Sarbjit Singh Bahga —
Chandigarh the capital city of Punjab and Haryana States, as all know has turned out to be one of the boldest experiments in architecture and town planning. Being a newly built city and that too designed by world renowned architect-planner Le Corbusier and his team comprising Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry and Jane drew, it has attracted global attention. As a result it has emerged as a one of the most sought after destination for architects, planners, engineers besides the general tourists from all over the world. The city is bounded by two seasonal choes, or rivulets-the Patiali Rao and the Sukhna-in the north-west and south-east respectively. It extends in the north-east right up to the foothills of the Shivaliks. Its altitude varies between 304.8 metres and 365.7 metres above sea level. The region experiences extremes in climate. The temperature could rise 45° C in summer and drop to freezing point in winter.
Jawaharlal Nehru inspired the planners as,” …this shall be the new city of free India, totally fresh and wholly responsive to the aspirations of the future generations of this great country, and that the city shall be free from all shackles and shall be unfettered by the traditions of the past … the city shall be so built and nurtured that it shall be a model for our glorious future growth of the country.” The development of the city in the last five decades has proved Nehru’ dreams true.
According to its planner’s thinking towns are biological phenomena, and they have a brain, heart, lungs, limbs and arteries like human beings. So the Capitol Complex was placed at the top of the town because he likened it to the intellect of man, which emanates from the brain or the head. The Industrial and the Educational belts on either side of the city symbolise the limbs. The City Centre with commercial buildings, shops and offices represents the heart. The spacious parks and green belts which run through the city provide the lungs. The network of roads for vehicular traffic and foot paths for pedestrians constitutes the circulatory system. To sustain harmonious overall development and to eliminate haphazard growth, a number of architectural controls have been introduced. Apart from the byelaws which govern and lay down minimum standards of light, ventilation, living areas and sanitation, each plot of land in the city has been zoned by attaching to it a specific use and also controlling the building volume that can be developed on it. The basic planning unit of the city is a sector, 800 by 1200 metres with a population varying from 3,000 to 20,000 (or even much more in new sectors) depending upon the size of plots and the topography of the area.
Chandigarh is now almost 60 years old. During these years its planning has been put to the test in almost all quarters; road patterns, sector layouts, distribution of civic amenities and future growth besides, of course, the aspirations of inhabitants. K. R. Narayanan, the President of India while, opening the International Conference ‘Celebrating Chandigarh-50 years of the Idea’ at Chandigarh in January 1999, remarked, “Chandigarh may be a concert with many a discordant note….But it has come up and has had 50 years of growth and development. Nehru had wanted a city unfettered by the traditions of the past and Le Corbusier’s modernism and internationalism answered the requirement. Yet, Chandigarh is not a castle built in the air. The architecture of Chandigarh could not ignore the compelling needs of Indian society and stubborn cultural values, despite all its freedom from the fetters of past traditions. There is no city planning that could succeed in the face of facts of our society, habits of our people, lapses of administration and lack of education and health. Still Chandigarh is better off, thanks to Corbusier who took care of its social aspects to some extent. All said and done, Chandigarh is still the best city and is the cynosure of all eyes.”
CONTEMPORARY LANDMARKS IN CHANDIGARH
THE CAPITOL COMPLEX
The Capitol Complex, which is at present the seat of the State Administrations of both Punjab and Haryana, is spread over an area of 100 hectares between the city and Shivalik Hills. The prominence accorded to this area symbolises the glorification of Independence attained after a long and sustained political struggle. The main components of the Capitol are the Secretariat, the Assembly, the High Court, the Museum of Knowledge (not constructed yet) and other monuments. To segregate pedestrian and vehicular movement, the land is arranged in two levels: a pedestrian plaza and five metres below it a level of roads and parking spaces. The spoil heaps of earth removed from the excavated grounds have been accumulated in several artificial mounds on which shrubbery is planted. The water bodies are planned to modulate the microclimate. The buildings, trees and hills are reflected in these ponds, thereby producing a pleasing effect.
