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Chandigarh as a Place to Live in

This paper was written in early 1974.

Published onApr 23, 2021
Chandigarh as a Place to Live in

Le Corbusier deep in thought, circa 1960. (Rights reserved by Ralph Alberto, Champigny.)

The following is a personal introduction to Chandigarh in Le Corbusier’s own words:

City of Chandigarh

I. Definition of use of Chandigarh

(i) Chandigarh is a city offering all amenities to the poorest of the poor of its citizens to lead a dignified life.

(ii) Chandigarh is a Government city with a precise function and, consequently, a precise quality of inhabitants.

On this presumption, the city is not to be a big city (metropolis)—it must not lose its definition. Some people say that life must come in the city from other sources of activity, especially industry—but an industrial city is not the same as an administrative city. One must not mix the two. It seems that the complement of the original definition should be the invitation of forces which can reinforce the functions of the city and not open a conflict or rivalry. We must take care that any temptations do not kill the goal which was foreseen at the time the city was founded. Therefore, naturally, old doors must be opened to unknown initiatives. It appears that the future of Chandigarh will be open to all cultural factors in different manifestations:

Teaching (schools, university, new science of teaching, audiovisual training, etc.—in one word all kinds of knowledge)

Means to express and disperse thought (editions: books, magazines, and, eventually, their printing, etc.)

Modes of expression and dispersion of the arts (in time and space—history and geography)

All kinds of reproduction of art-witnesses (editions: visual means—photographs, diagrams, etc. to different scales)

Diverse kinds of exhibitions, shows, theatre, festivals, creations of the highest modernity, etc.

For the culture of the body, an organism can be created having at its disposition possibilities of meeting for competitions and tournaments. All this will afford the creation of a “Chandigarh label” which will be the guarantee of quality and will be worth emulation.

II. The Four Functions

The CIAM “Charter of Athens.”

The force of this charter lies in giving the first place to the dwelling:

the environment of living—the family under the rule of “24 Solar Hours.”

The second place is given to “Working” which is the daily act of human obligation.

The third is the culture of body and spirit on the one hand and an intellectual leisure on the other.

When all these goals have received their definite containers, it is possible to give to each of them its respective rightful place and at this moment can occur the problem of realizing the contacts: that is circulation.


With this line of conduct, the urbanism of Chandigarh emerged.1

Ever since the day Le Corbusier’s name was associated with the Chandigarh project, Chandigarh has received a tremendous amount of publicity, propaganda, and documentation. Certainly in the fields of planning and architecture, Chandigarh was seen by many as a landmark in the present epoch, and, inevitably, it has been watched with keen interest through all its life of twenty-three years. Writing about Chandigarh has been largely confined to three broad categories: first, a pure description of the planning doctrine with details about the “sector,” the 7V’s (les sept voies), the Capitol complex, and so on; second, a flowery applause of the marvels of Chandigarh and its modern architecture; or third, an outright criticism of the project on the basis of its “non-Indian” character, an importation of Western ideas into an alien milieu, usually followed by statements announcing the failure of Chandigarh on these grounds.

Cities, however, are complex phenomena. Much as architects and planners may like to think about the importance of their concepts, visions, aesthetics, or planning, these remain only partial aspects of a much greater totality. And, once a city starts growing, whether due to social, economic, political, or geographic reasons, it becomes increasingly difficult to control its growth or to be selective about the quality of inhabitants it attracts. If the rate of growth of a city, particularly a new city, is any measure of its success, then Chandigarh is indeed a phenomenal success. In the last decade, from 1961 to 1971, Chandigarh registered a growth of 144 percent, having increased its population from 89,000 to 219,000. Although the planning process is essentially concerned with both anticipating future growth and regulating its development, the Chandigarh label of planning has resulted in a somewhat bizarre situation. For, today, there are virtually two separate faces of Chandigarh: the planned and the nonplanned. What Chandigarh is like as a place to live in depends largely on which of the two one belongs to.

The planned Chandigarh is the city of Le Corbusier’s vision, first consolidated in the document of the Chandigarh master plan over the period of less than a month in March 1951. Most of the fundamental aspects of the physical plan have been implemented with almost religious devotion. The concept of the sector, the circulation network on the basis of the 7V’s, the linear V4 bazaar streets, the leisure valley, and the green belts running from the northeast to the southwest in continuous bands, the industrial area located on one side, the university on the other, the Capitol complex towering in its magnificent aloofness outside the rest of the city, against the background of the mountains, and the city center, with all its frame control and béton brut located in Sector 17.

Vast areas of future commercial belts have been retained as reservations for big business yet to come. All the roads have been meticulously planted with various exotic trees and bushes that burst into bloom at different times of the year, producing startling effects with splendid color. A large chunk of the leisure valley has been developed into a vast rose garden, with literally hundreds of different varieties. The green belts, at least in the wealthier and more developed sectors, are now grassed, although almost invariably surrounded by barbed wire fences. The roads are well maintained and the V2’s now even have separate side lanes. Chandigarh can rightly boast of the most elaborate urban road network in India (Fig. 103).

Figure 103
An aerial view of the V2 Capitol with rush hour traffic at 5 P.M. To the left is a segment of the Leisure Valley, to the right a commercial belt reserved for big offices, hotels, and so on, and in the background is Le Corbusier’s Capitol complex against the backdrop of the hills. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

All the buildings have been built strictly according to the building bylaws specially framed by Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry with Le Corbusier’s approval. Their masses, volumes, building lines, and architectural features rigidly follow the zoning plans prepared individually for each sector. Chandigarh zoning plans are among the most carefully detailed documents anywhere in the world. Not only do they contain stringent limitations on how and where to build, but they also give instructions about the permissible shapes and sizes of windows, the heights and materials of boundary walls, and the two or three different designs of compound gates that must be used (Fig. 104).

