Chandigarh : A Study of Modern Architecture in the Third World Context

The site chosen is free from the existing encumbrances of old town and old traditions. Let it be the first large expression of our creative genius, flowering on our newly earned freedom.

Jawaharlai Nehru

Each race contributes something essential to the world's civilization in the .course of its own self expression and self realization. The character built up in solving its own problems, in the experience of its own misfortunes is itself a gift which each offers to the world. The essential contribution of India then, is simply her Indlanness; her great humiliation would be to substitute or to have substituted for this own character (SVABHAVA) a cosmopolitan veneer, for then indeed she must come before the world empty handed.

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

Of all the means that conquerors have used to demonstrate their victory after the subjugation of a people, some of the most dramatic and visible have been the erection of architectural monuments as the symbols of triumph. Thus the Romans 'erected superb monuments of every kind in all the countries which had felt the power of their arms'3. Alexander of Macedonia started the Hellenization of the East by founding cities in the wake of his conquest (often named after himself) that became islands of Greek culture that could exert a powerful influence on the surrounding areas.4 Conquest and subjugation are invariably accompanied by theories of superiority of the conqueror so that the conquest itself can be projected as ''the civilization of a barbaric race" and hence almost as an act of charity. Thus during the Afghan expedition "the boast was made that for the first time since Alexander the Great, the banner of a civilized nation waved along the river Indus".5 An effort is thus made by the conquerors to bring out their differences from the conquered by emphasizing their background, status and ideals. Architecture is one powerful tool to manifest such differences provided the style is kept "pure" and untainted by "native influences".

The past 35 years have seen a dramatic increase in the construction of not only buildings, but also often entire new towns and cities in the modern Western style of architecture that have taken place all over the Third World. These new architectural monuments of today, however, differ in one crucial respect from the old monuments. These are not forced upon the people of a country by colonialist conquerors, but are by and target constructed by the newly independent third world countries, by themselves these are no longer seen as symbols of subjugation, but as the symbols of progress, and the best choice that a 'developing country can make. Thus, the traditional architectural practices of various nations, tested by thousands of years of use and specific to various peoples their cultural, social and climatic conditions are all giving way to "modern architecture',. The basis for this change, is* the widespread acceptance of the modern ideology, which "is a statement of how people should live and how the containers in which they live should look. The modern ideology in architecture, does not present itself as one among many systems from which a choice can be made depending on our requirements. On the contrary it claims to be the inevitable logical result of economic and functional necessity. At present, almost all Third World Countries are abandoning their traditional architecture in' favour of "modernization". Such replacement is largely claimed to be a process where architectural solutions based on traditions which are seen as "encumbrances"; give way to modern architecture, which claims to be the "rational solution", a solution that results inevitably from functional requirements and is free' of any value premises.

In this article, we argue that, in practice this has just amounted to the abandoning of traditional values, in favour of the values that modern architecture stands for such as industrialism etc the social values of modern Western society. It is, ironical that this itself is often seen as an act of progress, or even, a sin the words of Nehru, "the expression of the creative genius"7 of a free people. We shall discuss the advent of modern architecture in the present day Third World context, by looking into a specific case, namely the city of Chandigarh. (An accompanying article in this issue has discussed the debate on the building of New Delhi earlier in this century.) Our discussion shows that notwithstanding its claim I to universality, in actual practice modern architecture have always reflected the specific ideology of modern Western culture. Hence Modern Architecture cannot provide any creative context for the people of the Third World to solve their problems.

Chandigarh : The Beginnings

When India was partitioned in 1947, the Western part of Punjab, including its capital Lahore was ceded to Pakistan and hence a temporary capital for the Indian Punjab was set up in Simla. After a few months of hesitation, it was decided to build a new capital city. One of the considerations was the fact that the huge influx of refugees after the partition had swollen the populations of the old towns and cities to the limits. However, the building of a new capital city was seen as a symbolic act that would boost the spirits of the people. Right from the beginning it involved the Central Government which was going to provide a third of the building cost. Pandit1 Nehru declared that Chandigarh would be 'the first large expression of our creative genius, flowering on our newly earned freedom.'7 Although the city was to be symbolic of the creative genius of a free India, it seems to have been taken for granted that the planners for the city would have to be obtained from abroad, rather than locally. The man first selected for designing the city was Albert Meyer, an old time friend of Jawaharlal Nehru. Meyer who was a partner in a New York based firm was asked to produce a 'Master Plan' for Chandigarh along with the architect Matthew Nowicki. In May 1950 Albert Meyer gave a talk in Washington D. C. in a symposium on Urban and Regional Planning in which he described his aims at Chandigarh: 'We are trying not so much to express ourselves or obtrude ourselves but to develop the city as modern self confident Indians would do if there were such a group. We can not only do a more viable job, but a more Indian job than they could, because I think we can really enter into their spirit. Practically all forward looking Indians have been educated and dazzled by the Western World, so that for a considerable period of time to come they will be doing Western work'.

P. L. Varma, the Chief Engineer of Punjab State and P. N. Thapar, the Chief Administrator of Public Works chose a site for the new capital, which they named as Chandigarh. By 1950 Meyer and Nowicki had produced a master plan for Chandigarh and for the capitol area. At this stage the plans were interrupted since in late 1950 Nowicki died in a plane crash. Hence Thapar and Varma went out in search of a new architect. This time it was not in America, but in Europe that they searched for an architect who would give an expression to India's creative genius.