The 10-storied Secretariat houses administrative offices, those of ministers and of all ministerial agencies. The building is oriented to obtain the maximum benefit of the wind direction for effective cross-ventilation and to cause minimum obstruction to the view of the Shivalik Hills from elsewhere in the city. The undulatory glass-panels are well protected against the sun and rain by a grill of brise-soleil on the two principle facades. The Secretariat is topped by a roof-garden which has been designed not only to insulate the building against the direct rays of the sun but also to provide an excellent recreational place.
The High court symbolises three ideas in its structure-the majesty of law, the shelter of law and power and fear of law. The working areas in the building are shielded by brise-soleil on the north-west and south-east facades. A double roof has been provided to protect the entire structure from the sun. The upper projecting roof in the form of a row of arches gives the feeling of the shelter of law. The space between the upper parasol roof and lower flat roof is left open to allow free movement of air, cooling the interiors considerably. A small serpent fountain at the entrance signifies the power and fear of law.
The Assembly Hall is square in plan. The Assembly Chamber, in the form of a hyperbolic shell, is surrounded by ceremonial space. This circulation space is planned as a dimly lit, triple-height, columned hall for informal meetings and discussions. On three sides a bank of offices is protected by louvers. The great portico, on the fourth side, facing the High Court, consists of eight thin piers. These piers, which are perforated to frame glimpses of the Shivalik Hills, support a huge trough from which rain water spills out at either end, falling into reflecting pools. Inspired by the form of the cooling towers of a power station near Ahmedabad, Le Corbusier designed the hyperbolic shell of the Assembly Chamber.
Apart from these buildings, the architect introduced certain symbols in the campus. These incorporate the theme of Corbusier’s architectural philosophy and were envisioned to punctuate the cross-axis of the Capitol Complex. These monuments included the Martyrs Memorial, the Tower of Shadows, the Open Hand, and the Trench of Consideration etc.
THE SUKHNA LAKE
The Sukhna Lake is one of the most important components of the city of Chandigarh. According to the inscriptions on a concrete cube at lake, “The founders of Chandigarh have offered this lake and dam to the citizens of the new city so that they may escape the humdrum of the city life and enjoy the beauty of nature in peace and silence.” Le Corbusier had foreseen that the residents of the city would be drawn to this ‘zone of peace’ for the ‘care of body and spirit’. The Lake was created in 1958 by constructing an earthen dam about three-kilometre long and 14-metre high across the Sukhna Choe, a seasonal rivulet to the north-east of the city. The total catchment area of the lake is 4207 hectares. Corbusier designed a gateway to the lake as well as the memorial stone commemorating the construction of dam. The earthen dam, pitched with stone, is curvilinear in form and is in full harmony with the natural surroundings. Despite being artificially formed it can easily compete with any natural lake in its superb serenity and picturesque settings lent to it by the ever changing colours of mountains, standing almost on its edge.
The serenity of the vast spread of water of the lake soothes the eye of the visitor. On sun-scorched summer days, the cool breezes refresh tired sprits. At each hour of the day, the lake offers a different view, a variegated quality of light which like a kaleidoscope is ever-pleasing and ever-new to its beholders. The curvilinear profile of the southern bank of the lake seems to merge into the Shivalik Hills. The lake embankment made of piles of boulders hold the Sukhna water in a wide embrace. Strollers and joggers have the splendid view of the jagged profile of the mountains which advance along the lake waters. In the Centre, a water pump has been camouflaged by an eye-catching structure designed by Pierre Jeanneret. The ramp encircling the building and leading to the terrace is itself very picturesque. Residents and visitors gather here for picnics, and sports lovers come for boating, sculling and yachting. It also plays host to flocks of migratory birds. It has become a major tourist spot and an important stopover on the itinerary of visitors to this part of the country.
THE LAKE CLUB
The Lake Club is a hub of various aquatic sports in the city. It is located on the south-western edge of the Sukhna Lake. Designed by Le Corbusier, the profile of Lake Club building is deliberately kept low as a mark of respect for nature. The building is single storied with a simple concrete facade along the Lake shore and has a court yard in the Centre and built up area along its three sides. It has a restaurant on the south-eastern side. The campus also includes a swimming pool and tennis courts. The Club provides training for boating, yachting and rowing.