Figure 104
An illustration of private housing conforming to “frame control” in Sector 22. In front is an unauthorized market, and under the tree a collection of cycle-rickshaw pullers awaiting customers. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

Each sector is fully serviced with water-borne sewerage, electricity, and piped water supply. When Chandigarh was first planned, not a single city in the Punjab had water-borne sewerage; in this aspect, Chandigarh is a substantial landmark in the development of Indian cities, with its commitment to better environmental and service standards.

Physical planning, however, cannot be an end in itself. Eventually, it serves little more than the purpose of defining shapes and locations of containers of various activities. Where many assumptions are made regarding the way life is to function within these containers, it is essential to keep a vigilant check on how they actually perform and whether the original assumptions have proved correct. Unfortunately, Chandigarh is showing signs of becoming a monument to one man’s preconceived vision of a tidied up society, dwarfing the need for cross-checking, experimentation, or the evolution of more relevant solutions.

The Sector

As explained by Le Corbusier: “The plan is based on the main features of the ‘7V Rule’ determining an essential function: the creation of ‘sectors.’ The ‘sector’ is the container of family life (the 24 Solar Hours cycle which must be fulfilled in perfect harmony).”2 Its dimensions are based on the Spanish cuadra of 110 to 100 meters square.

A useful reclassification of them [cuadras] led me to adopt a ratio of harmonious dimensions and productive combinations: seven to eight cuadras on one side, ten to twelve cuadras on the other side, that is to say 800m × 1200m. And this was the “sector” issued from an ancestral and valid geometry established in the past on the stride of a man, an ox or a horse, but henceforth adapted to mechanical speeds.

… The entrance of the cars into the sectors of 800m × 1200m which are exclusively reserved to family life can take place on four points only in the middle of the 1200m (= two times 600m); in the middle of the 800m (= two times 400m). All stoppage of the circulation shall be prohibited at the four circuses, at the angles of the sectors. The bus stops are provided each time at 200m from the circus so as to serve the entrances of the pedestrians into a sector.3

Each sector was further visualized as a fairly self-contained subunit of the city, with its own schools, community centers, daily shopping facilities along the V4’s, and well-defined residential areas. Detailed allocation of land use for each of these functions was laid down in the zoning plans. No fast traffic was ever to enter any sector, and buses were to have only limited access to the V4’s. Shopping and commercial activity on the V4’s was to be restricted only on the south side of the streets to prevent frequent crossing of traffic and the consequent danger to pedestrians. Children were to be able to walk to school in a pedestrian’s paradise, on the V7’s through the green belts, never having to cross a single fast traffic road. Slums were not supposed to be possible in the new city.

What are Chandigarh’s sectors like today? First, sector populations display a glaring disparity. It had been arbitrarily decided to house a minimum of 5,000 to a maximum of 20,000 persons per sector for the same total area of approximately 240 acres. Today sectors 9, 10, or 11 have total populations of just over 2,000 to 3,500 each, while other sectors such as 20 and 22 already have populations of 25,600 and 23,320. The total amount of public open space per sector being almost the same, the per head variation is from 1:12 or even more. The green spaces, although grassed and watered now, remain more like spaces to look at than the centers of healthy activities, of sports, or even walking (Fig. 105).

Figure 105
Public open space in an almost fully developed, medium-density area of Sector 18. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

Population growth in some high-density sectors, much beyond planned population figures, has been the result of multiple occupation caused by an acute housing shortage in the city. There are up to ten families living in a house on a 250-square-yard plot designed for only two families. With families of six to ten persons often living in one room without a kitchen and sharing toilet facilities with others, some Chandigarh sectors are already beginning to display all the characteristics of overcrowding and lack of privacy that is such a common malaise of other Indian cities.

The V4’s are slowly filling up with shops, showrooms, offices, printing presses, and private practitioners on the residential sides of the streets (Fig. 106). They remain far from the planned, slow traffic, hazard-free commercial rues initially visualized. Armed with its legal and administrative weapons, Chandigarh Administration has tried its best to stop this affront to the master plan, but to no avail. The ineffectiveness of control is accentuated by the fact that the biggest violator is the government itself. Several large bungalows in low-density sectors are totally occupied by government offices. Housing shortage in the city is made much worse by the shortage of cheap office and commercial accommodations, leading to residential buildings being used for these purposes.

Figure 106
Several residential units converted to commercial and business use, on the northeastern side of the V4 (bazaar street) in Sector 18. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

Do people send their children to schools in their own sector? This has proved to be another myth based on oversimplification. In India today, there is tremendous inequality in access to educational institutions. Committed as the country is to secularism, there are not only government and private schools but, in both, there is a wide range of mediums of instruction and in the general quality of education. Social and economic opportunities are highly dependent upon education. Unequal educational opportunities in different sectors, due to different social levels, reduces the physical proximity of the child to a school to the level of least importance. According to a social survey carried out in 1963 to 1964, “41.7 percent of the households sending children to primary schools sent them outside their own sectors” (Fig. 107).4

Figure 107
One of the many cycle-rickshaws in Chandigarh specially adapted for transporting mainly primary school children to and from school. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

The 7V’s (les sept voies)

The following quotation of Le Corbusier explains the basis of the 7V’s (Fig. 108):