They approached Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry, partners in a British firm of architects, who suggested the name of Le Corbusier. When Le Corbusier was contacted initially, 'he considered the proposed honorarium as well as the time allotted for its completion as "ridiculous". When Thapar and Varma had come to Europe, their original intention was to insist that the architect chosen should stay at the site for at least the first three years. However these conditions as well as many other seem to have been given up gradually under the pressure of finding a prestigious modern architect. When he was asked to come to India, Le Corbusier answered "Your capital can be built right here. We at 35, Rue de Sevres are perfectly capable of finding the solution to the problem".7 According to Maxwell Fry, who was also one of the architects hired and who was present at the negotiations "he (Corbusier), insisted on the inclusion in the team of his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, from whom he had broken sometime earlier. This was inconvenient to the Indians and we tried to assure Corbusier that our loyalty to the project and to him was beyond doubt, but he persisted and arrangements were concluded on that understanding".6 The agreement finally signed in 1950 provided a three year contract under which "he, Corbusier was to serve as an architectural adviser with a salary of £2,000 a year plus 4% of the cost of all buildings, he designed. He was to make two annual visits of one month each at the project for which he would be furnished transportation, plus Rs, 100/day for expenses’. Referring to these terms later, Corbusier has stated, "It must be clear, that it was without thought of profit that we undertook and participated in the task of which we here speak. It had to be decided that there would be no financial gain, but instead we would give all our time, all our health, all our energy, all our knowledge". This of course did not prevent Le Corbusier from demanding a hike in his fee later.

Jane Drew who was one among the team of architects says that Corbusier 'was able to tell Nehru, that he had put more thought into the High Court in Chandigarh than he had envisaged and so his fee must be higher. I was with him and translated this to Nehru. For him (i.e. Le Corbusier), a formal contract regarding the fee was irrelevant; luckily, Nehru was another big man who also saw that a contract was not important in such a work".9

Chandigarh : The Master Plan

In February 1951 Le Corbusier came to India. There, "he met Pierre Jeanneret, and Maxwell Fry and later Jane Drew. In a small hotel, on the road to Simla, the new plan for Chandigarh was drawn up within four days'.7 The reason why it was possible for Le Corbusier to produce a master plan so quickly, was that the major features
of the city plan, were an' implementation of ideas on town planning already present in the tradition of Western architecture.** One of these was the "Sector" as a planning concept and another the "7V" system of roads. The city of Chandigarh was to be divided into thirty sectors (each 3/4 mile by 1/2 mile) of which about 25 were to be residential. Other sectors were for special needs such as industry, university, etc. The residential sector is based on the idea of a "neighborhood unit" which has been in use in the West for over 50 years. The typical residential sector would consist of housing, local shopping center, schools, places of worship and other community buildings. The professed purpose of forming such sectors was to "break down the population into small cells that can form closely knit communities. The theory behind the neighborhood unit is that it will encourage community feeling because people are grouped relatively close together in an identifiable area with one elementary school for children and all residents using the same conveniently located parks and shopping centers. The growth of community feeling is supposed to be aided by the fact that these people all come from approximately the same economic class".6

This concept, which has been implemented in many Western countries, was also tried in Chandigarh. In Western countries which have industrialized economies, the society is being rendered into a group of atomized individuals among whom traditional cultural and social ties are breaking down rapidly. Hence such attempts may have been made there to induce "community feeling" by the design of "Sectors" etc. However in the Indian context the society still maintains its own cultural and social institutions, that go to the making of a community. The attempt to impose upon such a society a new structure that is supposed to create a "community" was bound to fail, since it does not recognize the local realities.

In Western countries, like the USA, parents who send their children to public schools were required to send them to schools in their own district. Parents also participate in local PTA (Parent Teacher Association) meetings and vote in the local board of education elections. All these facts tend to make the school, a focus for the local community. In contrast, in India public schools do not form the basis of educational system. Children could be sent to a variety of schools based on the family's social and economic status as well as religious beliefs. According to a social survey carried out in Chandigarh (1963 65) 41.7% of the households sending children to primary schools sent them to schools outside their own sector.18 According to another survey, carried out by the Punjab University Sociology Department 98% of the School children in one given sector went to schools outside the sector.1 Similarly, the fact that the residents of a sector are of nearly the same economic class (since they are grouped as per government housing classification) has not promoted neighborliness. "It is family ties that play a crucial role in forming friendship".6

The shopping centers were to be like supermarkets, with one store for each type of necessity to be present in a building, so that people would not have to go outside a sector for shopping. In the traditional Indian bazaar, shops selling similar goods group together. As Brolin comments "Shopping in India, as well as many other parts of the world, is not the simple impersonal act that it has come to be for many of us in the West, where we walk down endless aisles, pick up what we want from shelves and never get to see a clerk till we get to the cashier. In India, the process is much more colorful and demands much more human contact. Bargaining is an essential part of it and this is facilitated by grouping shop's selling similar goods in one locality. This makes it easy for the buyer to get 'prices from different shops and for the seller to keep tabs on his competition".

