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Visit to Capitol Complex and City museum : an account – Mohit Tanga

Chandigarh welcomed the first batch of students of IISER Mohali on the 13 of August, 2007. But a feeling of dissociation to the existence of this planned city arose within most. As students explored the city and drew comparisons to their own hometowns and other cities within the country, they realised that unlike other cities, Chandigarh had no pre-independence existence. The students assumed that Chandigarh, though one of the few planned cities of India, was historically insignificant.
But during our Humanities and social science course in 5th semester at IISER Mohali, we studied the history, architecture and planning of Chandigarh. Chandigarh was planned and constructed post-independence. It was to be the capital of the newly divided Punjab state. As a result of partition, Punjab had lost its much loved capital city of Lahore to Pakistan. In order to heal the wounds of partition, and to usher a new era of modernisation, the city of Chandigarh was created. We decided to understand more about this ‘modern’ city, by visiting the city museum and capitol complex.
In the history museum, newspaper articles of late 1940s and the early 50s referring to the partition of India and the ever increasing number of Hindus leaving Pakistan were preserved. Many of the articles cited the need for a new city to house all these refugees, who were now citizens of a social, secular and democratic India. In the background of this chaos Le Corbusier designed a modern city as per Nehru’s vision of modern, progressive, developing and industrialised India.
On display, in the museum, were the architectural sketches of sectors- with housing complex, market place and park, main roads, circles at common vertices of sectors, pictures of Chandigarh under construction and those of Le Corbusier and Pierre Jearnet the designers and architects of Chandigarh.
We then visited the Capitol Complex in Sector 1,Chandigarh. It serves as the seat of governance and judiciary. The Secretariat building which houses the offices of Punjab and Harayana Government, runs approximately 150m in height and is the tallest structure in Chandigarh. The Secretariat has a single entry and a winding passage with entry to all floors. Across the Secretariat lies the Vidhan Sabha whose distinct roof is a tribute to the rising Himalayas. The roof is a massive hyperboloid structure of cement with a slit at its bottom positioned such that the first rays of the morning of 2nd October fall on a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi kept in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha. Also, the roof is designed to collect rainwater to be poured into an artificial pond adjacent to the Vidhan Sabha. The front door of the Vidhan Sabha is a large hand painted piece of art work by Le Corbusier depicting pre-modern India as he sees it – with five rivers flowing across the map, animals significant to Indian traditions and life in villages.
In front of the Vidhan sabha lies the High Court. Between the Vidhan sabha and the High court lies a large open space called the piazza to spatially distinguish between the government and the judiciary. Each structure on the sides of the piazza is conceptual like the house of shadows – a three walled and roofed structure with openings in the wall to allow sunlight to enter it. But the building openings are aligned such that the room is cool but sunlit. It has light of equal intensity throughout the day and the sun does not directly heat the room.

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