“The 7V Rule” was studied in 1950 at UNESCO’s request. One discovered that with 7 types of roads, the man of the mechanical civilization could:

  • cross continents: the V1

  • arrive in town: the V1

  • go to essential public services: the V2

  • cross at full speed, without interruption, the territory of the town: the V3

  • dispose of immediate accesses to daily needs: the V4

  • reach the door of his dwelling: the V5 and V6

  • send youth to the green areas of each sector, where schools and sports grounds are located: the V7

But the “7V Rule” was to be the object of an assault: the onrush of bicycles in different countries. The “V8” was subsequently created, the “V8” independent of the others. Effectively, the “two-wheels” have customs which are antagonistic to those of the “four-wheels.” At Chandigarh, the “V8” was created a little later on. The matter was then honestly formulated: “The Rule of the 7V’s … which are 8.”5

Unfortunately, in Chandigarh, “The Rule of the 7V’s … which are 8” has remained “The Rule of the 6V’s … which are not even 7,” and that, ironically, when the local transport of the majority of the population remains the bicycle or the feet.

Figure 108
The 7V’s at Chandigarh. (Source: L’Urbanisme des trois établissements humains, Paris, 1959, p. 44.)

According to a survey carried out from 1963 to 1964, only 3.3 percent of the households owned cars, and as many as 83 percent owned bicycles. More recently, “there were about 10,000 motor vehicles in Chandigarh by the end of 1970. During the succeeding ten years, these vehicles are estimated to increase fivefold to 51,000.”6 The number of bicycles on Chandigarh’s roads, however, are already estimated to be over 100,000. The V7—as a continuous tract through green belts, stretching from one end of town to the other, away from the hazards of motorized traffic—is yet to make its appearance. Unpaved sidewalks force pedestrians either to walk on uneven ground or to share the metal roads with the rest of the traffic. Efficient traffic segregation is unlikely to be possible in India for a long time to come yet, for not only are there several motorized speeds to cope with, but also there are horse carts, bullocks, cows, cycle-rickshaws, handcarts, and many other variations (Fig. 109).

Figure 109
Mixed traffic on the V2 Station/University. The transport of local goods in the city is largely by horse-drawn carts. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

Le Corbusier had visualized an efficient system of public transport on the abundant gridiron network of V3’s, with three different types of buses stopping every 400 meters. He had consulted the director of the Parisian autobus transport system and drawn up a scheme for Chandigarh on the same basis. The economics of public transport are such, however, that for many years to come there are unlikely to be many buses on Chandigarh’s roads. The few buses in the ownership of the Chandigarh transport system wind tedious ways around to collect their passengers. They have found it necessary to break the rules and plough through most of the V4’s, because that is where they find their maximum customers. Except for the university and some of the high-density sectors, access to cheap public transport is negligible.

Chandigarh’s vast road network remains like an ode to the man of the mechanical civilization. To the common Indian man it must appear rather irrelevant, meaningless, and superfluous. For the small minority of car owners, provided they can afford the fuel, Chandigarh is a true paradise. But this imbalance in priorities has also been instrumental in accentuating visible social and economic inequalities.

The City Center

Sector 17 has been planned as the city center. The commercial center proper

covers an area of 130.09 acres and has buildings four storeys high grouped around a central chowk [cross roads]—essentially a traditional Indian feature. The chief amongst these will be the Town Hall, Post and Telegraph Offices, the Chamber of Commerce and a few banks. Of these, the Post and Telegraph office building will be 140 feet high and all of the rest four storeyed rising to a height of 56 feet. The shop office buildings will have exclusive shops or restaurants etc. on the ground and in some cases on the first floor with offices only on the upper three floors. Monsieur Le Corbusier maintains that no residential accommodation should be provided in this area as residences are closely followed by supplementary amenities such as green spaces, educational institutions etc. which take larger spaces. Besides, the commercial centre which would be a very busy area can hardly afford surroundings fit for living.7

The very essence of an Indian chowk or crossing is its function as a meeting place of various activities. The Sector 17 chowk is discernible as a chowk only in plans (Fig. 110). On the ground, the scale is so large and the width between meeting streets so great that one sees nothing but vast stretches of concrete paving with a few lone figures here and there. The small-scale street trader, the hawker or the rehris (barrows) have been banned from the city center, so that even where sources of interest and activity could be included, if only to reduce the concreted barrenness and austerity of the chowk, these are not utilized.

Figure 110
One of the ways leading into the chowk of the city center. Any sense of enclosure between the two façades is lost, because of the large distance between them. The block containing most of the banks to the left generates little interest on the street level. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

Banks, post offices, and the like are incapable of generating activity nodes (Fig. 111). As specialized activities, they are of little interest to anybody who does not have business to do there. Then, all banks close early, and shops and big showrooms close by 7:30 P.M. After that, the city center presents a barren, ghostly, and deserted appearance.

Figure 111
The covered walkway on the vehicular access side of the block of banks in the city center. Although a massive infrastructure for motorized vehicles exists, even parking provision for the bicycles is highly inadequate. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

One of the things missing terribly in planned Chandigarh is a nucleus, a place to go to when the work of the day has been finished. Immense possibilities exist of making Sector 17 a nucleus of various activities, but they remain unexplored in the fear of upsetting the original vision of the Master.

The Cultural Center and the Leisure Valley

Le Corbusier’s views on these are summed up as follows:

The Museum especially concerns mature manifestations; the leisure valley concerns the youth and must be the laboratory of future enrichment of the knowledge and talent of youth…. The Cultural Centre and the leisure valley have never to be academic. They are two ways of modern research or of manifestation of the permanent creation through the ages (folklore or outstanding creations).

