Chandigarh: In Search of an Identity

Chandigarh: In Search of an Identity

Chandigarh: In Search of an Identity

Chandigarh: In Search of an Identity


In 1949 the Indian government created a clean slate on which to plan, design, and build a totally new city to serve as the seat of the Punjab government and to replace the ancient, traditional city of Lahore, which had been lost to Pakistan.

That city was Chandigarh, the most visible planned city in India and the present capital of Punjab and Haryana. Kalia provides a history of the planning and development of Chandigarh, focusing on the major figures involved- Nehru, Albert Mayer, Charles Edouard Jeanneret (popularly known as Le Corbusier), and the husband-and-wife team of Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Beverly Drew. Kalia unravels the fascinating combination of practical politics, personal ambitions (of both politicians and planners), and the high ideals of Nehru and Le Corbusier.

Hopes ran high for this planned city, but from the beginning the emphasis was too much on designing buildings, ignoring traditional, economic, and social issues. Finally Chandigarh "turned out to be a designed city, not a planned one." Tradition and social tension have flown in the face of the master plan.


The development of Chandigarh represents a fascinating study of practical politics, personal ambitions of politicians and planners, and the high ideals of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the planner Le Corbusier. The new capital city of Punjab also represents India's pride and best urban hopes for the future. Chandigarh was to serve as a training school for Indian planners, who could then duplicate their experience in other cities to improve communication systems, raise economic standards, and permit light and air to penetrate tightly knit unauthorized neighborhoods. It was to rehabilitate refugees and the displaced Punjab government, to restore the dignity of the Indian Punjabi damaged by partition and the loss of Lahore. It was also hoped that Chandigarh would bring law and order to a state torn by communal frenzy, promote economic activities in the region, and improve the lot of those who had suffered losses during the partition of the subcontinent. But above everything else it was to serve as a symbol of India's break with the past.

The speed with which the decision was made to build Chandigarh and with which technical help was acquired from the West demonstrates the failure of the newly independent state to meet its technological needs and its continued dependence on Western know-how for modernization. India, which inherited from the British a large and sophisticated bureaucracy but no technical tradition, was forced to look to the West for the construction of the city. The American Albert Mayer provided the initial master plan for Chandigarh, which was finally put in place, with modifications, by the Swiss-born French architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, popularly known as Le Corbusier, his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, and the English husband-and- wife team of Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Beverly Drew.

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