HT spotlight: Chandigarh is Le Corbusier’s modern heritage

  • Krishna Mohan and Sangeeta Bagga Mehta, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jun 04, 2015 10:43 IST

If you are lucky enough to live in this city, especially in your formative years, you are blessed with an open and green environment, vast opportunities for sports and recreation and of course the luxury of being a maximum travel time of 15 minutes from your home – or 20 to 25 minutes during the rush hours —, no matter how far you go.

And this is what a lot of people take for granted. It’s only when you go out and live in another city do you realise what Chandigarh offers to its residents.

Once you travel abroad or interact with the foreign tourists, you will realise the worth of the city from the impact it has had on modern architecture and architecture enthusiasts around the world.

The city is an epitome of planned urbanism and it is never a problem to explain where you live, as Chandigarh is very well known on the world map. In fact, it’s a proud feeling to be associated with the city.

Le Corbusier’s vision for the city and his belief in his work indeed translated into a city which is the envy of many.

The setting up of the Le Corbusier Centre, the City Museum were all initiatives to promote, publicise and safeguard the heritage value of the city where international researchers spend weeks together documenting and studying Le Corbusier’s plan and the city.

The recent decision taken by the Chandigarh administration in opening up the Capitol Complex for public is a welcome step.

Now, the nomination of Capitol Complex — one of the Corbusier’s major work under the Chandigarh project — in the UNESCO world heritage site under the modern heritage category has further strengthened the pan-global recognition of the city.

And for sure, it will further increase the tourist footfall, especially the foreigners, in the city.

The Capitol Complex was part of the transnational serial nomination of the Architectural Works of Le Corbusier, and this was the largest and most well-known realisation of Le Corbusier’s planning and urban precepts, involving the use of large-scale exposed reinforced concrete, deploying local methods and materials under the constraints of economy, and a harsh composite climate.

As a serial nomination with six other countries – France, Belgium, Japan, Switzerland, Argentina and Germany — the Capitol Complex stands out as the largest property with a core of about 50 hectares and a buffer of 195 hectares.


It is the first file (dossier) of such wide transnational significance to be devoted entirely to the work of a 20th Century architect.

The initial file did not include the Capitol Complex (2011), however, on the recommendation of UNESCO World Heritage Centre, the 2015 nomination includes the Capitol and thus India as a participating country in the Serial Nomination.

Submitted as a bilingual dossier (French and English) under the Foundation le Corbusier, the serial nomination has been well received by the World Heritage Centre, Paris, France.

The ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) evaluation is expected in September 2015.


The Capitol Complex is one of the most monumental architectural compositions of modern urbanism in India arising out of a unique geo-political and cultural setting.

It showcases landmark innovations in the fields of urban planning, architectural theory and practice and, advancement in building materials and technology.

The Vidhan Sabha, the High Court and the Secretariat buildings celebrating the three pillars of democracy are skillfully juxtaposed within a vast pedestrian plaza where the pedestrian is the king and all motorised circulation is tucked beneath with a series of interlinked parking lots.

Monuments articulating the plaza include the Open Hand, the Martyrs Memorial, the Geometric Hill and the Tower of Shadows.

Together, the monuments and the edifices of the complex represent the most tangible manifestation of the architectural and urban design theories of Le Corbusier.

The unprecedented amalgamation of the principles of CIAM (Congress Internationale d’Architecture Moderne), with the aspirations of the newly-created democracy culminated in a prototype which continues to deeply impact the development of architecture and urban planning all over the world.

To protect the authenticity and integrity of the core zone, a 175-hectare buffer is proposed. The mango groves on the northern edge of the Capitol define the north buffer and screen the development in the nearby vicinity of Punjab.

The low-density sectors 2-5 form the southern buffer, while the Rajendra park towards the east ensures the visual link of the Capitol to the city. The Sukhna Lake reserve forest and the Rock Garden complete the eastern buffer.

Delineated as Grade 1 Heritage precinct, the Capitol Complex does not suffer from any severe management issues which would compromise with the authenticity of function, form or spirit of the place itself.


Though the Capitol Complex has been included in transnational serial nomination of the Architectural Works of Le Corbusier for UNESCO world heritage site under the modern heritage category, Chandigarh has many other architectural works of Corbusier worth seeing and without paying visit to them, it’s difficult to understand the concept of Chandigarh.

Corbusier’s other important works are the cultural complex – the entire strip of Sector 10 running along with the Leisure Valley — which comprises Government Museum and Art Gallery, Government College of Arts.

Chandigarh College of Architecture (Sector 12) and the complete Sector 22 — the first sector developed on the neighbourhood concept.

Initially Chandigarh was planned for a finite population of half-a-million and at present its population is almost 12 lakh (as per the 2011 Census).

But the city was designed in such a way that you don’t feel overcrowded and this is the beauty of the Corbusier’s planning.

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