The equipment of the leisure valley is devoted to the youth (boys and girls). The plays have no need of spectators, but at right times they could offer useful and necessary response or approbation. These spectators will be generally standing and not sitting. They will not necessarily be invited to attend; they could also simply be the walkers through the leisure valley. The tool (the building) does not need a ceiling; stars are enough. Some walls that are well disposed will give many possibilities of:

  • Plays

  • Music

  • Dance

  • Theatre

  • Addresses

  • Variety shows, etc.8

Till today, the leisure valley remains far removed from this dream. Armies of labor are leveling, digging, grassing, or planting its vast acres. The part developed so far contains a stadium used periodically and the much treasured rose garden. From the various points of entry to the garden, one is informed about all the things one should not do: “Do not make noise, do not touch the plants, no animals allowed, walk gently on the grass,” and so on. About all one can do in the rose garden is walk silently on its twisting paths and look at the roses. There is nothing wrong in having a vast, beautifully manicured rose garden in the city, but it has little to do with constructive and creative canalization of the energy of youth. The théâtre spontané, the enacting of live drama, the theater with the ceiling of the stars, remains an elusive idea, unlikely to materialize under present circumstances.

Planned Chandigarh is by no means an undesirable place to live in. The general cleanliness of the city, the pollution-free environment, and the tree-planted roads make it a unique city in India. But the essence of what Le Corbusier had in mind for the quality of life in the city—its function as an intellectual and cultural center with all the accompanying dissemination of creative thought and knowledge—remains a myth.

The nonplanned Chandigarh, on the other hand, is the so-called labor colonies, the squatter markets, the pavement traders, the vast concentrations of rehri-wallas (petty traders on barrows), and so on. It contains all the activities and classes of persons for whom there proved to be no comfortable room in the master plan. Disowned, frowned upon, and disliked by the administration responsible for implementing the meticulous details of the architecturally controlled, zoned, frame-controlled, and building-by-lawed Chandigarh, the persons and enterprises falling within nonplanned Chandigarh share one thing in common—the irrelevance of and the inability to pay for all the physical hardware mandatory in the master plan.

The labor colonies of Chandigarh are the slums of the city, where up to 7,000 families or 15 percent of the population live. Outside the framework of the 7V’s, there is not a single paved street in these areas (Fig. 112). After persistent agitations, demonstrations, and rallies, the inhabitants of the authorized labor colonies have managed to get a few water taps, communal lavatories, and a minimal amount of street lighting. Lacking entirely in drainage facilities, their environment is full of filth, muddy streets, and general insanitation. The maintenance of the communal lavatories is so poor, especially since they are not plugged into Chandigarh’s water-borne sewerage system, that a majority of the inhabitants prefer to use open land around. The women complain of the fear of being raped or manhandled there, particularly if the call of nature has to be answered late at night.

Figure 112
Communal water taps in the labor colony behind the University. Some University housing can be seen in the background, contrasting sharply with the standard of construction in the colony itself. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

Community and educational facilities are also of a minimal kind. In the four authorized labor colonies, the inhabitants have collectively contributed for minimal school buildings where now the government runs the schools. There are a few shops in each of them, also run by colony dwellers, for which the administration promptly auctioned rental leases, thereby extracting rather high rents in return for nothing. There are no green belts or community centers for les joies essentielles and, other than the occasional jaunt to the cinema, the only entertainment for these people was claimed to be the family planning films shown there by the government.

The totally unauthorized settlements do not even have absolutely minimal facilities like drinking water. There are no schools, no government dispensaries, no community centers, nothing. Yet, the majority of the workers from these settlements work in Chandigarh, providing essential services. They include construction labor, both skilled and unskilled, buffalo keepers selling milk, cycle-rickshaw pullers, tailors, gardeners, hawkers, petty shopkeepers, potters, industrial labor, cobblers, sweepers, and even many class IV government employees.

The houses in these settlements have been built by the people themselves (Fig. 113). Since three of the major colonies are more than fourteen years old, some houses are no longer kutcha (temporary) but pukka by now. Slowly, with time and a desire to improve their living environments, the people have invested their meager savings over the years in house building. Their efforts have been met only with threats of impending demolition. To prevent growth of these settlements, the administration has followed a policy of demolishing any new huts that are built. The result of a negative policy of demolition is both ineffective and harassing without simultaneously being complemented by the provision of planned housing within the economic reach of the people.

Figure 113
A husband and wife build themselves a house in an unauthorized settlement in Sector 32. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

The labor colony problem has not sprung up overnight, either. Vast numbers of building laborers were among the first migrants to the new city. Many of them are still rotting in the insecurity and stink of the labor colonies. As long ago as 1959, people living in scattered hutments over the city area were temporarily moved to the present sites on the outskirts of the city. Since then a whole generation of children has grown up in these areas, neglected, working at a very early age, and often uneducated, yet Chandigarh’s architects and planners are still scratching their heads to find an “architecturally” acceptable solution befitting the standards of the master plan. Also, because of their locations—behind the university compound wall, in the industrial area, or beyond the meticulously cared-for golf club of Chandigarh’s elite—a large section of the city’s population is not even aware of their existence. They were moved out of the rest of the developed city so that they should not mar its beauty. In the bargain, the labor colonies cannot even benefit from forces of interaction or general public concern.

