written by:
September 7, 2013
Originally published in City Living
Charting Chandigarh
Los Angeles architect Linda Taalman made a rare visit to Le Corbusier’s fraught masterpiece, the capitol complex of the city of Chandigarh. Here she offers her take on Corbu’s vision for a modern India.
Palace of Assembly by Le Corbusier
Over 60 years ago, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru tapped the Swiss architect Le Corbusier to design the Indian city of Chandigarh, a new modern capital for the state of Punjab. The resulting Palace of Assembly is one of the architect’s great brutalist buildings.
1 / 4
Secrétariat building by Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier designed the immense Secrétariat building’s facade (138 feet tall and 833 feet long) to be cooled by a system of brise-soleils.
2 / 4
Palace of Assembly and the High Court drawing by Le Corbusier
A 1951 drawing by Le Corbusier shows the Palace of Assembly and the High Court with the Himalayas in the distance.
3 / 4
Open Hand monument by Le Corbusier
The architect designed the now-iconic Open Hand monument, as a symbol of India’s non-alignment during the Cold War. Due to limited funds, the structure wasn’t put in place until 1985, and today it’s a far stronger symbol of Chandigarh itself than of Nehru’s foreign policy.
4 / 4
Palace of Assembly by Le Corbusier
Over 60 years ago, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru tapped the Swiss architect Le Corbusier to design the Indian city of Chandigarh, a new modern capital for the state of Punjab. The resulting Palace of Assembly is one of the architect’s great brutalist buildings.

Le Corbusier commenced work on the master plan of Chandigarh, India, in 1951. The city was intended to serve both as the administrative seat of the newly partitioned state of Punjab and as an architectural symbol of Jawaharlal Nehru’s nascent democracy, writ in the future-facing language of European modernism. Yet, decades later, his city plan remains unfinished: buildings like the High Court, Palace of Assembly, and Secrétariat need refurbishment, and some question whether the complex doesn’t work better as an architectural statement than as a functioning set of government buildings. Architect Linda Taalman reflects on Chandigarh, its future, and why, some 60 years later, it can feel like a ruin.

It’s not easy to get into the capitol at Chandigarh. How did you manage it?

The complex is manned by armed guards and is only accessible to people who work there and for special tours like ours. Getting in required official signed letters that were reviewed at each checkpoint. Nicholas Roberts, my colleague at Woodbury University, received written permission with the assistance of the Chandigarh College of Architecture. We traveled with our guide, the planner and editor of The Emerging Asian City, Vinayak Bharne, and a dozen adventurous students from Woodbury.

How does the capitol relate to the rest of Chandigarh?

It’s removed from the city—separated by a wide road, a dense landscape of trees, and earth berms. The capitol complex isn’t even visible from downtown; after crossing through the security barrier, it rises up suddenly in front of you. The disconnect is enhanced now by fully grown trees. The everyday resident doesn’t even see it.

Is it showing its years?

The complex has aged quite gracefully; the monolithic concrete buildings seem to have hardly changed since the day the forms were removed. But, of course, half a century of monsoons have taken their toll on the surfaces where water was designed to spill from the gutters, and weeds and trees have crept in through the cracks. The rawness and monumentality of the place probably made the complex seem like a ruin from its first exposure to the elements. Its lack of urbanity enhances the feeling of it being a strange, isolated thing from another world—you feel it will be there for eternity.

Efforts have been made to place Chandigarh on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. But further cooperation among preservationists, historians, and city officials is required to move forward. The question remains, though, as to whether the site should continue on the path of its original design by Le Corbusier or if the complex might better be adapted and transformed by its users. Alternative proposals for how to transform Chandigarh would be quite interesting to consider.

Does the capitol complex actually work as an administrative hub?

It seems as if the buildings might have never been used exactly as intended. Workers have continually altered the interiors by rearranging furniture and equipment. Although Le Corbusier’s architectural language of brise-soleils was designed to control the sunlight and heat gain, numerous window air-conditioning units have been added over the years, giving the complex a hacked quality and calling into question if the passive environmental design put in place by the master really works.

What is it like being there?

Chandigarh feels strangely empty. Its enormous plazas—which were intended to serve as active walking and assembly spaces between the structures—give the complex a feeling that we might be in an Antonioni film or that the world might have ended and these are the remains of an ancient civilization.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016