Remembering Architect H. S. Chopra

Sarbjit Singh Bahga

Ask any educated person who are the planners and designers of Chandigarh? The instant reply will be, Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry, and Jane B. Drew. But if you ask who were the Indian members of these foreign masters’ brigade? Perhaps a few, barring some knowledgeable¬† ones, shall be able to tell the names of A. R. Prabhawalker, U. E. Chowdhary, Jeet Malhotra, Aditya Prakash, M.N. Sharma, H.S. Chopra, M. D. Mande, R. S. Lall, Amar Rajinder Singh to name a few at random. In fact, it was this group of youngsters (at that time) who actually helped the great masters to translate their dreams into reality. None can deny their contribution to Chandigarh in particular, and modern Indian architecture in general.

For us the new generation of architects these members acted as our godfathers telling old tales of Chandigarh and its planners, thus linking out past with the present. But how far we shall remain lucky to avail this opportunity. With the demise of architect H. S. Chopra on 23rd March, 1994, we have lost not only our most revered master but also a vital link with our past. The author having been worked in close association with H. S. Chopra shares his views (about him) with readers.

H.S. Chopra (Harbinder Singh Chopra) was one of those geniuses who unlike their flamboyant contemporaries, opted for a low profile, for the reasons best known to him. He had worked on one of the top most posts (Additional Chief Architect) in the Department of Architecture, Government of Punjab. Chopra also served as Principal of the Chandigarh College of Architecture for a brief period, Senior Architect in the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana and Senior Architect to Chandigarh Administration. During his stay with PAU he was Adviser to the Agriculture University, Trichur in Kerala.

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By virtue of having worked with modernists like Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry, and Jane B. Drew, he had acted as a torch bearer to promote the principles of modern architecture in this region. Jane B. drew recorded her comments about H. S. Chopra as, “He has unusual feeling of form… and if he is given opportunity, this man can be relied upon to produce a building of real merit.” Pierre Jeanneret too was quite optimistic about him. In a commendation certificate to Harbinder Singh Chopra he wrote in 1957, “He has a real capacity for architecture and has developed plastic sense, and I am sure he will become a good architect.”

During his marathon career in service he was popular as humorous and humble, talented and true professional architect. His works eloquently stand as testimonials for excellence in architecture he had achieved. Prominent among these are, M.S. Randhawa Library, Museum of Rural Life of Punjab, Prithipal Singh Sports Centre in Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, Anglo-Sikh War Memorial, Ferozepur, and Batra Cinema, Officers’ Apartments / Yatri Niwas, Nehru Hospital in PGI, Kairon Administrative Block, PGI, Chandigarh, Shopping complex on Madhya Marg, Sector-9, Chandigarh besides Dhillon Cinema at Manimajra to name a few. These works are representative of Chopra’s vision, creativity and ability to handle materials and technology to create functional as well as aesthetically pleasing built-forms.

70614312M.S. Randhawa Library, PAU Ludhiana

scan10001-copyPrithipal Singh Sports Centre, PAU, Ludhiana

anglo-sikh-war-memorial-at-ferozeshahAnglo-Sikh War Memorial, Ferozepur

2036759Anglo-Sikh War Memorial, Ferozepur

dsc04475Batra Cinema, Chandigarh

dsc04448Officers’ Apartments / Yatri Niwas, Chandigarh

dsc04456-copyNehru Hospital, PGI, Chandigarh

dsc04452Kairon Administrative Block, PGI, Chandigarh

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Kairon Administrative Block, PGI, Chandigarh

dsc04463Shopping complex on Madhya Marg, Sector-9, Chandigarh

These buildings have largely been built after 1960s and 1970s when the Indian architects were on the threshold of rejecting the blind following of the so called “International Style” and were striving hard to evolve an architecture suited to the local imperatives, of course, with internationally acclaimed technology and materials like reinforced concrete, brick, glass, steel, etc. This later on gave birth to what is more appropriately termed as “Internationalism.”

Like most of his top ranking contemporaries¬† Harbinder Singh Chopra contributed his share, but unnoticeably for the development of new form of architecture. Being endowed with tremendous amount of clarity in his vision he had conscientiously avoided hybridism in architecture in his pursuit to create an “esprit moderne.” He had neither let himself in a state of waveringness nor attempted irresolutely to alienate the traditional building elements or motifs and transplant them on the otherwise modern structures. Instead, he had tried to develop details to suit the function, materials, and technology. Contrariwise, whenever there was a need to create a traditional milieu, he had skilfully evaded the induction of modernistic expression. This is evident from his design of Museum of Rural Life of Punjab in PAU Ludhiana. The building of the Museum of Rural Life of Punjab is though a contemporary structure yet it is designed in a traditional way so as to create a sense of rural milieu and to reminisce it with ancient Punjabi House. Inside the museum typical old Punjabi way of life has been stilled in the form of full-size dummies of beautiful Punjabi women performing routine domestic chores. Other household goods and artifacts have so precisely been displayed in a natural manner that everything looks like ‘as it where it was.’

image04Museum of Rural Life of Punjab, PAU, Ludhiana

H. S. Chopra had always inclination for the use of brick and reinforced concrete as main building materials. In continuation with the tradition set by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret he exploited these materials as much as he could. In consonance with the prevalent doctrine in 1960s and 1970s that natural, rough textured surfaces have more endurance than the smooth stucco surfaces, most of his buildings are either in exposed brick, concrete or combination of both. His understanding and ability to handle these materials was simply superb and can be equated with, if not excelled his foreign masters. Apart from the functional and technological precision, his works evoke distinct appeal in aesthetic values. In the pursuit to create beauty in architecture his approach was in consonance with his own personality. Harbinder Singh Chopra, a tall-built, vigorous, robust but polite man often loved bold, monumental, simple yet sculptural expressions. He had craving and commitment for achieving something intangible rather than mere fulfillment of physical scope of works. He had always attempted in his own way to accomplish the artistic urges in himself and gave the society magnificent and splendid pieces of architecture which the future generations may have the legitimate claim to feel proud of.