The other components of nonplanned Chandigarh are closely related to the second function of urbanism of the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM): working. They include street peddlers, rehri-wallas, unauthorized markets, and small-scale manufacturing workshops. In the master plan, with all its careful detailing, no room at all was provided for open-air markets and street peddlers, which form such an integral part of Indian life. Because of the low initial capital investment required and low overheads, these occupations offer income opportunities to large sections of the Indian urban poor.

Rehris are a very common form of vending for petty traders in India. At the time of Chandigarh’s inception, it was rehri pullers and squatter shopkeepers who met the basic daily requirements of the early settlers. As the city grew, so did the number of rehris. The operation of natural market forces is such that there is mutual benefit in clustering together. Also, since rehris can sell their goods at cheaper rates, as well as provide door-to-door service, they are essential and extremely popular (Fig. 114). They could easily have been integrated into the growth of the city by providing minimum facilities like paving, water supply, and drainage at certain locations. Instead, they too have been considered a great nuisance. The threat to the city’s jealously guarded clean environment provoked an attempt to actually ban rehris in Chandigarh. Today, there are between 2,500 to 3,500 rehris operating in the city. The V4’s in almost all sectors have their share of a rehri market and the pukka shops and rehris seem to be complementing each other’s function (Fig. 115). No satisfactory solution for rehris has yet been found, however, and the administration continues to harass them.

Figure 114
A rehri-wallah selling vegetables in front of the door in Sector 18. Another example of private housing built under “frame control.” (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

Figure 115
V4 shops in Sector 18 with a complementing cluster of rehris and open-air stalls. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

The rather inadequate public transport of the city is supplemented mainly by private hired transport of cycle-rickshaws and scooter-rickshaws, both three-wheelers. Clusters of each type are found near specific road junctions, often on V3’s, which are ideal locations for collecting potential customers. Not only do they congregate at these points during the day time; they often also sleep there at night, because they cannot afford proper housing. To serve their needs, other services come in like cycle repairers, cobblers, tailors, barbers, and tobacconists. At intervals along the V3’s and V4’s, cycle repairers have lodged themselves under trees on the sidewalks to serve the thousands of cyclists. All these activities are considered highly undesirable because, in theory at least, the V3’s are fast traffic roads and any other activity on them constitutes a potential traffic hazard.

All Chandigarh’s land-use planning, based on the CIAM doctrine of separation of functions, considers single-use zones only. India has had a long tradition of multiuse of space, particularly with small-scale enterprises. One common Indian feature is the nucleus of small-scale manufacturing and commercial activities, often part of or close to residential areas where men, women, and children can all be seen participating in productive activity. Because of climate, only a negligible use is made of buildings, as semicovered or open space suffices for most purposes.

The master plan distinctly separated industrial and commercial zones. The only concession is the provision of a number of semi-industrial shops in sector shopping centers. These have proved to be highly inadequate in both numbers and terms of respecting the dynamics of specialized markets. Also, inevitably, any provision in the plan excludes access to those who either do not require or cannot afford the auctioned market price of these buildings and sites.

So, yet another form of nonplanned activity has spontaneously generated at the old location of Bajwara village that was acquired for the creation of the city. Here one can find a large number of blacksmiths, carpenters, rope dealers, cotton processors, quilt makers, and waste dealers trading in and manufacturing some essential and typically Indian items like quilts, charpoys, tin trunks, chappals, and so on, with raw material shops in the same location (Fig. 116). Several attempts have already been made to resettle these people in small booths dispersed all over the city; however, the accompanying dispersal of complementary activities and the loss of business has brought several persons back to Bajwara illegally. Finding no room for themselves in the master plan, many of these artisans, craftsmen, and traders have devised a solution within their economic reach and supply essential services to the citizens. They do not have much to thank the architects and planners for, because the latter have only displayed an obsessive desire to fit them into the layout of the master plan, irrespective of their needs and priorities.

Figure 116
A minimal structure suffices for a small furniture workshop in Bajwara. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin.)

From all this Chandigarh emerges as a city of dilemmas, of wide disparities in environmental conditions in its planned and nonplanned aspects and in the conflicts faced by Chandigarh administration in dealing with the situation. Although slums, squatting, and a general low standard of living are part of the total Indian picture of economic backwardness and poverty, in Chandigarh they have attained certain peculiar characteristics. In other cities, slums can be seen all over; in Chandigarh, a visitor to the city, even another citizen, can easily be deluded into believing that they have actually been eliminated, while they have only been hidden. Meanwhile other Indian cities like Delhi, Ahmedabad, Calcutta, and Madras have made genuine efforts on the basis of real experiments in devising viable solutions for the urban poor, even if it means only giving the slum dweller the right to live unharassed in his kutcha shack, in the absence of anything more positive to offer. Chandigarh has not been willing to give even that much.

It is possible to understand some of Chandigarh’s special problems by examining the role of Le Corbusier in the enterprise, the significance of Chandigarh for him and the impact of his personality and fame on the direction the city is taking today.

In spite of his well-known theories on urbanism, a tremendous amount of writing on the subject, and the production of several schemes for cities all over the world, Chandigarh was the only real opportunity Le Corbusier received to put them into practice. The fact that this opportunity came late in his life only increased its value for him. His feelings and thoughts about it are best expressed in his own words at the time when he was first approached to participate in the venture. In a letter addressed to an official of the Indian Embassy in Paris, he wrote in November 1950:

  1. I consider myself the only person at the moment, prepared by forty years of experience and study on this theme, capable of usefully helping your Government. I greatly insist on this fact given without modesty.