THE ROCK GARDEN
The rock Garden is situated on the banks of a seasonal rivulet on the north-east edge of Chandigarh. Waste material like broken bangles, fused bulbs and tube lamps, electric insulators, pebbles, broken china, bits of cloth and various other kinds of left-overs have been used in this garden. In a dream Nek Chand-the creator of this garden saw a king and a queen, their glory and the subsequent fall of their kingdom. Inspired, he decided to rebuild a beautiful kingdom in the memory of the king and the queen and planned the Rock Garden on a similar mythological theme.
The garden has been planned without disturbing thr existing topography, landscape and environment of the site. The main entry is through a low porch connected with a passage with embankments on both sides. Pieces of stones and rocks, evoking images of animals and humans, are displayed here. A shallow pool enhances the beauty of this part of the garden. Then there is a hut on a lower level from where Nek Chand made a modest beginning of constructing the Rock Garden. Beyond the hut there is a valley which is accessible through a narrow passage flanked by artificial hillocks on both sides.
The valley contains an open- air theatre, waterfalls and exquisite sculptures. In this valley Nek Chand’s art of sculpture finds expression in a superb fashion. An uprooted tree which once existed at this site has not only been preserved but has been transformed into a unique piece of sculpture. The sculptures of fossils are also on display. The railings, parapets, columns, waterfalls, and bridges in the valley have a unique artistic touch. Tar-drums have been used horizontally all along the passage to make a railing.
Adjacent to the valley is a symbolic village which is accessible through a narrow path between man-made hillocks. It is located on the south-east of the garden and symbolises the dwelling place of an imaginary king’s subjects. The king’s durbar area has a variety of spaces. The skyline has small kiosks on the top with their roofs resembling a throne. Here two grassy terraces at different levels are linked together by a flight of steps. Then there are numerous chambers which are connected with each other by narrow passageways and series of low arches. Each chamber has its own identity without losing its relation with the overall scheme. Thousands of sculptures are displayed in these chambers. There are bullocks, monkeys, peacocks, party scenes, soldiers and dancers and ordinary village folks. The trees and the shrubs have been carefully set so as to complement the contents of each chamber.
THE CITY CENTRE
The City Centre is literally located centrally in Sector 17, at the junction of two fast-traffic (V2) roads, one bringing in public transport and general traffic from outside the city and the other forming a ceremonial approach to the Capitol Complex. It spreads over an area of 97 hectares and is divided broadly into two zones. The north-eastern zone is earmarked for major commercial and civic functions and the south-western zone accommodates the functions of the local administration. The entire commercial district, horizontal in character, is bordered by two rows of high rise buildings along its north-west and south-east edges. Planned to cater to the diverse needs of government and semi-government agencies, these buildings too have a controlled volume and facade. Their tilted axis not only helps in achieving a north-south orientation but also contributes a lot towards getting a rhythmic street picture.
A central piazza, marking the crossing of two wide promenades running north-east to south-west and north-west to south-east, is the hallmark of the City Centre. Important civic and commercial buildings are sited around this piazza. An over bridge passing through the buildings at first level facilitates the movement of vehicular traffic across the City Centre without interfering with the pedestrian piazza below. To ensure uniform and orderly development, strict architectural and material controls are applied. To break the monotony of concrete structures, a linear commercial strip which distinguishes the two zones is designed with a simple and functional facade in exposed brick.
THE CULTURAL CENTRE
The Cultural Centre on the fringe of the Leisure Valley in Sector-10 is spread over a seven-hectare linear strip of land. The approach to the campus is from an exclusive and quite road running on its north-western side. The Centre includes a museum-cum-art gallery, a temporary exhibition pavilion now converted to city museum, a museum devoted to the evolution of man and an art college.