As a. result, the new shopping centers in Chandigarh have been taken over gradually by centers that have one type of shop alone. Thus there is one that has only auto and motorcycle' parts and repair, another with only furniture, etc. With this type of transformation, the necessities of life for a particular sector are being provided by 'illegal' vendors who set up semi-permanent carts in parking spaces around the city. Another important feature of the shopping scene are the '"rehri wallahs" who supply vegetables and other essential commodities door to door through push carts. Rehris and open air shops that form such an essential part of the Indian town scene, do not find any place in the "Master Plan" and, the administrators treat them as a nuisance and continuously harass them. That such unrealistic conceptions could be implemented should come as no great surprise in/view of the fact that the entire planning was done with no understanding of or feedback from the Indian reality. The plans were made psychologically and physically far away from India, "right Paris" in the words of Le Corbusier. When an Indian visitor asked him why he had not stayed longer at Chandigarh, he answered "I was frightened of a snake biting me", but added "What is the meaning of Indian style in the world of today, when you accept machines and trousers and democracy".7

This notion that the local styles were irrelevant and that an industrial city of the 20th century has an inevitable logical architectural style of its own, runs through the entire gamut of Le Corbusier plans for Chandigarh. Hence time and again, he used solutions born in the modern Western context which were of course seen as 'Universal", with consequences disastrous for the "Natives".

The "7V" Roads

The entire system of roads in Chandigarh, the '7V’ system, was born out of the principal laid out by, the CIAM charter. Le Corbusier explains the basis for the 7V's as follows: "One discovers that with 7 types of roads, the man of mechanical civilization could: Cross continents arrive in town V1 go to essential public serviceV2; cross at full speed without interruption the territory of the town V3; dispose of immediate access to daily needsV4; reach the door of his dwellingV5 and V6; send youth to green areas of each sector, where schools and sports grounds are located V7".10 This system divided the roads into two groups functionally: V4V7 roads within a sector that would be free of fast vehicular traffic and V1V3 roads connecting sectors, essentially for fast traffic.

Any system of roads should incorporate an understanding of the nature of the traffic, human or vehicular, that uses the roads. 'According' to a survey carried out in 196364, only 3.3% of the households owned cars and as many as 83% owned bicycles. By 197p there were 10,000 cars in Chandigarh and it was expected that this would increase to 51,000 in the next ten years. However the number of bicycles was already over 1,00,000 in 1970',.10 Hence it is obvious that much greater importance needs to be given to accommodate pedestrians and slow vehicular traffics bicycles, cycle rickshaws, carts etc., a feature common to all Indian cities. However, the V7 roads continuous tract throughout the town, meant to be away from the hazards of motorized traffic is yet to be constructed. The roads are designed for vehicular traffic like cars and "unpaved sidewalks force pedestrians to either walk on uneven ground or share the metallic roads with the rest of the traffic".10

The major assumption of the sector approach, namely that a sector would prove to be self contained for basic daily functions such as shopping and schools for children have proved incorrect. Hence, roads linking sectors contain not merely fast vehicular traffic, but also children going to school, cycle rickshaws, rehriwallahs, bicycles, pedestrians, etc. Buses that were' supposed to ply only on the abundant network of V3 roads have been forced to come to V4 roads to find sufficient customers. Le Carbusier's scheme for buses was arrived at in a pattern that is by now familiar to us, namely he had"...consulted the director of the Parisian autobus transport system and drawn up a scheme for Chandigarh on the same basis"10. The presence of a huge number of cycles and the fact that many cycle rickshaws are needed to supplement the inadequate public transport system has resulted in a number of cycle repairers all along the V3 and V4 roads, under trees, in the sidewalks, etc. But in theory, V3s are only 'fast traffic roads' and any other activity on them is considered a traffic hazard; so all these activities are considered "undesirable" and frowned upon. Architecht Madhu Sarin, who has been resident of Chandigarh since 1955 states, Chandigarh's vast road network remains like an ode to the man of mechanical civilization. To the common Indian man, it must appear rather irrelevant, meaningless and superfluous. For the small minority of car owners, provided they can afford the fuel, Chandigarh is a true paradise. But this imbalance in priorities has also been instrumental in accentuating visible social and economic inequalities"10.


'All the buildings have been built strictly according to the 'building bylaws specially framed by Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry with Le Corbusier's approval. Not only do they contain stringent limitations on how and where to build, but they also give instructions on permissible shapes and size of windows, the height and materials of boundary walls and two or three different types of compound gates that must be used"10. A large number of houses are government designed houses apart from which there are also private houses, whose construction however has to conform to stringent limitations. Brolin, who has made a study of government houses, concludes that houses seem to be designed without a proper understanding of how Indian families live. The result was that the residents often had to 'redesign' houses, in the sense of using parts of houses differently from what the architect had designed, to make them livable. Referring to the plan of a typical government house in Chandigarh, Brolin states, The Indian home is private. When someone who is not a member of the extended family enters, the family's privacy must be protected and therefore the room where the guest is entertained, referred to as the drawing room, must, be visually separated from the family areas. In this house plan, the family areas comprise the kitchen, bedroom/ rear verandah and bathrooms, what would have been the woman's areas in a traditional Indian house. Originally the occupants of this house found that the drawing room was too open in relation to the rest of the house. To remedy this, they shifted its function to the front bedroom and boarded up the connecting door to the other bedroom. The guest is still brought in through the intended drawing room, but once in the new drawing room, the curtain can be drawn and the family can go discretely about its business. Had they owned the house, this Indian family confided, they would have blocked up the original entry and made a (door into the front bedroom. In a number of cases where fashionably modern floor to ceiling windows were used, they have been papered over by the ' houses' occupants testifying to the architects' misunderstanding of the Indian sense of privacy''6. The great value Western tradition assigns to such windows is because this style was "developed for a cold and cloudy Northern Europe at a time, when, in reaction to the congestion of the Nineteenth Century industrial city an ideal was established in which every ray of sun was courted". The kitchens were small and intended only for cooking, while tradition persists and the family also eats there. "One thing that must be mentioned here is that the staple bread of India, the chapathi, must be eaten immediately after it is cooked. Without servants it is impossible for the woman to participate in the meal and still serve the freshly cooked chapathis unless the family eats in the kitchen. There was no closable niche provided for the family altar. So the closet has been taken over for this and clothes hung on the wall or stored in boxes stacked around the room".