  2. In my participation in this project, I place the pursuit/desire of my career through a work of harmony, of wisdom, of humanity in precise opposition to the chaos generally manifest in urbanism which is only the expression of the chaos reigning in the minds of people on this subject.
    The raison d’être of my life is expressed by one word: HARMONY, and this resembles beauty “first above all,” order, serenity, effectiveness, economy: in one word wisdom. This wisdom is, alas, a fruit slow in reaching maturity; it is positive if the heart remains young, failing which, it is only a brake.9

The Indian Government intended to use Chandigarh as a training ground for Indian architects and planners. With this aim in mind, only four foreigners were employed as senior members of the team: Le Corbusier, Jane Drew, Maxwell Fry, and Pierre Jeanneret. All the rest of the staff consisted of young Indians. The role of a guide or a teacher was much to Le Corbusier’s liking:

The Indian youth must take a fundamental part in the enterprise, it is they who will be realizing it in the course of the years; but I shall have been able to provide them with a useful springboard to jump from.

The young Hindus whom you will gather together from various universities of the old or the new continent need a doctrinal point of view from the outset; in a way they need a friendly shepherd: they are young, consequently they have to grow, to be nourished, to be given strength, to find their direction. You can arouse enthusiasm in them; everything lies there. If you do not succeed in this, your enterprise is lost.10

Le Corbusier saw himself not only as the berger amical of the young Indians but also as the spiritual director of the whole enterprise, including the two English architects recruited by the government. In another document found in the archives of the Fondation Le Corbusier, thinking about the organizational structure of the team, he wrote:

I have qualified this theoretical conception and in practice I have proposed:

  1. To assume spiritual and technical direction of the enterprise so as to give it unity.

  2. I shall nominate two architects of our spirit, capable and devoted and sufficiently experienced, who would fulfill the functions outlined below.

  3. Three Hindu architects would be permanently attached to our atelier on the Rue de Sèvres to carry out in turn studies as the work proceeds, in order to give them an education of university type which remains in full contact with the Hindu civilization.11

Again, under the subheading “organization,” he wrote:

The role of M. Le Corbusier will be that of coordinator and consultant…. This contract will be bound to that of the two foreign architects who will be under the control of M. Le Corbusier. He will give them orders of a technical and aesthetic nature.12

The extent to which Le Corbusier had seen himself as the spiritual director of the whole enterprise is best illustrated by the diagram that was attached to the document quoted from (Fig. 117). He saw himself as the SOLE supplier of ideas for a city of 500,000 inhabitants.

Figure 117
Le Corbusier’s diagram depicting his role in the team at Chandigarh. (Courtesy of Archives Fondation Le Corbusier, ref. AW 21-Nov. 50.)

The reception the Indians gave Le Corbusier was perhaps the best that he ever received. In the postpartition and Independence chaos, his optimism and clarity of purpose were just what the Punjab Government really needed. Besides, in India foreigners have often found a sympathetic and accommodating reception, and the whole team of foreigners benefited from this. The only person who challenged Le Corbusier’s desire to totally control the enterprise was Maxwell Fry. Amazed by the extent to which Le Corbusier had assumed responsibility for every detailed aspect of design, whether the layout of the sector, the network of roads, the village of 750 inhabitants, or the Capitol complex, as evident from the details he sent back from Paris after his first visit to India, Maxwell Fry protested on the basis of the spirit of teamship upheld by members of CIAM. In a letter dated 11 May 1951, he wrote to Le Corbusier:

Both Jeanneret and I were shocked by the extent to which in your letter of 25 April you had assumed the direction and responsibility for the whole affair, and when I have got over saying all these hard things, which it is necessary for me to say if we are to continue together, I would like to discuss the basis of a collaboration which will satisfy us and fit in with the terms of our engagement….

There is no reason why a group of buildings should not be designed by a group of CIAM architects, but I am opposed to the idea of designing individual buildings in a group or of merely carrying out your designs.13

Le Corbusier received Maxwell Fry’s letter in Bogota, where his proposals for the city had just been accepted without any modifications. He replied to Fry after a fortnight when back in Paris. In his letter of 13 June 1951, he wrote:

It was in this atmosphere [of success in Bogota] that your letter arrived and caused me dismay, made me feel bad and even made me indignant. From the way I was reading this letter in the Mayor’s office, the people present asked me what had happened, I replied to them: “Bad news from Chandigarh.”

I let some days pass; then I spoke openly about it with Sert, the President of CIAM. Finally, the hard experience of life that I have acquired after forty years of struggle restored my optimism and I understood that you were not responsible for this letter because I consider you as the most loyal of companions.14

After elaborating on the immensity of the task ahead and the diversity of needs of 150,000 clients to be catered for, he suggested:

Already we have left one or two sectors to Mayer. I propose that you choose from the public buildings those that you would like to execute, that is to invent from A to Z, to create from nothing. Do exactly as you please. This said, I remind you once more of the special contract which binds me to the Punjab Government. This contract is not at all in the sense expressed most impolitely in your letter of 11 May in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs.

… You may depend upon it that I have no intention of changing anything in the very agreeable method of working that we had adopted in March and April in India and we are such good friends, diverse and diversified, and we have before us a task which will be assailed so violently by adverse forces that we will learn to appreciate how good and sweet it is to work among friends.15

Even before Le Corbusier had written this letter, however, the matter had been discussed in a meeting held in Simla by the Chief Administrator of the Capital Project, Prem Thapar, Maxwell Fry, and Pierre Jeanneret. Perhaps to avoid disaster, Le Corbusier accepted their proposals. They agreed that the overall plan of the city, the general control of the architectural character of all sectors including landscaping, and the general layout of the city center would be the joint responsibility of all the architects. Le Corbusier was given complete personal responsibility for the whole complex of administrative buildings to which he then gave his whole-hearted attention. A major part of the real spadework essential for the layout of individual sectors and buildings in them, including the thirteen categories of housing, was made the responsibility of the senior architects: Maxwell Fry, Pierre Jeanneret, and later Jane Drew.