The Museum and Art Gallery, the most impressive and massive building of the campus, is situated in the centre of this cultural belt. Like Le Corbusier’s museums at Ahmedabad and Tokyo, the design of this building also reflects quiet splendor and majestic proportions. It houses a vast range of historical and contemporary paintings and sculptures. The building is square in plan, 52×52 metres, with R.C.C. columns and beams. Vertically it has three levels, parts of which are either of double height or triple height, with a system of clerestory lighting on top for uniform illumination. The partially enclosed ground floor contains a reception hall, work-shops and storage space besides a jutting out block for a cafeteria a detached structure for a lecture hall. The main display area is on the first level and is accessible through a ramp in the triple-height entrance hall. The second level is utilised for administrative offices, a library, etc.
Adjacent to this museum is located the City Museum (earlier temporary exhibition pavilion). It is designed in the form of two umbrellas, each measuring 14 by 14 metres. It has four levels which are accessible through a stair case and a ramp. On top, the covered terrace is an ideal place for artists to work and commands a panoramic view of the Shivalik Hills.
COLLEGE OF ARCHITECTURE & ART
For the tourist interested in the modern architecture of Le Corbusier, the College of Architecture in Sector-12 and College of Art and Craft in Sector-10 are the most suitable venues. Both the colleges have similar designs. The buildings are composed of a number of large studios and classrooms grouped around internal courtyards. Each studio has an interesting roof which rises towards the north to accommodate large, high-level undulatory glazing in typical Corbusian vocabulary. The faculty rooms and other utility areas have low flat ceiling with individual skylights in the form of barrel vaults. The facades both of the east and the west are predominantly blank but are enlivened by the authentic expression of roof configurations together with narrow vertical slits and concrete gargoyles. The front facade is adorned with a deep screen of pre-cast concrete, a sort of miniature brise-soleil which is in consonance with the scale of the buildings.
THE LEISURE VALLEY
Stretching through the heart of Chandigarh is an eight-kilometre long parkland-the Leisure Valley. Like a garland of gardens, it extends from the northern to southern extremity of Chandigarh. The Leisure Valley is an extraordinary creation for it has been imaginatively sculpted out of an eroded valley, with a seasonal rivulet running as a natural drain for the adjoining catchment area. Le Corbusier with his deep rooted respect for nature took full advantage of the natural lay of land. He proposed that the existing valley be retained and converted into continuous parkland for ‘care of body and spirit’.
The Leisure Valley is a charming continuum of various theme gardens. A serpentine walkway meanders through the undulating meadows of the valley, and takes one through parterres, groves of trees, fountains and bridges. Birds, squirrels, rocks and rolling greens accompany one on a slow, steady and soulful meandering.
The journey through the Leisure Valley starts at the Rajindra Park located at the far northern end of the valley. Next to this park the nallah has been developed into a Bougainvillea Park spread over eight hectares of land in Sector-3. It consists of dome-shaped bowers, arcades and pavilions on which different varieties of bougainvillea climb up and display their petals and blooms in a mosaic of leaves and biomorphic shapes. Adjoining the Bougainvillea Park in Sector-3 is a Flower Garden of Annuals. In the spring time, this garden is at its colourful best. Moving along the Leisure Valley brings the visitor to the second part in Sector-10 where it takes on the character of a Tranquil Garden. Parts of the garden have seasonal flowers and part accommodates sculptures by renowned sculptors. The most striking element is the thick grove of bamboos, bordering the banks of the seasonal rivulet, which overflows during the monsoons.
Further across the road, is the famous Rose Garden located in Sector-16. It spreads over 12 hectares of land and has 1600 varieties of roses. It is perhaps the largest rose garden in Asia. The focus of the rose-bedecked undulations is the central water feature. A powerful water-jet darts high into the air, sprinkling a soothing spray over charmed visitors, who gather here in large numbers during summers. Beyond the Rose Garden, towards the south, the Leisure Valley becomes a Garden of Tranquility or more popularly known as Shanti Kunj. A Japanese-style style garden is created by placid water pools and idyllic groves of shady trees. It is ideal for those who seek ‘the bliss of solitude’ in the comforting lap of nature.
