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Le Corbusier in Chandigarh

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 20 March 2011

Sukhdev Sandhu travels to Chandigarh in northern India - the city built by Le Corbusier. Commissioned by Nehru and designed as a modernist city in the 1950s how does it fare today?

After Indian independence and partition, the Punjab lost its capital, Lahore, to Pakistan. The remnant Indian state needed new law courts and a parliament. Nehru saw a chance to show how India could modernise and westernise and turn its back on the village and tradition. Various Western architects were commissioned and, eventually, a team led by the giant of modernism, Le Corbusier, got the job. A sparsely populated site, about 150 miles north of Delhi, was identified and Le Corbusier and his team got down to work. Le Corbusier, famously, declared his wish to demolish Paris and rebuild the French capital as he thought it should be. At Chandigarh he was offered the only chance in his career to plan and build a city from scratch. A grid system of numbered sectors was devised, acres of low rise housing was built and, at the head of the city, several monumental concrete buildings - new law courts, a double state parliament and administration offices - rose up in front of a backdrop of the beginings of the Himalayas. This was a vast project calling upon huge resources and manual labouring effort. Le Corbusier attended to the epic vision but also to the detail even designing furniture for the parliament and the new man-hole covers.

Sukhdev Sandhu, whose parents left the Punjab for Gloucester, visited the new city as a boy. He returns to see how this "vision of the future" has coped 60 years on. Sprawling and chaotic suburbs are rising up all round Chandigarh. The green spaces and idealised geometry of Le Corbusier's city have never looked more threatened.
Producer: Tim Dee.


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