The arrangement of houses with respect to each other is also totally different from a traditional Indian town: In Chandigarh the roads are broad and the houses are well spaced apart. Traditional Indian houses are specifically" designed to exclude the sun; they are inward facing with a central courtyard. Hence they can be very closely spaced, and the separation of buildings becomes senseless since the desirable shade produced by narrow streets is lost". It has been observed that such an arrangement "demonstrates a more satisfactory way of coming to terms with a predominantly, pedestrian environment, a tropical climate and high population density".

Even features such as the commercial center, namely the Chowk, that are normally full of activity are devoid of life12. The very essence of an Indian Chowk or crossing is its function as a meeting place of various activities. The Sector 17 Chowk is discernible as a Chowk only in plans. On the ground, the scale is so large and the width between streets so great, that one sees nothing but vast stretches of concretes paving, with a few lone figures here and there. The small-scale city trader the hawker and the rehris have been banned from the city center, so that even when sources of activity and interest could be induced, if only to reduce the concretized barrenness and austerity of the Chowk, these are not utilized. Banks, post offices and the likes are incapable of generating activity nodes. As specialized activities they are of little interest to anybody who does not have business to do there. Then, all banks close early and big shops and showrooms close by 7.30 p. m. After that the city center presents a barren, ghostly and deserted appearance. Immense possibilities exist for making sector 17 a nucleus for various activities, but they remain unexplored for fear of upsetting the original vision of the master"10.

The Unplanned Chandigarh :

We can thus see that the major features of Chandigarh roads, sectors, houses etc. have been planned by incorporating Western architectural traditions wholesale, irrespective of their suitability to Indian conditions. An even more disturbing fact is that several features normal to the Indian urban scene that have come up in Chandigarh have received no official recognition or have been declared "illegal", because they find no place in the 'Master Plan' having no counterparts in the Western tradition.

As mentioned earlier, rehires are a very common form of vending for petty traders in India as they play an essential role by providing a door to door supply of daily needs. "They could have been very easily integrated into the growth of the city by providing minimum facilities like paving, water supply and drainage at essential locations. Instead they have been considered a great nuisance. Attempts were made to ban rehris in Chandigarh and the administration continues to harass them, since they are not part of the 'Master Plan"10.

All of Chandigarh's land use and planning is based on the CIAM doctrine of "Separation of functions" hence the master plan distinctly divides the city into Industrial, Commercial and Residential zones. This again was born in the context of an industrialized Western society, where, since the production is centralized it is possible to restrict it to a single zone in the city and separate it distinctly from the residential and commercial areas. However, a key feature of the Indian town is the small manufacturing unit, often with the family as the unit of production. Here men, women and children participate at various levels in production and selling. The manufacturing unit often forms a part of the house itself which may also serve as the sales outlet; Open or semi covered spaces near houses are freely made use of for these activities, since the weather makes this possible. Such activities have spontaneously sprung up in certain parts of Chandigarh.

For example, at the old location of Bajwara village that was acquired for the creation of the city,6" One can find a large number of blacksmiths,, rope dealers, quilt makers and waste dealers trading and manufacturing some essential and typically Indian items like quilts, charpoys, tin trunks, chappals and so on, with raw material shops in the same location.) Several attempts have been made to resettle the people in small booths dispersed all over the city; however, the accompanying dispersal of complimentary activities and the loss of business has brought several persons back to Bajwara village illegally.' Finding no room for themselves in the Master Plan, many of these artisans, craftsmen and traders have devised a solution within their economic reach arid supply essential services to the citizens. They do not have much to thank the architects and planners for the latter have only displayed an obsessive desire to fit them into the layout of the Master Plan, irrespective of their needs or priorities"10

Thus people belonging to a number of professions who play an essential role in an Indian cityrehri wallahs, construction labourers, cycle rickshaw pullers, gardeners, hawkers, petty traders, .cobblers, sweepers and many more are forced to live in "unauthorized" labor colonies. A few of these colonies have, now become ''authorized'' labour colonies, rafter persistent agitations and demonstrations by its inhabitants. These have been given some community taps and lavatories. Most labour colonies however are still ''unauthorized" they are the slums of Chandigarh. These have no water, drainage, paved roads or schools or dispensaries, etc. Yet a majority of the workers from these settlements work in Chandigrah to provide essential services. The houses in these colonies are built by the people themselves. The city has responded by demolishing any "new huts" that are built without it making "any efforts at housing them. Slums are not unique to Chandigarh and form a. part of any big Indian city. But while "...other Indian cities like Deihi, Ahmedbad, Calcutta and Madras, .have made genuine efforts on tire basis of real experiments in devising solutions for the urban poof even if it means giving the slum dwellers only a right to live unhorsed' in his kutcha shack in the absence of anything more positive Chandigarh has not been willing to give even that much''10

Chandigarh : The Vision of justice

The view is often put forth that Chandigarh despite its defects is unique in India for its cleanliness, tree planted roads, and waterborne sewerage etc., and hence represents a path breaking trend that needs to be emulated elsewhere. This however, misses the central point that Chandigarh even though it is a "Showcase piece" that is highly subsidized financially by the central government, has been able to achieve all this only for a section of its citizens. Any Indian city has areas that are pollution free" with excellent water supply and sewerage facilities. The catch of course is that all these are executed In a style which makes them possible only for a small minority of the residents and achieved at a high social cost, a cost that is seen in the slums and pavement tenements that are scattered all over these excites. Chandigarh too, as we have seen has a large share of people who live in its labour colonies. While other cities recognize, and a few have made some efforts to address the problems, Chandigarh has merely hidden its slums outside the master plan, areas. Thus they are not 'recognized' as a part of the city and hence not seen as a problem that needs to be addressed.