As the Leisure Valley rolls down towards the south-western part of the city, it expresses itself through different gardens. In Sector-23, there is a Children Traffic Park. Further rolling down on the same serpentine walkway, the valley reaches the Hibiscus Garden in Sector-36. About 40 different varieties of hibiscus shrubs have been planted in this garden.
The Fragrance Garden is another major attraction in this valley. Plants with different fragrances at different times of the day have been planted. A Garden of Rare Plants has also been developed.
THE PANJAB UNIVERSITY
The Panjab University campus is located on a 145-hectare site in Sector-14 on the north-west end of Chandigarh. The sprawling campus has been divided into three zones-an academic area in the north-east, a sports area in the middle and staff housing in the south-west. The science blocks have been grouped together and are separated from the arts blocks by a ceremonial avenue which runs from an open air theatre to a yet-to-be-constructed convocation hall. The Science Faculty consists of three storied which look alike but have different designs. The Arts Faculty departments are housed in blocks which are laid out uniformly with a repetitive design. A museum which forms part of the Arts Faculty consists of 16 square units. These units are arranged around an irregular court which also acts as an outdoor space for sculptures. The building is designed in a way to achieve easy approach to and return from the exhibits without having to walk through the entire exhibition area.
The five-storied library is situated approximately in the Centre of the area covered by the teaching departments. Two spacious reading halls have been provided-one for the sciences and other for the humanities. The north-east facade has concrete louvers which provide shade to the glazing. A series of projecting concrete balconies give plasticity to the south-west façade. A pool of water not only cools the flitting breezes but also lends the place certain serenity.
The Student Centre is located near the library and serves as a rendezvous for the youth. It is a four-storied cylindrical structure. Full glazing has been provided on the cafeteria sides to catch glimpses of the surrounding landscape.
The magnificent Gandhi Bhavan was established on the campus to promote Gandhian philosophy. Its aims are to make the relevant literature available and to hold study classes and discussions on Mahatma Gandhi’s life and works. These three basic functions materialise into three-winged structure jutting out in three directions. The building has been placed in a pool of limpid water to infuse calm and quiet and to breathe peace all around. Gandhian ideals are symbolised by the pointed and rounded forms of the building. The pointed forms suggest the sharp edge of truth and the rounded forms indicate harmony.
The Administrative Block, which occupies a dominant position on the campus, consists of basement and five floors. Each floor projects to the outside from the floor below, thus projection and shade are provided to the glazing.
ARCHITECTURAL GETAWAYS IN PROXIMITY
MUGHAL GARDEN, PINJORE
The Mughal Garden Pinjore is located on the foothills of lower Shivalik ranges, about 20 kilometres from Chandigarh on Chandigarh-Shimla Road. This is a traditional Mughal garden, created in the 17th century by Nawab Fidal Khan, architect to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. The garden is laid out over more than 40 hectares on a sloping site with fountains and pavilions. It is planned on the classical charbagh pattern, given the area a central waterway.
Both sides of this waterway are covered with the patches of green bordered with flowers and shaded by trees like the traditional palm, the cypress and magnolia. The Garden has cool, shady walks and flagged pathways which run to the outer reaches of creeper-covered walls. The stiff outer wall of the Garden is reminiscent of the fort walls, which has now all around dieter pavilions housing the zoo. Palm trees, shapely cypresses, and dense mango groves add to a touch of mystery to the garden. A water course traipsing from level to level sparkles in the sunlight, its pools reflecting white shining pavilions and balconies etched high against a blue sky.
The graceful arched balconies, and tinkling fountains, luxuriant green lawns and murmuring watercourse, limpid pools, shady walks and colourful flowerbeds, unusual descending terraces and monumental gateways-all are carefully planned to create a special effect. Unlike other Mughal gardens, the seven terraces at Pinjore, instead of ascending, descend into the distance and achieve an almost magical effect.
