Sector 17 or the city centre has architecturally controlled buildings, which cannot be changed much due to their unique structure, as per the UT Administration. Over the years, hardly any changes have been permitted in these buildings.
Le Corbusier conceived Sector 17 plaza as the hub of the city. Even though the plaza has structures with same architecture, still there is some play. Jagat and Neelam, for instance, were planned as cultural landmarks.
The city centre is bound on edges by Madhya Marg, Himalayan Marg, Udyog Marg and Jan Marg in a clockwise manner. The buildings that outline the plaza are categorised into three types: brick block, concrete block, and landmarks such as cinemas.
The concrete block buildings are four-storey high, with the lower floor lined with double height columns. The upper floors are decked one above the other in the same pattern of balconies.
NO VERTICAL GROWTH
Even though the population has increased manifold and more structures need to come up in the plaza, the original design does not allow for any more vertical growth here. Members of the Chandigarh Heritage Conservation Committee say addition of another storey would rob the plaza of its essence. They have floated a series of proposals to reinforce the original concept and ensure that all interventions are made sensitively keeping in view the architectural character of the plaza.
- Construction of an 11-storey tower
- Revitalisaton of concrete facade
- Construction of food courts
- Removal of govt offices from ground floor.
- Connecting the plaza to Sector 9 and 22.
Former UT Chief Architect Sumit Kaur says though the regulations, including those pertaining to signages, are in place, they are yet to be adopted in totality. “We have given drawings to the UT administration pertaining to the uniform signages but in vain,” she rues.
Last year, the UT Estate Office did launch a drive to make all the signages look uniform, but violations were removed only in a part of Sector 17 E. Traders began to protest and the drive was left unfinished, leaving in its trail broken wires and boards.
A GREY FACADE
The sector, known for its lofty grey buildings, is beginning to look unkempt because of the discoloured façade but the bylaws don’t permit a coat of paint, even if it’s grey in color. Even if some building owners dare to paint them, they are asked to remove it on the plea that paint does not gel with the uniform look of the façade.
Most buildings also need cleaning and restoration. Look up and you will see cracks in the exposed concrete, especially in the balcony area of the façade.
Neeraj Bajaj, president of the Business Promotion Council, Sector 17, laments that the administration does not even allow glazing of the balconies as a result of which they have turned into an eyesore. The government offices are, in fact, using the balconies as dump yards, adding to the unseemly picture of the sector.
Sumit Kaur rues the lack of sensitivity towards urban renewal. “Sector 17 needs urban renewal. It does not need beautification alone, but complete revitalisation.”
- A concrete façade which cannot be painted.
- Controls permit only four-storey structures.
- The balconies are not allowed to be covered on the first, second and third floor
- Uniform signages so that outer façade looks the same.
- Commercial activities not allowed on top floors
- Basement allowed only for single units.
Slamming the cast-in-concrete bylaws, Capital Book Depot owner Ajay Arora says, “The city byelaws were made when the city was conceived many, many years ago. But with the changing dynamics, changes should be allowed. For example, we are not permitted to have a complete glass façade in the showrooms. The administration should leave this to the shop owner.”
Giving another instance of an archaic feature, Arora says an open-to-sky cut was made in the buildings for light and ventilation in the times when there was no air conditioner. But now since all stores have air conditioners, it’s not needed.
Ashok Kumar, director of KC Theatre, laments that his project has been delayed for almost a decade due to the various bylaws that came in his way of getting the required permissions. “We used to have a single screen theatre, but with multiplexes entering the market, we also decided to venture into multiple screens,” he explains.
That was the beginning of an agonising journey that lasted 10 years. “We had to go through several delays due to the building byelaws. First, we were permitted to have two basements, then again the plan was changed to three basements and after that another revised plan of four basements was cleared. After the basements, the planners had issues with the shape of the dome. After a lot of toing and froing, we were allowed to build a 76-foot high dome.”
Like many others, Kumar claims the administration started neglecting Sector 17 once it started getting conversion charges from the industrial area. “That caused it to shift its focus to promoting the industrial area,” claims Kumar.
- Texture paint on the inner and external façade along with RCC (Reinforced Cement Concrete)
- Commercial activities on all floors of the buildings, particularly top floors.
- Allow internal need-based changes.
- Allow glazing (glass casing) of the first and second floor balconies. Govt offices are using these as dump yards.
STRICTLY BY THE BOOK
The Architectural Control Sheets of the city centre lists the various restrictions imposed on design elements like the size and grid of columns, height of buildings, width and height of passages, size of show-windows and glazing, placement of core, ducts and staircases. It also specifies use of materials and system of construction to the extent of shuttering pattern. The material used for buildings is mainly concrete; with brick used at some places.
The ground floor generally consists of shops; first and second floors have either shops or offices. Third floor was designed as accommodation for the essential staff of the commercial establishment.
The controls permit a combination of two or more floors and also an additional floor provided that the external façade is not altered. On the first, second and third floors, there are balconies to provide shade from the summer sun, monsoon rains and inclement weather.
A few public buildings like State Library, Gallery of Portraits, Estate Office, State Bank of India Building and Post and Telegraph Building are built with slight variations within the framed façade.
One reason the city planners don’t touch the plaza buildings is because they are classified as Heritage Grade-I. This grade is given to buildings and precincts of national or historic importance, embodying excellence in architectural style, design, technology and material usage and/or aesthetics. They are generally associated with a great historic event, personality, movement or institution. They have been and are the prime landmarks of the region.
Needless to say neither the administration nor the Municipal Corporation wants to tamper with them.
(SIXTH OF SEVEN-PART SERIES, TOMORROW: ROAD TO REVIVAL)