Le Corbusier is a name often mentioned in fields of Urban Design and Architecture. It is name representing modernism and new approaches to design. Le Corbusier has also been mentioned few times during our lectures. In this article I would like to refer to lectures about Urban Regeneration and Neighbourhood Design by an example or rather a case study of an Indian city planned and designed by Le Corbusier – city of Chandigarh.
After India claiming independence in 1947 accompanied by partition of the former British province Punjab between Pakistan and India, the Indian Punjab required a new capital. That is when Prime Minister Lal Nehru called for Albert Mayer and Mathew Novicki to plan and design Punjab´s new capital. But in 1950 Matthew Novicki died in an air crash and the whole team was replaced by a new one led by Le Corbusier. So in 1951 Le Corbusier started to work on the biggest project of his life. But yet not fully recognised and not very well-known nowadays.
Le Corbusier´s master plan kept some key aspects proposed by Mayer and Novicki, especially spatial relationships between key elements (government, city centre, university and industries) and the superblock principle. But the shape of the city plan was modified from one with a curving road network to rectangular shape with a grid iron pattern for the fast traffic roads. It is an idea of the “Spanish Square” as used in Barcelona. But this time, superblocks measuring 1,200 x 800 metres instead of his more usual 400 x 400 grid. Instead of a different geometrical pattern for pedestrians, he simply designed a similarly dimensioned overlying grid and shifted it half a size of a block dividing it into quarters.
It is clear that each residential sector was envisaged as a relatively self-contained urban village, consisting of four neighbourhood-sized quarters (24 ha) each bordering on a green strip with pedestrian paths running north-south, and a market street east-west. He allocated nearly 30 per cent of the city to parks and recreational areas. The city plan was conceived as post war ‘Garden City’ wherein vertical and high rise buildings were ruled out, keeping in view the socio economic-conditions and living habits of the people.
Where did it go wrong?
Biggest issue of Chandigarh is its scale. Le Corbusier´s vision of boulevards in dimensions of Champs-Elysees did not fit in the city of this scale. Streets are too wide and distances between solitaire buildings and within blocks are too large. Human scale has disappeared. Streets are empty and usage of open spaces is far from its potential. Composing a ´boulevard´ city from a scratch in 1951 in a country that most common means of transport was a bicycle does not make a big sense.
The city of Chandigarh was in inception of planning, composed for 500,000 inhabitants. Nowadays, the city occupy over 1,3 million people and its agglomeration is still expanding. Proposed green belt surrounding the city became a neighbourhood for the poorest building informal settlements. Chandigarh by being so unique with European planning background attracts many Indians. According to this fact, the empty boulevards and streets are getting bit more lively. Maybe Le Corbusier´s design was timeless after all. But why then the limits set by the composed green belt?
Chandigarh was officially established in 1953. The city´s plan, made by Le Corbusier and his team, was meant to follow, or rather answer, the CIAM manifest, 1933. Le Corbusier has given the world a unique piece. But its uniqueness is more about the mistakes we should learn from. . Despite the fact, that the Indian people are proud of Chandigarh, Le Corbusier didn´t fit the scale well. City is over dimensioned. Chandigarh is important for what it could have been, rather than what it is today.
Flint, A., 2013. Chandigarh, India, a city designed by Le Corbusier. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/travel/2013/07/27/chandigarh-india-city-designed-corbusier/tyCaUgtlK9d7DdlRzkGghI/story.html
Steyn, G., 2012. Le Corbusier’s town-planning ideas and the ideas of history. [Online]
Available at: http://repository.up.ac.za/bitstream/handle/2263/21479/Steyn_LeCorbusier(2012).pdf?sequence=1
Thuroczy, M., 2014. City of Chandigarh. [Online]
Available at: http://architectuul.com/architecture/city-of-chandigarh