From the stately Sheesh Mahal built in the Rajasthani-Mughal style, the watercourse with its never-ending bubbling music cascades from terrace to terrace, flow under the towering Rang Mahal, and then playing around the Jal Mahal. This is one of the most fascinating Mughal Gardens and is a very popular tourist spot not only for holiday makers, but also for architects and archaeologists.
M.C. ZOOLOGICAL PARK, CHHATBIR
The unique Chhatbir Zoological Park is located on the banks of the Ghaggar River, 20 km from Chandigarh on the Patiala-Chandigarh road in Punjab. This undulating forest land of 200 hectares is protected against flooding by an embankment on three sides and a flood drain on the fourth. Meandering paths gradually open up the various vistas, at the same time providing a sense of direction to the visitors. The animal enclosures are designed to suit specific liking of different species. Their design also enables the animals and human beings to see each other without obstructing vision. The enclosures are dispersed so as to create a variety of spaces and are grouped to facilitate feeding and other managerial requirements.
The existing low-lying ditch on the north-west side has been converted into a shallow lake covering about 8 hectares, which attracts birds in winter. A unique lion safari spread over 8 hectares allows free movement of lions, and visitors are taken around in caged vehicles. A physically segregated deer safari covers an area of 12 hectares. To harmonies built-forms with natural landscape, all buildings like the aquarium, the serpent caves, the crocodile farm, the museum, etc. have been kept single-storied.
AAM KHAS BAGH, SIRHIND
The Aam Kha Bagh, Sirhind is located 40 kilometres from Chandigarh on Chandigarh-Sirhind- Patiala Road. Built by the Mughals, it is a beautiful garden of great historical value. As its name denotes it was a highway-inn for the use of royalty as well as common people. It was initially built by Babar and later extended/renovated by the emperor Shah Jahan. The Bagh is surrounded by a high crenellated wall and cooled with water flowing in disciplined courses. It contained both a public (Aam) area and a private (Khas) section, thus it was known as the Aam Khas Bagh. In its heydays, it had a double storied royal pavilion with beautiful murals on its walls, baths, underground water cooled chambers, a unique hydraulic system for fountains and plenty of accommodation for weary travelers. Although it was sacked by the enemies of Mughals, but even the ruins are so magnificent it is well worth visiting.
FLOATING RESTAURANT, SIRHIND
Owned by the Punjab Tourism Development Corporation, the Floating Restaurant at Sirhind is a roadside facility for the tourists and travelers to relax a while. It is the first floating restaurant of its kind in India. Located on the waters of the Bhakra Mainline Canal between Gobindgarh and Sirhind, it is approachable from Sher Shah Suri Marg.
The canal is 6 metres deep and 45 metres wide at this point. A lightweight steel structure with a vaulted roof rests on a wooden deck which floats on five cylinders tied together. The deck serves as an extension of an indoor seating area and is bridged to both banks of the canal. Due to the uniqueness of its structure and the immanence of celestial light in the natural setting, the restaurant is a popular pleasure spot. Inside the restaurant, part of the wooden flooring gives way to transparent glass panels, enabling the visitors to see the flowing blue water underneath. Another block with an identical roofs cape is situated on the western bank of the canal. It contains the principle kitchen, a beer bar and a restaurant.
THE FORT NALAGARH
The Fort Nalagarh–now functioning as a Heritage Hotel, is located about 60 kilometres from Chandigarh in Solan district of Himachal Pradesh. The Fort was built in 1421 during the reign of of Raja Bikram Chand. It was ruled by ruled by the Chandra Rajputs who originated from Chanderi in Bundelkhand reigon of Central India. The Fort is located on a hillock at the foothills of the Himalayas and is surrounded by endless acres of greenery. Replete with all modern amenities, the Fort Nalagarh is an ideal retreat away from the madding crowd. Nalagarh is the gateway to Himachal Pradesh. By virtue of its location it affords a panoramic view of the Shivalik Hills beyond the Sirsa River. The famous Naina Devi Temple is 60 kilometres from the Fort and is visible from the ramparts on a clear day.