Corbusier’s Class Capitol
Much before Chandigarh laid its claim to being a ‘Smart City’, its creator Le Corbusier had incorporated several ‘green’ and futuristic elements of urban planning here. A tribute to the visionary architect and his work to mark his 50 death anniversary
As the concept of green buildings and green cities that use systems that are eco friendly and resource-efficient are catching the fancy of urban planners and architects now and are increasingly being manifested in buildings, it was 63 years ago that great French architect, Le Corbusier designed structures that not only laid emphasis on the use of natural light and ventilation, but also synchronised the alignment of the buildings with the direction of sunlight. The philosophy behind Corbusier’s designs reflect postulates of sun, space and greenery.
Sun governs the orientation of buildings and streets
Respecting the use of natural resources like sun, the orientation of the street pattern of Chandigarh is also governed by the direction of the sun. None of the streets lie in an east-west, north-south line so that drivers don’t have to face the direct eastern or western sun. Particularly noticeable through out the city is the use of the sun breaker — a device introduced by Corbusier for controlling the admission of sunlight.
Perfection, power and polity
While the city celebrates the great master for his architectural marvels that could soon find place in the UNESCO’s world heritage status buildings, the buildings designed by Le Corbusier in the Capitol Complex are a living example of the urban designing concept conceived by him long ago. It is interesting to know how he, a French architect, breathed life into Pt Jawaharlal Nehru’s dream to create a modern capital city for Punjab, that had lost its capital Lahore to Pakistan after the partition in 1947.
The structures not only lay stress on the use of locally available resources like concrete, brick and stones, the urban design of the masterplan with the Capitol Complex as the head was planned on the lines of biological entity of a human body.
If the Capitol was the head, the City Centre in Sector 17 was the heart and work areas of the institutional area and the university were the limbs. The Leisure Valley traversing almost the entire city, parks extended lengthwise through each sector to enable every resident to feel and live with the changing panorama of hills and sky. His plan included architecture, landscape, urban design and art in architecture and city services.
The Capitol Complex stands aloof and dominates the city. Be it the Punjab and Haryana Civil Secretariat, the Legislative building or the High Court, these geometrical concrete buildings embody the essential spirit of the city and the size and solidity of the structures denote power —the power of the people in a democratic state. It consisted of four buildings or “edifices” and six monuments arranged on a single site, loosely conceptualised as three interlocking squares. Only three of these four buildings were realised (the High Court, the Legislative Assembly, and the Secretariat) and were designed to represent the major functions of democracy
The first conspicuous building to come into view is the Secretariat — the largest of all buildings in the complex (254 meters by 42 meters). Positioned at a sharp right angle to the mountain range it is designed as a vast linear slab-like structure.
In front of the Secretariat is located the most sculptural and eye-catching of all the geometrical forms of the Capitol — The Assembly. Characterising the roofline of the Assembly is a great hyperbolic drum connected to a pyramidal by a small bridge, Inside, the legislative chambers are dramatically illumined with shafts of light. The external facade of the cuboid base has a rhythmic pattern of the brise-soleil with its play of light and shadow on three sides, And on the fourth opening towards the large piazza facing the High Curt is a huge trough supported on massive pylons.
The High Court
The High Court is a linear block with the main facade towards the piazza. It has a rhythmic arcade created by a parasol-like roof, which shades the entire building. Keeping in view the special dignity of the entrance for them through a high portico resting on three giant pylons painted in bright colors.
Very much in the tradition of the Buland Darwaza of Fatehpur-Sikri, this grand entrance with its awesome scale is intended to manifest the Majesty of the Law to all who enter.
The symbolism of providing an “umbrella of shelter” of law to the ordinary citizen is most vividly manifested here. The continuity of the concrete piazza running into this space establishes a unique site and structural unity of the structure with the ground plane. The massive concrete pylons representing again the "Majesty' of Law" are painted in bright primary colors and visually punctuate
There are various monuments in the Capitol Complex symbolising the basis of the philosophy by which Le Corbusier arrived at his understanding of the city design. These are placed on the great esplanade about 400 yards long which joins the Assembly building to the High Court. These monuments are the Open hand, Path of the sun (The Geometric hill), The tower of shadows and the Martyrs Memorial.
The Tower of shadows
Just beyond the solar monument is the tower of shadows a demonstration of Corbusier's theories of sun control, consisting of a series of platforms oriented to the Cardinal points and containing sun breakers on three sides (except north). This concrete structure is a culmination of the in depth studies of Corbusier on the path of the sun and ways to control its penetration in to the built up space.