Jane Drew’s efforts generated a fourteenth and the cheapest category of house in the project program, for the poorest section of the population. Because of this, much credit has since been claimed by the architects for having given the same attention to designing a dwelling for the poorest man as to that of the Chief Minister’s house. Unfortunately, only eight hundred cheap houses were built in the early years, and since then no more have been added.

That Le Corbusier had the master plan in almost final form in less than a month is evidence of how much he relied on his doctrinal principles of urbanism, evolved from the early 1920s. But he displayed a tremendous flexibility of mind in accepting a low-density horizontal city, after all his advocacy of the vertical ville verte. He was quick to realize and to accept that his cherished unités would be both misplaced and irrelevant in the context of Chandigarh. The cost of land at that time was a fraction (1/90) of the cost of construction, and an indigenous life style molded by local climate necessitated access to outdoor space for living, working, and sleeping. A note dated July 1951 in one of his sketchbooks reads: “La plus petite entité c’est le verandah et le lit sous les étoiles.”16 A statement a Punjabi will support any day.

After the departure of Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry at the end of their three-year contract, Pierre Jeanneret was made the Chief Architect and Town Planner of Chandigarh. Again, because he was a foreigner, a majority of the proposals sent through him were sanctioned by the government. During his time, even the Indian architects got used to getting away with extravagant proposals on the basis of their architectural merits. The image of the architect as the original designer, each different from the other, was reinforced. Although the architects department itself was responsible for the imposition of stringent rules and controls for anybody desiring to build in the city, this very department became responsible for the major infringements. The architect’s role became associated with that of the eccentric, only preoccupied with design considerations, who could waive other equally important matters aside with arrogance. Many complex problems of urban growth were ignored because they interfered with formal and visual matters. Indirectly, this resulted in forcing large numbers of people outside the planned physical boundaries of the city.

The real crisis in leadership and discipline in Chandigarh came after the departure of both Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. First, Chandigarh architects and planners suddenly lost easy access to higher authority, including the Prime Minister, and second, with the berger amical suddenly gone, they were unprepared to take leadership. Accepting orders from foreigners was far easier than from other Indians. The departure of the foreigners was followed by much internal competition and lack of cooperation, to the general frustration of everybody concerned. The maximum that the Indians working on the Chandigarh project seem to have got out of the experience is a conspicuous design consciousness, which, unfortunately, remains irrelevant for the problems of the masses.

Le Corbusier had tried at various times to inform the Indians of his urbanistic doctrines by trying to make them read his books. His sketchbooks contain several indications of a sense of frustration because copies of books he brought personally to the Chandigarh office were not even to be found anywhere, to say nothing of being read and assimilated religiously. Les Trois Etablissements humains reached the stage of being translated into English for an Indian edition, but it was never published. Le Corbusier’s writing on urbanism is confusing enough for anybody, but only half read and superficially implemented, it can create several distortions in any development. Within the framework of “The Three Human Establishments,” Chandigarh was defined as the “radial-concentric city of exchanges.” On this basis, a Periphery Control Act, forbidding any development within a radius often miles around the planned sectors, was created:

  1. Chandigarh is an administrative city and in consequence is a “Radial-Concentric” city. It has never to be an industrial city.

  2. The city of Chandigarh is protected by a Periphery Control Act. (No construction in this periphery.)17

In the absence of a regional jurisdiction of this Act, the insistent application of this doctrine in the case of Chandigarh has had two grossly distorting effects. First, soon after the political reorganization of Punjab in 1966, a new township was created well within the original periphery control area (Fig. 118). Second, within the area presently under the jurisdiction of Chandigarh Administration, the Act has been implemented in its negative sense alone. The basis of the Act lay in preventing unplanned development in the immediate vicinity of the city to retain a clear urban/rural dichotomy and to prevent the growth of suburbs, which Le Corbusier saw as an urban malaise. During an early conference he had stated: “To build on open ground, of easy topography, filled with natural beauty, Chandigarh, thanks to its urban and architectural layout, will be sheltered from base speculation and its disastrous corollaries: the suburbs. No suburb is possible at Chandigarh.”18

Figure 118
The lighter area represents the limits of the original periphery control zone. The darker patch in the center is the present area left under the control of the Chandigarh Administration. (Photograph by Madhu Sarin. Courtesy of Chandigarh Administration.)

The growth of suburbs cannot be prevented by a mere Act of State Legislature, however, particularly when uncomplemented by sufficient development of land and buildings within the planned area of the city. The growth, the changes in occupational structure, and the male-female ratios of surrounding villages indicate that these function as Chandigarh’s unofficial suburbs. The labor colonies and other unauthorized settlements are also a direct consequence of this situation.

Urban land policy is central to many urban problems. Rise in land values is a universal result of urban development, and speculation has long been recognized as a major hurdle to planned development. In older cities, the complexity of the problem is magnified by established interests and the owners of land. In the development of a new city, a tremendous opportunity is available for the elimination of several future problems.

