The City of Beauty

Chandigarh Mar 02, 2020

A lot of people might have a difficult time when asked which Indian city is called the “City of Beauty” or “City Beautiful.” Well, if you don’t know the answer, that is fine. A lot many don’t. Many more may ask what is precisely beautiful in Chandigarh. To answer this, we need to go back a few years to look at how this city came into existence. The city of Chandigarh is the first planned city after the Independence of India. It is quite unique as the city is the capital of two states- Punjab and Haryana but don’t belong to either of them and is a union territory.

History of Chandigarh

After Independence, the province of Punjab was divided into two parts, the East and the West. East Punjab came in India, where the majority were Hindus. Since the capital of Punjab was Lahore, which was in West Punjab, there was a need for a new capital city. The prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru wanted to create a new town that symbolised a modern city. Architects and thinkers were called from western world to design this unique city. Albert Mayer, an American architect, and Matthew Novicki, a Polish architect, came to India to come up with a design of Chandigarh with large block and green spaces surrounding it, catching the views of Shivalik hills. Unfortunately, in 1950, Novicki died in a plane crash, and the creation of Chandigarh as a ‘garden city’ failed. Mayer left working on Chandigarh, and instead, Le Corbusier, the Swiss- Franco architect got the opportunity to design Chandigarh. Le Corbusier was a visionary. His ideas were avant-garde and revolutionary and Chandigarh was the playground where we was ready to play.

Creation of Chandigarh

He was a great thinker and like many urbanists and planners, wanted to create a city that represented 'utopia'. Utopia- the good place, too ideal to even exist. The second constraint was to create a modern city, as demanded by the Prime Minister. Finally, Corbusier came up with a city that resonated at a human level. “The city of Chandigarh is planned to a human scale. It puts us in touch with the infinite cosmos and nature. It provides us with places and buildings for all human activities by which the citizens can live a full and harmonious life. Here the radiance of nature and heart are within our reach.”

At a macro-level, he conceptualised the city as a human being, where the brain was the capital complex (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), a name given to the government buildings of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Secretariat Building and monuments, which controls the city; the lungs were the green areas that run through the sectors and provided relief; the arteries were the roads which provided circulation; the heart is Sector 17, the piazza which is the main cultural and commercial hub; legs are the industrial areas, away from the main body but important for usage; and the cells are the houses in Chandigarh. Like how human lives, the city thrives. Chandigarh was created by dividing the land into 56 sectors, each square and acting like a micro-neighbourhood. Each sector has a school, medical facilities, park, and other amenities and, of course, residences. Each sector is divided by huge boulevards, and there is a street hierarchy that is present in a grid-iron pattern.Such imagination and far-sightedness are appreciated as the city are still one of the beautiful and live-able cities of India.

A Beauty which was yet unseen

Though Le Corbusier failed to create a variety making the city monotonous and confusing as each sector looks the same, his sense of aesthetics/beauty was far ahead of its time. There was nothing ornate or superfluous exaggerated, and there is only the beauty of the inner materials to the extent that buildings were un-plastered. The concrete looked like concrete without any colour, bricks look like brick. This beauty of exposed materials was unlike any other beauty of Indian architecture, it was modern, as to how Nehru wanted and as the people who wanted to show a young independent modern country.