One must admit that no other city in India would pull architects as does Chandigarh. Chandigarh the “The City Beautiful”, indeed a beautiful city, with beautiful architecture, jolly go people and such good looking girls!!! Chandigarh is probably the most talked about cities. I still remember the excitement I felt when I first decided to visit this city by Le Corbusier; and well Le Corbusier was like a hero for me at that time (and to an extend today also). During the first visit as a student, sitting in the train I was sad about just one thing, that I don’t have a camera, and oh yes, while coming back I was equally glad that I didn’t had one; years later my second visit with a camera proved me right that an architect should never travel with a camera.
The name Chandigarh brings in the image of the open hand…..open to receive…. open to give…… an amazing piece of art. One could sit in hours watching the hand rotate to the wind. It seems as if the High Court on one side and the Assembly hall on the other side, and the secretariat at the back, stands in appreciation of the open hand, which reflects the sublime message of the democratic world that all the three pillars are for the people……..if only people are let in? The capitol complex as it is known is an amazing piece of art and architecture, but a bad example of urban design. The place which is supposed to be the center of attraction for the visitors and the Chandigarh walas is deprived to its own citizens due to its cantonment like environment. There are more policemen than there are civilian visitors. Yes! Security is a concern, but keeping more and more of the troops can in no way increase the security of a place.…..this reminds me of the comment by Australian Architect Lawrence Nield, who said that “…the concept was great, with the kind of spaciousness that’s incorporated. But then the poor man is nothing more than an intruder here. The construction of a cricket stadium at this site would probably have lent the complex more life and charm”…. It may sound like a joke, but visiting this place makes it as the only viable idea!, there is enough space and may be cricket is the only thing that can attract Indians to any place in the world…and may be it could do the wonder that Le Corbusier’s murals and embossments were not able to do. The vast open space may look good in photographs, but it is horrible to have huge open areas in a place where sun is overly stooped in. There are trees only at the boundary of the complex and the rest is an open land for the sun to play its game…. May be it would have been amazing if build something like this in some European country with much cooler climate, but the Corbusier who devised ‘Bruise Soleil’ and the ‘Parasol Roof’ for India, completely ignored the open areas, or may be purposefully left it so as to give a better visual dominance to his buildings. What ever be the fate of the city, but the buildings are amazing, it still has the charm as it had when I first saw them in books, probably the charm of his architecture hides the flaws in the city….
Corbusier’s architecture is seen at capitol complex and then at the museum complex. The museum complex is at much smaller scale than that of the other one. Architecture of the museum complex is amazing, just that it over-powers the exhibits there, and amazingly the main museum is almost similar to the one at Ahmadabad. The kind of lighting inside is too good, and the best part is that it merges so well with the artificial light; it’s not easy to distinguish between the two. Museum is filled in with art works and that makes the complex come to life, but the lack of hangout space makes this also less visited by the people. Other than architecture there are two things that amazed me the most, first the city museum which tells everything about the evolution of the city to its current situation, and other one is the natural science museum. Science museum amazed me because almost every museum I visited had a board ‘please don’t touch’, but here I have seen boards saying ‘Please touch and feel the fossils’…. Indeed amazing!!!
More than Corbusier’s architecture, there is one thing that attracts the outsiders and the insiders alike, is the rock garden. An awesome garden…. Suddenly one man’s scrap business seems much better than 60 years of modern blah blah…..And above all there is the Sukhna Lake, may be the only thing that works as per the desires of its creator. Evenings it’s crowded with people and this is when one feels that there actually exists a crowd in Chandigarh too….
The city as it is has no charm other than the architecture of Le Corbusier and others and the visitor places like the lake and many gardens. Buildings in general look very boring, the hotel looks like an office building and a school looks like both of them…. All the buildings are similar, rather than uniting the city, it makes the seemingly logical plan very confusing, one cannot go by keeping some landmark, and everything looks the same.
Sector 17, which is the commercial sector, is almost deserted during day time. Commercial centers are to be the most vibrant of the areas, but it’s all dull down with exposed concrete and brick.
Though at night the darkness subdues the architecture and the colorful lights highlight the fountains…. Its life for the youth at night….. pubs, bars and shops…..only thing you need is a heavy pocket….truly as emphasis was by Khushwant Singh by saying that the tagline should change form “The City Beautiful” to “The City of Joy”.
Though one can find so many flaws and the city is subjected to so much of criticism, but still, Le Corbusier’s city has let India project itself on the global map as a modern country, the way Nehru dreamt about. It is one of the largest urban complexes of the post-war era, and the most successful experiment of the twentieth century….. at least it has let many think in a different way…. And many of us still feel visiting Chandigarh as a pilgrimage…..what more can a city expect….