In Chandigarh, residential land was initially sold freehold on the basis of development costs by allotment. The cost per square yard was worked out to be a minimum of Rs 4/- for bigger plots to a maximum of Rs 12/- for the smallest plot. After 1960, the administration started auctioning residential plots. Today, the small plot fetches an average of Rs 181/- per square yard in open auction, showing a fifteenfold increase in value! At the same time, the release of plots for sale has been restricted further and further, in spite of the phenomenal growth of the city. The result of this attempt to make the city self-financing has been that the administration has taken over the role of a speculator, in the most privileged position of complete monopoly over the land market.

The government provides housing for its employees at a rent fixed at 10 percent of income. In a majority of cases, this falls far below economic rent. In the last several years, the negligible amount of housing built by the government has forced a large number of government employees to seek rented accommodations in the private market. Because private rents are much higher, a further 12½ percent of income is given as a subsidy. This, in turn, has pushed private rents still higher. Altogether, a nongovernment employee or worker with no access to employer’s housing or rent subsidy is pushed into an impossible situation, facing two equally undesirable choices—to rent highly inadequate and expensive accommodation, which has resulted in eight to ten families living in a small unit intended for two families, or to squat in an unauthorized settlement and become a violator of the law.

Artificially inflated land values and rents are making adequate housing difficult even for the financially privileged. The government itself, having built approximately ten thousand units, has a waiting list of an equal number, some applications pending since 1957! ironically, the government is following a policy of allotting two households per unit for the smallest four categories of its houses, including the smallest house type 13, consisting of two tiny rooms, a nook of a kitchen, and a small verandah.

Absurd, indeed, seems the architects’ preoccupation with the beauty, aesthetics, or architectural design of the house, for, no matter how well designed a house may be, the sheer stuffing of space with objects and human bodies reduces the design aspect to simple mockery. Remote remains the goal, stated at the beginning of this article, of “Chandigarh—a city offering all amenities to the poorest of the poor of its citizens to lead a dignified life.” Dignity seems incompatible with overcrowding and lack of privacy, or simply lack of access to adequate living space.

There is a direct link between the land policy in Chandigarh and Le Corbusier’s ideas on the ability of cities to make money. In The Radiant City, to the question, “Where is the money to come from?”, Le Corbusier replied:

City planning is a way of MAKING money.
City planning is not a way of spending money.
City planning brings in a profit.
City planning is not a waste of money.19

In the specific context of Chandigarh, as early as March 1953, Le Corbusier said:

The Authority has the power to give orders, to organize, to value property, and to carry out an effective operation.

For six months, land-purchasing demands have been innumerable at Chandigarh. The Authority is no longer losing money. It is making money, it is selling at a high price. It has created a model city of modern times.20

For commercial areas, there may be some logic in publicly auctioning sites, because commerce is essentially a competitive activity and the returns from investment in land and buildings can be very high. But auctioning residential sites in a situation of artificial scarcity creates so many distortions that it can undermine the basic objective of creating a desirable living environment for all citizens. Even in the handling of commercial areas, great care is needed in supplying suitable accommodation within the means of the people. In Chandigarh a great part of the commercial activity on the city scale was visualized in terms of large showrooms and businesses. The needs of the smallscale business man, more representative of the norm in India, seem to have been grossly overlooked.

Recently, when a large unauthorized market, which had slowly grown to almost 450 small shops and repairers, was removed from a V2 commercial reservation in Sector 22, the secretary of the Shastri Market Shopkeepers Union had put a pertinent question to the administration: Were 450 small shopkeepers being evicted from the commercial reservation simply because the master plan visualized a few large showrooms there? How did this comply with the socialistic pattern of society to which India is committed? He has received no reply.

Le Corbusier has written:

One phrase must be affirmed:
Good urbanism makes money,
bad urbanism loses money.
The problem is also to be vigilant: one must sell a true merchandise: nothing must be allowed to provoke circumstances which will bring loss to every single inhabitant.
One has the Statute of the land. It is like a seed. What can be grown from the seed? It is in the hands of the administrators.21

Despite all the present problems and distortions, a good seed has indeed been sown at Chandigarh, but whether a true merchandise is being sold is doubtful. A clearly defined framework for growth already exists. But it is as if Chandigarh is left with a commitment to build, to the point of minute details, for the hypothetical population that was originally visualized. Twenty-three years of existence have demonstrated glaring disparities between the dream and the reality of present Indian conditions. A city, no matter how magnificent its buildings or roads, is ultimately made by its citizens. Till now, acceptable physical forms have received greater consideration than the people themselves.

Chandigarh has made no effort to build a community. It has not even attempted to inform its citizens of what has been planned for them. Perhaps the most conspicuous lesson staring architects in the face is that people need living space before anything else. Within present Indian conditions of poverty, a pukka architecturally designed house will remain irrelevant and beyond the reach of many urban households during their lifetimes. But, sheer physical space for living and working, without constant harassment and insecurity, is a basic minimum need of every human being.

This problem of access has been grossly neglected in Chandigarh. It was never a great problem to build for the rich, for people who have money. The problem of the poor man has received only superficial consideration. As things stand today, Chandigarh is suffering from the burden of implementing the master plan. Since the Master himself is no longer around, interpretations have to be made at every juncture of what he would have done in a specific situation. Because of the many intangible aspects of Le Corbusier’s writing, only the most tangible parts of the total doctrine are implemented. Since he left detailed designs for many buildings and commercial reservations, only these are followed—the safest and the easiest course available.

Le Corbusier seems to have trained his team marvelously for implementing his words and designs, but he seems to have left them incapable of stepping outside the shadow of his powerful personality.

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