Le Corbusier’s Indian Dream

I will, to this day, have no idea why people ever embraced the modernist school of architecture, let alone design cities around it. A large factor however, was the solve the problem of crowded cities.

If one has ever visited India, they’ve seen how much of a chaotic and crowded mess most Indian cities are. Perhaps that is why the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru appointed Le Corbusier for the construction of a new modernist city in the northern part of the country. Le Corbusier was and is known for grandiose yet simplistic structures without ornamentation but provided vast airy spaces filled with shapes and color.

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Aerial of Chandigarh

“Corbu” dreamed of a “city of trees…of flowers and water” all tied together with unfinished raw concrete facades.

Chandigarh today serves a unique legislative role, being the capitol city of two states (Haryana and Punjab) as well as being a special administrative region. Therefore the city does not belong any state. Most of the residents are North Indian and speak Hindi mostly, though the region does have a strong Punjabi influence. Being the capitol of two states simultaneously, the government is a big employer.

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The main plaza of Chandigarh

In my opinion, most modernist made-from-scratch cities look pretty cool from above but on street level they are not personable at all. It sort of resembles something from the Soviet Bloc, which isn’t too far of a stretch considering India’s close relations with the Soviet Union, then Russia. Such is common of modernist planned cities such as Niemeyer’s Brasilia.

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Many streets lack sidewalks

I’m not sure how I feel about Chandigarh or the strange legislative set up. I’m not sure if a city that relies so heavily on auto transport should have been built in India, where most cannot afford a car and public transport is readily available. But that may have been the point – a no nonsense city built for middle class mostly bureaucrats. Consequently, the city has the highest rate of car ownership of any city in the Union. It is relatively clean and not congested unlike many cities of the regions. It lacks, however, the vibrant Indian street life consisting of hawkers, vendors, etc.

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One of the prominent legislative halls.

In the end, I’ll always detest modernist planned cities, and always prefer more organic human scale habitations, built by capitalism. Cities like Brasilila, Chandigarh, Astana and other drab planned cities will never leave strong emotional impressions on its visitors. Cities are people. The best cities are and always will be those that best foster human connections.

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One thought on “Le Corbusier’s Indian Dream

  1. Pingback: Nightcap | Notes On Liberty

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