In today's Chandigarh justice is to be found only in monuments supposedly put up to express such notions. About the High Court building the architect Correa said, 'The main entrance it is one of the greatest tour de force ever pulled off in architecture. To enter the building, to stand under the columns is to know what justice is superhuman justice, justice without mercy, the state, above and beyond the prejudices of the individual. This is architecture, this feeling, this command''. At one level one might wonder if a monument to justice is to be built on such a super human scale; perhaps one could conceive of others at a more human level, like " a Japanese court; suppose the judge sat on a mat at the level of a defendant'.

More fundamentally however, notions such as justice seem to have been separated from the basic planning process, right from the beginning. The city planning reflects the same fragmented approach. Right from the beginning, it was seen that "All in all, building of the city would involve the dislocation of about 9000 people for whom compensation was arranged and land set aside. In the beginning however considerable difficulty was experienced in inducing the village inhabitants of the Chandigarh site to leave their lands, according to p. N. Thapar who directed the resettlement negotiations, "The villagers repeatedly removed surveyor's markers and feeling themselves victimized by the new government were contemptuous of pleas for patriotic sacrifice. As arrangements progressed, the farmers insisted on being moved in groups keeping their village units intact and made exacting requirements regarding the quality of land they would accept as compensation. At the close of every meeting with the villagers, Thapar reports, the venerable leader of the farmers would arise and ask one question " If we refuse to go will you shoot us?'' The dilemma of the government representatives must be understood in relation to the constantly reiterated principles of justice and nonviolence with which the new regime had taken power, for it would seem, highly inauspicious if the initial act of founding the new capital involved driving farmers off their land by force. The peasants on the other hand were determined to maintain moral superiority and eventually consented to leave their land only after witnessing a public statement by the Governor that he would indeed have them shot, if they refused to vacate".

A most interesting feature of the above episode is the observation that 'the farmers insisted on moving in groups keeping their village units intact'. This makes highly revealing reading in the light of the fact that the residents of Chandigrah constantly complain about trie lack of community feeling and in fact this has emerged on top of the list'of complaints in many sociological surveys. Thus the building of the city has swept away a group of people with strong community bonds, replaced them with a set of individuals who share no community feeling, and now ways and means are being sought, to Introduce this 'element' if possible. This is but one more expression of the fragmented approach that characterizes modern architecture as a whole.

Nehru Le Corbusier Chandigarh

To unravel the reason why Chandigarh finds itself in this position today, requires an understanding of Le Corbusier as well as the context in which he worked in India particularly "the vision held by4 Nehru about Chandigarh and its significance. "In spite of his well known theories on urbanism and the production of several schemes for cities all over the world, Chandigarh was the only real opportunity Le Corbusier received to put them into practice. His feelings and thoughts are best expressed in his own words at the time he was first approached to participate in the venture. . In a letter addressed to an official of the Indian embassy in Paris, he wrote in November 1950, "I consider myself the only person at this moment prepared by 40 years of experience and study on this theme capable of usefully helping your Government. I greatly insist on this fact without modesty". He received a magnificent and reverential reception in India, thanks mainly, to Pandit Nehru's great personal admiration of him. Nehru's ideas about Le Corbusier and Chandighrah, as well as on Architecture in general, can be best seen in the following speech, delivered in 1959, while inaugurating the first National Seminar on Architecture:

Mr. Humayun Kabir referred to the great temples of the South and the Taj Mahal. Well, they are beautiful. Some of the temples of the South however repel me inspite of their beauty. I just can't island them. Why? I do not know. I cannot explain that, but they are oppressive, they suppress my spirit. They do not allow me to rise, they keep me down. The dark corridors like the sun and air and not dark corridors. All architecture represents to a large extent, the age in which it grows. You cannot' isolate architecture from the age, from the social conditions, from the thinking, the objectives and ideas of that particular age. Mr. Kabir refers to the static condition in regard to architecture in India during the last two, three hundred years. That really was a reflection of the static' condition of the Indian mind or Indian conditions. Everything was static. In fact India was static before that. Without being very accurate or precise, architecturally, for the last few hundred years, India was static, and the great buildings really date back to a considerable time.

The past was good when it was present, but you cannot bring it forward, when the world has changed, into a technological period and put up a Gothic Cathedral and call it a railway terminus. It is ridiculous. I gave that example because there is always that tendency to do that and there is likely to be more of the tendency in a country likes India where we hold fast to traditions more than in other countries. Now traditions are good and specially when traditions are something unique and something elevating, but no tradition which makes you a prisoner of your mind of body is ever good, however good that tradition 'may be. Development of the individual suffers by coercion, traditional or modern. Then function governs of course, function has to. But, perhaps the most important governing factor depends on technological advance in the material you use.

