Chandigarh is the only city in India that had been built ab initio, as a modern capital city. Combining the vision of India’s first prime minister and the genius of French architect Le Corbusier. It is modeled on the human body with government buildings in place of the head, a market in place of the heart, green gardens in place of lungs and industrial areas as limbs with roads crisscrossing like arteries and veins.
It is a city where every road goes straight and the only angles you can turn it at is 90 degrees or a multiple of it. The city is divided into rectangular sectors that in turn are divided into 4 equal parts, and each of the sectors is self-sufficient with its own market and school. Come to think of it, it may represent a congregation of independent units co-existing in perfect harmony.
Le Corbusier Center – Chandigarh City
The building that he used as his office has now been converted into a heritage center. Dedicated to him and his creation – Chandigarh. I was told that a few years back the city administration went on a hunt to collect all possible heritage documents and furniture for this center. Le Corbusier center is now the nerve center for the heritage of the city and its designer. It documents his life and time and in the process of creation of the city. Incidentally, a painting here depicts how the city actually resembles the ancient Indus Valley Civilization cities that also had a grid-based design. The excavations from the time of the building of the city have confirmed that this area was very much a part of Indus Valley Civilization.
So in a way, while Le Corbusier designed a very modern city. He was also emulating the ancient city that might have existed here on this very land. Some of the excavated artifacts from the city can be seen at the city museum.
It is a typical city building in grey color. The walls of the corridor now adorn the pictures of the architect of the modern city along with his quotes on architecture. Somewhere telling you what he was thinking when he was designing the city. His conference room where he met Nehru has been preserved as such. It has the same wood and leather chairs that he used with a large wooden table in the center. Walls now have paintings and sketches of the city – both new and old adorning the walls. A Nawar cot and wooden desks used by the architect are also a part of this room. Along with a huge master plan of the city.
When I saw the wooden chairs there, I was reminded of my chair in the hostel at Panjab University. The tourism officer accompanying me confirmed that the furniture has been procured from there. Then I saw a chair from the Physics department, probably a chair I sat on sometimes. And never realized it is going to be a part of the city heritage. Later when I took a quick round of the University library, I realized that all wooden chairs there had been replaced by the ghastly plastic chairs. And I had mixed emotions – one part felt happy that I used the heritage furniture, the other feeling sorry for the current furniture.
Pictures & Maps at the Center
In pictures across the Center, you see Corbusier in many moods, engrossed in work, posing with his models, taking a ride in the lake and meeting the dignitaries. I was not aware that the city’s manhole covers carry a map of the city. This was new learning for me. The same map can be seen in many places in the center including its souvenir shop. You need a lot of time to read through the various letters displayed here. More than what the letters said, I was intrigued by the handwriting of these men who defined their times. A collection of cartoons about the city and its architecture make amusing reading.
Architectural designs and depictions of the extended hand in various forms indicate the passion and pride the people of the city have for it. As someone who grew up in the city, I know each person is proud of this city that has many unique features. But on top being the cleanest and greenest city in India.
Incidentally, it seems more French visitors visit this place than Indians or even people from the city. I think a guide who can talk about the history, heritage, and architecture of the city and its architect would make a difference to the visitor experience. I have not seen anything like this in any other city in India that documents its history so well. Ok- I am biased.
Recommend you to read the following Places to visit in Chandigarh and nearby.