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Chandigarh & Zirakpur – A Blueprint for a modern India?

Updated on September 26, 2015
The Open Hand Monument, Chandigarh
The Open Hand Monument, Chandigarh | Source

The foundations for a modern India

Although it is the rapid economic growth seen in India over the past ten years or so that is what people tend to think about when you mention the modernization of India, the foundations for the modernization of India were laid down in cities like Chandigarh and Zirakpur as long ago as the 1950’s. Chandigarh’s wide boulevards, straight roads and large, open spaces, where the brainchild of the renowned architectural pioneer, Le Corbusier, who prepared the master plan for the city and designed several of its iconic buildings.

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Le Corbusier in 1933
Le Corbusier in 1933 | Source

The Open Hand

The Open Hand sculpture in Chandigarh, shown in the first image in this article, is the largest of many similar sculptures designed by Le Corbusier. The Open Hand is a recurring image in the work of Le Corbusier and he designed it as a sign of peace and reconciliation; it is a hand that is open to both giving and receiving.

Who was Le Corbusier, the architect of Chandigarh?

The man who designed the city of Chandigarh was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, who was better known just as Le Corbusier. He was a Swiss-French architect whose career spanned five decades during which time he designed buildings throughout Europe, America and India.

In the 1930’s Le Corbusier published a book called “The Radiant City” in which he explained his ideas on Urbanism and his vision that contemporary cities would be designed around housing that was based on family size, rather than on the economic resources of the family. The obvious political agenda aside, this publication also laid out his plans for clean, calm and well organised living spaces that would provide better living conditions for people living in cramped and overcrowded cities. He was, in fact, an early pioneer of what would now call modern architecture.

Following the end of the Second World War, Le Corbusier tried to turn his plans into a reality in a number of buildings he designed in France, which were based on the “Unite”, the housing units he had described in “Radiant City”. In the 1950’s, though, he was handed the opportunity of realising his dream on a much larger scale, with the development of a new capital city for the Haryana and Punjab states of India; Chandigarh.

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Building a modern Chandigarh

Chandigarh Assembly building (1955),
Chandigarh Assembly building (1955), | Source
show route and directions
A markerZirakpur -
Zirakpur, Punjab, India
get directions

B markerChandigarh -
Chandigarh, Chandigarh, India
get directions

Known as “The City Beautiful” Chandigarh was the first ever planned city in India and it is well regarded internationally for its urban design and architecture. Up until the partition of India, in 1947, Lahore had been the capital city of an undivided Punjab. When Lahore became part of Pakistan, India was left with no capital city in its Punjab region. This, plus a migration of people from Pakistan to this region of India, created the need for a new city in the foothills of the Shivalik mountain range. The area decided upon for the site of the new city originally consisted of around fifty small farming villages and little else, but it was deemed that the area had sufficient natural resources and was militarily well positioned, to become a new capital city.

The first master plan for Chandigarh, was drawn up by an American team consisting of four architects; Whittleslay, Mayor, Glass & Nowicki but all work on the plan was stopped when one of the team died and the others did not want to continue with the project.

In 1951, Le Corbusier was appointed to take charge of the Chandigarh project and, working with a team under him, he began to turn his plans for “The Radiant City” into a reality.

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Rose Garden, Chandigarh
Rose Garden, Chandigarh | Source

Chandigarh today

Chandigarh is now rated as the wealthiest town in India and, along with satellite cities such as Zirakpur, is a hive of economic activity. Along with an industrial base that includes paper manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and electrical appliances, it is also the centre for three different Indian governments. The city is now not only the richest city in India, but it is also the cleanest and it ranks in first place on indexes for human development and quality of life.

Chandigarh and the surrounding area are now also breaking into the world of IT and is ranked 9th in the top fifty cities in the world identified as emerging outsourcing and IT services destinations with well-known names like Infosys, Dell, IBM, TechMahindra, having set up bases there.

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Mona Greens Development, Zirakpur
Mona Greens Development, Zirakpur

Zirakpur - Le Corbusier’s dream continues

It would seem that Le Corbusier’s dream continues on, in the areas and the other cities that surround Chandigarh, in what is known as Chandigarh Capital Region or, CCR. In cities like Zirakpur, near Chandigarh airport, new developments, like the one above at Mona Greens, offer people clean, modern living space within a well-designed environment. Far from the crowded and noisy image that most people have an Indian city, Zirakpur boasts green spaces, plenty of culture and modern shopping malls too. The designers of Mona Greens even thought to angle the blocks of flats so that residents get a good view of the sunsets and sunrises! Take a look at the 2 bhk flats in Zirakpur, they are an eye opener, if you have preconceived ideas of what living in India can be like.

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Did Le Corbusier really build a “Radiant City?”

Many planned cities around the world the world have been dismal failures. It would seem though, in the main, that the city that Le Corbusier designed as a “Radiant City” has gone on to fulfil many of its promises. It’s not perfect, and there are some very poor areas around the city of Chandigarh, as there are around most major cities in the developing world, I find it fascinating, though, that one man’s dream of the perfect city did, eventually turn into a reality. Perhaps Chandigarh along with its neighbouring cities such as Zirakpur, and developments like Mona Greens, could even become the blueprint for a modern India. That’s one heck of an achievement to go on Le Corbusier’s posthumous CV!

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    • Shruti Takhral profile image

      Shruti Thakral 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

      nice article

    • Artois52 profile image
      Author

      Artois52 2 years ago from England

      Thanks Shruti Takhral. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • Shruti Takhral profile image

      Shruti Thakral 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

      look forward to seeing more great posts from you

    • someonewhoknows profile image

      someonewhoknows 2 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      Like your hub on Architecture . I'm interested in knowing how Monsanto is introducing an insect resistant corn to India's farmers. A genetically modified seed corn that they will have to buy from Monsanto every year because it does not regenerate itself like nature intended. Also, the insecticide within the corn has been shown to cause blood cancer in animals

      Hope this kind of farming modernization does not turn out the way I expect it, to, for everyone's sake.

    • csmiravite-blogs profile image

      Consolacion Miravite 2 years ago from Philippines

      This is a new take about developments in India that we don't usually read about in the papers. An inciteful write-up! A thumbs-up!

    • Artois52 profile image
      Author

      Artois52 2 years ago from England

      Many thanks csmiravite-blogs . Your comment is much appreciated.

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      Mona Greens 2 years ago

      Very well written, great information. Zirakpur is developing very quickly. There is a great sum of money coming in from various real estate builders in this area and once people have started coming in and staying in the area, there will be an overall development of the area. Just a piece of information. They have a wonderful hoarding put at the entrance of Chandigarh once you are entering in the city from the Zirakpur side, in the coming times, they might shift the board around 10 kilometers before, including the new Chandigarh Extension.

    • Artois52 profile image
      Author

      Artois52 2 years ago from England

      Hi Mona Greens and thanks for reading. There's more coming soon about Zirakpur, so stay tuned!

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