#Archifocus: Le Corbusier buildings in India
In 1947, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was grasping for large projects to populate the recently independent country. With Lahore, the capital of Punjab, lost to Pakistan, Nehru looked for the rapid development of large projects that would reflect “the nation’s faith in the future”. His dream city, and one of the earliest planned cities of post-independence India, would come to be the country’s most well-known territories, championed for its architecture: Chandigarh.
Resting at the foothills of the Himalayas and bordered by the state of Punjab to the north, west and south, and Haryana to the east, the union territory of India, Chandigarh, was master planned by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, who transformed earlier plans produced by Polish architect Maciej Nowicki and American planner Albert Mayer. Though the new master plan included details from the original draft, Le Corbusier went on to design many administration buildings, the general layout of the city, and its ‘Open Hand’ sculpture, among other elements.
Upon visiting his new project in 1952, it’s reported that Nehru described it as a “new town, symbolic of the freedom of India, unfettered by the traditions of the past.” The city was considered a fresh start for the country, where secularism and democracy would thrive.
And though today, the buildings have been worn down by time and weather, reports that question Le Corbusier’s actual involvement (citing his team of Indian architects as responsible for the work) have been released, and the city is now over-populated, Chandigarh remains a monumental architectural feat. In 2015, BBC named Chandigarh as one of the perfect cities of the world in terms of architecture, cultural growth and mondernisation, and in 2016, UNESCO labelled it a World Heritage site.
Following the construction of Chandigarh, Le Corbusier would go on to design two modernist villas in India’s western city of Ahmedabad between 1951 and 1956. Today, both villas continue to symbolise Le Corbusier’s domestic architecture and his innate ability to respond to the region’s climatic conditions – namely, strong sun and wind.
And, in light of recent photographs by Edmund Sumner that illustrate the decrepit beauty of Chandigarh’s modernist Neelam Theatre, designMENA continues its #archifocus series with Le Corbusier in India.
Projects of Note in Chandigarh
Designed by Aditya Prakash, one of six Indian architects assigned to Le Corbusier’s team in the late 1940s, the Neelam Theatre is one of three cinemas built as part of Chandigarh. Located in Sector 17 (the whole of the city is spread across 56 sectors), the theatre maintains its brick shell and bulging curve above the entrance way. The interior architecture is driven by the science of acoustics, which also stands as the purpose for the large concrete contour and sweeping auditorium ceiling.
Images of the Neelam Theatre are courtesy of Edmund Sumner.
Consisting of three concrete buildings, including the Palace of Assembly, the Secretariat and the High Court, the Capitol Complex formed the city’s administrative centre and is symbolic of the architect’s work in the country. In collaboration with his cousin and fellow architect Pierre Jeanerret, Le Corbusier built and finished the complex as a complete work; he famously saw it like a human body, with these buildings functioning as its ‘head’.
The Secretariat is the largest of the complex’s structures and hosts both the Punjab and Haryana government headquarters. The Palace of Assembly, conversely, was designed to have an open-plan interior, framed by a grid of concrete columns. A view of the surrounding Himalayan Mountains is on offer from the inside.
Photos courtesy of Benjamin Hosking.
Villa de Madame Manorama Sarabhai
Built in 1951, the Villa Sarabhai stands as a great example of tropical modernism. Located in Ahmedabad, it’s situated according to the prevailing winds of the region. Its facades, too, are furnished with brise-soleil, while the structure consists of brick, rough concrete and white coating, and Catalonion vaults involving cradle-vaults of flat tiles set in plaster. Its roof is perhaps the most notable architectural accomplishment as the half-cylinders of the vaults were covered with earth, allowing the rooftop to serve as a garden.
Photos courtesy of Fondation Le Corbusier.
Originally the residence of the secretary of Millowners, the commission was awarded to Le Corbusier in 1951. Also located in Ahmedabad, the home was then sold to a man whose surname was Shodhan once the design and construction plans were completed. As story has it, Shodhan owned another plot nearby and wanted to start construction immediately and since Le Corbusier’s projects in India were always given to Indian buyers as priori, he was able to assume the design. The facades boast raw concrete, which shows the imprint of the wooden formwork, while a smooth finish appears only under the roof parasol and on the interior ceilings. The villa’s standout feature is the ramp that leads to the mezzanine floor from the main level, while the above accommodation spaces are evocative of hanging gardens.
Photos courtesy of Fondation Le Corbusier.