'Now I have welcomed vary greatly one great experiment in India, which you know very well, Chandigarh. I do not like every building in Chandigarh. 1 like a few very much, I like the general conception of the township very much, but what I like above all is the creative approach, not being tied down to what, has been done by our forefathers and the like, but thinking out in new terms, trying to think in terms of light and air and ground and water and human beings, and not in terms of rules and regulations laid down by our ancestors. Chandigarh as you well know, is more famous in the world than most Indian towns or cities excepting the well known three or four simply because it is a thing coming out, it is a thing of power coming out, of a power full mind and if you want anything of power, it must come out of a powerful mind, not a flat mind or a mind which is a mirror, and that too not a very clear mirror, reflecting somebody else's mind. There is no doubt that Le Corbusier is a man with a powerful creative type of mind. Because he has that, he may become extravagant occasionally. He can produce extravaganza occasionally, but it is better to have that than to have a swelled head with no mind at all.

Remember that this business of European or Indian or Iranian and American architecture has certainly some substance in it but not so much as is made out. A modern European building, as you may call it, is a building coming out of industrialism. You may call it a building of the industrial age. If the industrial age comes to India, it will bring something like that but it will have to fit in with our function, climate, etc. So it is not European or Indian but something fitting in with the general structure of society, technological advance, climate, function, etc."

Of course, Nehru was far from correct in his assessment when he described Indian architecture as being static "for the last few hundred years" and "the great buildings really date back to a considerable time''. Less than fifty years before 'Nehru's speech, the work, of E.B. Havell and the Report of Gordon Sanderson had established that architecture in India was very much a living science as well as art*. Specifically about town planning, Havell says

"Modern Rajput architecture may be said to have begun with the building of the city of Jaipur in 1728. The plan of city of Jaipur is especially interesting at a time when town planning is regarded as a recent invention to European science, for this Indian city is one of those which has not grown up irregularly by gradual accretion it was laid out at its foundation on a scientific plan according to the traditions of Hindu City builders and the direction of their canonical books called the Silpasastras. The plan given by Ram Raz ** called 'prastara' is very similar to that of Jaipur. The city leans upon the neighboring hill defended by the Nahagarh Fort, its main streets running approximately from east to west and north to south, following the directions laid down in silapsastras.11

Nehru's speech also expresses powerfully, his rejection of tradition not merely Indian, but any tradition. Hence it is ironical to note that Le Corbusier himself was guided by tradition in his design. Unfortunately for the residents of Chandigarh, the tradition that guided Corbusier's thinking was not Indian tradition but Western architectural tradition. For example, Le Corbusier, referring to the V4 roads, states that it is designed to emulate the 'Grand rule of tradition'1 meaning of course Western tradition. Again the dimensions of a sector are based on the Spanish cuadra of 11OM to 100M square. The bus transportation system of Chandigarh was planned after consulting the director of the Parisian auto bus transport system and drawn up on the same basis. 10 Albert Meyer's original plan for Chandigarh was modified by Le Corbusier to bring 'the plan back into the Western tradition of pre-Howardian town planning. His project evoked the grandiose urban geometry of L' Enfants' Washington or Hanssmann's Paris' 7. About the vast pedestrian plaza at the business center, it has been said. Its nonfunctional character as a mere business district derives from Chartre de Athenes, Its formthe vast open spaces surrounded by long arcaded office buildings reflects Le Corbusier's delight in French squares and Roman Fora' 7.

We have described a clear cut illustration of a phenomenon that is taking place in all sectors of our science and technology. While modernization claims to replace tradition with a new science and technology that is 'Value free' and 'Neutral', it is obvious that in1 practice what has been achieved is the replacement of our traditions and values by the values of modern Western Society. Indeed it is impossible to have a science and technology without a value system as its basis. Thus in architectecture the design of a city and houses in it, is inseparably linked to the architect's understanding of a society, namely what is the relationship of human beings in the society to each other and to nature.

A city where production and residential areas are separated could probably be achieved only in an industrial economy where production being centralized can be confined to some zones. Similarly the design of houses has to be based on an understanding of how people' live with each other whether as individuals, nuclear families or joint families and how neighbours perceive and interact with each other. Thus the tools of modern architecture, or in general modern science and technology, may only help in achieving a society whose values are' those of the modern Western society. Hence we need to understand what these values are and how acceptable these are to our people.

As regards Chandigarh) it should thus come as no surprise, that the efforts to be ‘unfettered by traditions’ have only resulted in a city totally devoid of Indianness. The determination to force the modern ideals of living was carried out with missionary zeal and no aspect of life seems to have been spared including the aesthetic aspects, as highlighted by the" curious episode of the high court tapestries:" Because the exposed concrete surface inside the court room produced a problem in acoustics, it was found necessary to introduce a more sound absorptive surface and the solution determined by Le Corbusier was the creation of large tapestries to cover the interior walls behind the judges benches. The design of the tapestries was composed by Le Corbusier, of independent elements based on the modular in such a manner that, although the design was done in Paris, precise directions for their execution could be telegraphed to India. Although the tapestries were reported to have provoked the delighted acquiescence of Mr. Nehru and the Governor of Punjab as well as the Chief Judge, it was perhaps inevitable that the designs, large in scale and composed of unfamiliar abstract elements would arouse opposition from some of the judges who declared them, an outrage to the dignity of justice''. One judge is reported to have implored Thapar. "For God's sake, burn them, or do something". Two or three of the tapestries1 were removed and it appeared for a while that they might be eliminated altogether, but Le Corbusier, according to one of his colleagues, was able to appeal to the "highest authority', which was assumed to be Nehru, and subsequently." The High Court showed much tolerance in accepting the tapestries." Clearly, Chandigarh was to be brought up on modern ideals even if the citizens had to be force-fed for the purpose.

