Corbusier was reluctant to take up Chandigarh project, reveals memoir

  • Monica Sharma, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Aug 05, 2016 22:35 IST
(From left) MN Sharma Architectural Society general secretary Yojna Rawat; UT home secretary Anurag Aggarwal; UT administrator Kaptan Singh Solanki; UT higher education director Jitender Yadav and Chandigarh College of Architecture principal Pradeep Kumar Bhagat releasing the memoirs of UT’s first chief architect MN Sharma — Making of Chandigarh: Le Corbusier and after. (Anil Dayal/HT Photo)

“I was offered the Chandigarh Project at the Indian Coffee house at London in 1949 by the first high commissioner of Independent India, VK Krishna Menon,” says Chandigarh’s first Indian chief architect MN Sharma in his memoirs — Making of Chandigarh: Le Corbusier and after.

UT administrator Kaptan Singh Solanki released the memoirs on the 93rd birth birthday of the architect on Thursday.

Presenting an eyewitness account of the making of Chandigarh, Sharma says in the memoirs that French architect Le Corbusier was initially reluctant to take up the assignment of designing the new Capital CityChandigarh, due to travel distance and offered to design the city from his Paris office. He adds that Corbusier took up the project on the condition that he would visit the site twice a month for a year and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret would work fulltime.

In 1950, Corbusier agreed to design all the buildings in the Capitol Complex while his team of noted British architects Maxwell Fry, his wife Jane B Drew and Jeanneret were designated as senior architects. Sharma was the first Indian architect to be involved in the project and worked mostly on public buildings. Sharma recalls that the paucity of money was a challenge in the city’s creation and Corbusier viewed the project as building a ‘Radiant City’.


The memoirs state that each form, interior or exterior, of the building was minutely calculated.

The innovation of unplastered concrete surfaces or rough concrete at the secretariat was not initially acceptable to engineers. However, the low budget made it acceptable, the book says tongue-in-cheek.

In another anecdote, he says 21-metre high arches were initially painted offwhite and Corbusier solicited their advise. When they said these should not be painted, the piers were painted green, yellow and red!


Le Corbusier was obsessed with the idea of Open Hand and first tried to place the monument of open hand over the Bhakra Dam. After the idea did not get nod, the open hand was set up at Capitol Complex. Yet, Corbusier could not see the Open Hand. Three years after his death Sharma got the Open Hand made in Bronze at the workshop of the Punjab irrigation department in Nangal.


The Raj Bhawan or the Governor’s Palace designed by Corbusier, which never came up was smaller than secretariat, the high court and assembly buildings, but its location at the crown of the Capitol Complex had considerable importance. He adds that former Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru during his visit in 1959 did not consider it appropriate to build the Governor’s palace keeping in view the democratic state of the nation.

Sharma adds the absence of the Museum of Knowledge, approximately the same size as governor’s palace means that Corbusier’s vision for the Capitol Complex site has not yet been completed.

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