
Read our blog – `5 things we love about Oberoi’s Sukhvilas’ to find out more about this property.
This blog originally appeared in India Unbound’s independent travel magazine The Unbound Way, recently published. Contact us today to receive a copy of the magazine in the mail.