The Roots of Modern Architecture

In our "discussion of the building of Chandigarh, we saw how, the imposition of Modern Architecture in a Third World context, results merely in the 'force feeding' of the values of modern Western civilization. This process is rarely examined because modern architecture is generally believed to be the universal form language thus providing the rational solution suited to all cultures and contexts. Only recently does one find a critique of modern architecture emerging both in the West as well as the Third World, which traces the origins of modern architecture to the social values of modern Western civilization. We shall here focus' upon the roots of Modern Architecture as brought out by Brent C. Brolin in his seminal work. "The Failure of Modern Architecture".6*

The modern architectural 'revolution' which declared all traditional styles null and void was born around the turn of the century. Modern architecture differs in some major respects from all other architectural styles that preceded it. 'The proponents of modern architecture say that its universal form language is the logical outcome of a rational approach to design with new materials and techniques'. Walter Gropius who was one of the leading proponents of modern architecture has said that the forms of the new architecture differ from the traditional forms, in as much as 'they are not the personal whims of a handful of architects avid for innovation at all cost, but simply the inevitable logical product of the intellectual, social and technical conditions of our age'. The acceptance of such 'inevitability is leading us to a colorless homogenization of architectural traditions. 'Wherever Western civilization has penetrated, impersonal forms intrude upon the profiles of cities, towns and villages. Whereas even as recently as ten years ago the traveler found unexpected delights, he is now faced with stultifying, predictability in the architecture. He flies from New York to Beirutor Kabul or Delhi or Hong Kong and hardly knows that he has changed countries. Visual traditions that link a society to its own past have been thus excluded from modern cities throughout the world. These have been replaced by the visual preferences of the modern movement, which contain 'implicit assumptions about how people live or how they should live, assumptions defined by the architect's personal values'.

According to Brolin:

The ideas grafted onto modern architecture came from many sources. (1) From capitalism, that system wherein all energies are aimed at increasing efficiency at getting the most return for least investment modernists acquired the intellectual and emotional bias for a practical functional approach to design. This approach worked towards the exclusion of all elements such as ornament that served no demonstrably practical purpose, and rejection of visual complexity in favour of simple forms. (2) From the Protestant ethic which attributed moral values to nonmetal activities such as "hard work", came the tendency to attribute moral value to specifically aesthetic choices. Truth and beauty have often been linked but the modern movement offered one more precise formula to join the two : it was honest and beautiful to show materials in their natural state dishonest and ugly to disguise them, honest to express the structure of a building in its exterior, dishonest to disguise it, etc. (3) A self righteousness comparable only to that of the 19th century Christian missionary, lead architects to assume that their own attitudes and values were proper for all others in the modern world, regardless of class, race or cultural differences. (4) Deified reason, science and the engineer supplanted tradition as the source of truth. This facilitated the fall of traditional architectural style and the rise of modern architecture. Factory and the machines, the engineer's creations were venerated not only for their clean look, but also they embodied the epitome of functional design they were, made expressly for one purpose. (5) Technological and scientific success encouraged the worship of change. It followed from a belief in the inevitable improvement of life through technology, and social and aesthetic traditions were irrelevant. (6) The erroneous popular understanding of Darwin's theory to evolution lead people to believe that the physical environment was the critical factor in social behavior and that by changing an unsatisfactory environment, social harmony could be restored. This misunderstanding also lent apparent support of natural law to the idea that no practical elements such as ornament should be eliminated just as species' unused organs atrophy.

One of the major guiding principles of modern architecture is "functionalism" the quality of fulfilling a purpose directly without any "wasted effort". From this, there follow ra series of corollaries, including opposition, to ornamentation, a stress on "simplicity" of form, etc. Modern architecture also advocates the view that "form follows function" and hence it effectively states that for a given function, there is but 'one rational solution in architectural form, namely the modern one. According to Brolin:

The nineteenth century concept of economizing action was one of the main sources of functional architecture. In his book, "Primitive, Archaic and Modern Economies", the economic historian Karl Polanyi defines economizing action as the attempt to eliminate everything that is not useful or necessary in practical terms. The role of economizing action in capitalism is obvious, economy means efficiency,' which means, more profits, which means more capital to reinvest. As capitalism blossomed, the concept of economizing action became so much part of life that it was assumed that man had always been driven by the heed to work efficiently". Gradually functionalism acquired moral overtones and ornamentation that which served no utility and was considered a distraction came to be identified with 'primitiveness'. To the modernists beauty depended to a large degree on the real or imagined attributes of functionalism, to the extent that the Russian constructionist Vladimir Tatlin could proclaim the aesthetic superiority of a modern factory over opera and ballet and of a book of Albert Einstein over a Dostoyevski novel. For the advancement of man and culture he felt art also had to be, "constructive", that is "functional." Thus, progress was intimately tied up with functionalism, a position that was declared by the Vienna architect Adolph Loos, who said "the evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects".

Armed with this understanding, modernists used the rejection of ornament as the main weapon in their assault on tradition. "Since all traditions rely in some way on ornament, architecture without ornament meant architecture that did not rely on tradition. Ornamentation on houses, utensils and ritual objects is part of daily life in most cultures but to modernists it was a sign of decadence". Having rejected tradition, the guiding principle for arriving at "form" was functioning itself. Functionalists assumed that the honest accommodation of function would result in a specific modern form without historical precedent. But a variety of forms can be consistent with a given architectural function.

