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Chandigarh History

Historical Circumstances for need of Chandigarh

August 15, 1947, the day of independence of India was also the day of division of a nation into India and Pakistan, this was also the day of division of State of Punjab (Punj+Aab) named so for being the land of five rivers being divided into two states West punjab gone in Pakistan with retaining Lahore as its capital and East Punjab in India became a state without a capital. Shimla which used to be the summer capital of India and had the infrastructure was salected as the temporary capital of Punjab.

The Government of Punjab selected brilliant young engineer Mr. P.L. Verma to undertake the tasks of search for a premanent Capital City for the State of Punjab.

At that time the Punjabis were very nostalgic about Lahore. Till the last moment they hoped that Lahore would remain with India. The loss was felt acutely and people were eager for a city similar to Lahore be built. So Verma and his team of engineers savoured the concept of a larger independent town, when most of the bureaucrats and politicians favoured the concept of a small settlement attached to one of the existing towns. Bureaucrats were conscious of the acute shortage of funds and the very small financial outlay for Punjab. Each politician was eager that this capital be built in the area from where he came. All politicians were trying to pull the capital towards their own constituency.

Under such circumstances Mr. Verma had to lobby intensively with the bureaucrats and the politicians. And it was essentially an account of his dedicated and relentless efforts and lobbying that this idea of a large independent town was finally accepted by Government of Punjab.

Selection of Site

After investigating a no. of sites, the team of engineers & bureaucrats headed by Mr. P.L. Verma, selected the existing site of Chandigarh which met almost all the requirements for a new city.

The area was a flat, gently sloping plain of agricultural land dotted with groves of mango trees which marked the sites of 24 villages or hamlets -- one of which was named Chandigarh on account of its temple dedicated to the goddess.

The general ground level of the site ranges from 305 to 366 meters with a 1 per cent grade giving adequate drainage. To the northeast are the foothills of the Himalayas -- the Shivalik Range -- rising abruptly to about 1524 meters and a dramatic natural backdrop. One seasonal stream, the Patiali ki Rao, lies on the western side of the city and another, the Sukhna Choe, on the eastern side. A third, smaller seasonal stream flows through the very center of Chandigarh. The area along this stream bed has been turned into a series of public gardens called the Leisure Valley.

And finally in March, 1948, the Government of Punjab in consultation with the Government of India, approved a 114.59 sq. km tract of land at the foot of the Shivalik Hills in Ropar district as the site of the new capital. An existing village gave its name (Chandi - Goddess of Power + garh - fortress) to the new city.

Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the First prime minister of India was also quite initimately involved wioth the Chandigarh project.

Pandit Nehru immediately took the final decision and on his visit to the project site on April 2, 1952, said," The site chosen is free from the existing encumbances of old towns and old traditions. Let it be the first expression of our creative genius flowing on our newly earned freedom.-----Let it be a new town symbolic of the freedom of India unfattered by the traditions of the past and axpression of the nation's faith in the future.---The new capital of Punjab will be christened as Chandigarh-a name symbolic of the valiant spirit of the Punjabis. Chandigarh is rightly associated with the name of Goddess Chandi -- Shakti, or power."

American Architects

In the late 1940's very few Indian architects were professionally trained in town planning so it was necessary to look abroad for a man to carry out the Chandigarh scheme. The search led to the USA and Albert Mayer. Graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of the large New York architectural firm of Mayer, Whittlesey and Glass.

Soon after his appointment in 1950, Mayer wrote to Nehru: "I feel in all solemnity that this will be a source of great stimulation to city building and replanning in India -- it will be the synthesis and integration in the world to date of all that has been learned and talked of in planning over the past 30 years. Yet, I feel we have been able to make it strongly Indian in feeling and function as well as modern."

His brief was to prepare a master plan for a city of half a million people, showing the location of major roads and areas for residence, business, industry, recreation and allied uses. He was also to prepare detailed building plans for the Capitol Complex, City Centre, and important government facilities and architectural controls for other areas.

Although Mayer's contract did not stipulate detailed architectural schemes, he felt that they could not isolate two-dimensional planning of the city from its architectural character.

And it was left mainly to Nowicki his talented younger partner to sketch out conceptual schemes for the image of the city.
On August 31, 1950, Nowicki died in a plane crash. Mayer felt that he could not handle the monumental project alone and withdrew, severing the American connection with Chandigarh.

Entry of Le Corbusier

With the withdrwal of Mayer, Mr. P L Verma (Chief Engineer) and P N Thapar (Administrator of the Capitol Project) formed a committee of two and were assigned the task of visiting eight Europian countries i.e. UK, Holland, France, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland in search of able architects and town planners who would lead the project upto completion.

They left India on Nov. 05, 1950 and returned on Dec. 24, 1950 after selecting and making Charles-Edouard Jeanneret popularly known as Le Corbusier agreed to take on this project alongwith Piere Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew.

Le Corbusier was assigned to look at the master plan prepared byMayer and make modifications, or make new master plan.

Later he would design the capitol complex buildings and work on the architectural control of various areas.

He prepared the plan in a matter of weeks and gave it to Govt. justifying that it was cheaper and space efficient. It was on this basis that his master plan was accepted but he did incorporate some features of the Mayer plan. The two plans remained practically the same with the shifting of certain functions.

The Capitol Complex, City centre, Industrial area & Educational Zones were all there.

The plan was accepted and Fry, Drew, Jeanneret were to detail the Sectors as well as design the Govt. buildings in them.

The over all administrative control of the office was with Maxwell Fry.

Eminent Indian members of Capitol Project team

- P.N. Thapar, The Administrator
- P.L. VermaChief Engineer
- Mr. Dogra Under Secretary
- M.N. Sharma First Indian Architect to join Matthew Nowicki.
- Ms. Eulie Choudhury Only Indian Architect who could speak French.
- A.R. Prabhakavalkar
- Aditya Prakash
- Jeet Malhotra
- B.P. Mathur
- J.S. Dithe
- N.S. Lamba