Consider a decision architects commonly have to make: how to limit the amount of sunlight that comes into a building; some of the ways to solve the problem are bruise soleil-the concrete sun breaker made famous by Le Corbusier Venetian blinds, canvas awnings, shutters, roof overheads and tinted glass. They are all "honest", satisfactory solutions to light control even though each has a different reaction in us because of its Associations. Since they are all practical solutions and none with the possible exception of brisesoleil takes an inordinately large chunk of the budget, how does the architect decide which one to use? Assuming their equal availability he picks one those appeals to his sense of style. And although it may seem obvious in this and other instances that the same function may be served equally well by several different styles, architects have maintained for nearly 50 years that functional criteria, that is "meeting the needs of the architectural programme", determines the appearances of their building rather than aesthetic preferences. As indicated already, they have gone so far as to claim that the true modern style was inevitable. Placing great emphasis on the rational method, modern architects reason that art like physics has immutable laws that if pursued rationally would lead to modern forms. But what is modern form 7 In fact one can only argue rationally after one has chosen a set of values from which to argue. The way these values are chosen is as important and revealing as the rigor of the rational method. Depending on these initial premises, for example a planner could arrive rationally at either a grid or a non-grid plan for a city.

The modern architect has thus proceeded to redesign the world "in his own image" and the process has assumed that his own values apply to all. The values inherent in industrialism, capitalism and modern western social relations have permeated modern architecture. Where the values of the user are different, it is considered progress to replace them with the values of the architect.

Alternatives to Modern Architecture

I propose one single building for alt nations and climates.

Le Corbusier

Every people that has produced architecture has evolved its own favorite forms, as peculiar to that people as its language, its dress or its folklore. Until the collapse of cultural frontiers in the last century, there were all over the world distinctive local shapes and details in architecture, and the buildings of any locality were the beautiful children of a happy marriage between the imagination of the people and the demands of the countryside.

Hassan Fathy 13

Modern architecture has ignored the question of how people live, looking at their culture, social relations, climate, etc., and instead has set out to define how people should live namely by the values of the Industrial Western society. If people do not already live so it was assumed that they could be made to do so and accept the change as progress. Thus it has come into severe conflict with how people actually live particularly in third world context and faces rejection. It has proved itself to be dehumanizing, often unsuited to climatic conditions, in conflict with local social and cultural traditions and above all, not affordable by large sections of the population because of its high cost inputs.

"Gropius made several pronouncements as sociological justifications for his architectural solutions. He claimedthat there are cultural advantages to high rise apartments because of the increased probability of meeting people. Since Gropius wrote about this aspect of modern life, the anonymity of high rise apartment buildings has become legendary".10 Modern architectural techniques are also seen to be failures in as much as they pay little regard to climatic requirements. A typical instance is the, modernization of architecture in Saana, the capital of Yemen that occurred in the 1960s*.

As Brolin notes

"The foreign experts all built in reinforced concrete. In Saana there can be difference of 30° to 40oF in 24 hours. As a result expansion cracks developed in all of the newly built structures within a few months of completion. These were often not merely cosmetic problems but endangered the structure of the building. The modern buildings suffered from another problem too as the temperature changed outside, it also changed inside. The buildings became ovens in the day and refrigerators at night. In a short time wealthy Yemenis who had wanted the status of a modern house, moved back into their traditionally built houses and rented the modern ones to visiting foreigners. The temperature problem could have been solved by heating and air conditioning but the high costs of the units and fuel and maintenance are obvious. Furthermore, our (i.e. Western) concept of climate control was foreign to the Yemenis who had been using a much more sophisticated method since the time of the Queen of Sheeba. The method is still used, but the foreign experts never considered it'. (6)

Modern architecture is today advocated mainly by claiming that only modern techniques such as prefabrication and mass production can solve today's housing problem. But recent years have seen the total inability of these methods to solve the housing' problem. This is partly because the inputs of modern architecture, such as cement concrete, steel, etc., are high energy, high cost inputs whose prices have increased tremendously.1 Also, the resources for the technology are to be procured from only a few urban centers (or abroad) and neither local resources nor local building skills get utilized. However it is only these resources and these skills that have provided housing for the Third World "people till recently. In 1912 Havell wrote: "Except therefore, in the great European cities (i.e. of India) where European conditions prevail, there is no housing problem in India and where it does exist, it is only the outcome of the stupid wasteful system which ignores Indian traditions and the wonderful artistic opportunities which India's industrial resources still offer"14. In recent times the importance of using local traditions are being slowly rediscovered by developing countries. Above all, it is still true that all societies retain strong links to the past and one way this gets expressed is through its visual traditions. Modern architecture has intentionally excluded this from cities throughout the world and the result is a real loss for peoples of all cultures.

How have modern architects responded to these criticisms? A typical response can be seen in a recent review of Brolin's book in a reputed architectural journal. The reviewer, while agreeing with Brolin completely as regards his criticism of modern architecture, is at a total loss as to why Brolin is advocating 'going back' to traditions, Western or nonwestern According to the reviewer:

" The author is primarily concerned with the social failure o f high rise residential buildings. This is not news, except to architects. It is natural that architects prefer to house the several million inhabitants of a metropolis in large ordered buildings set in a park landscape. One flaw in this book is it looking back to the pact and to present day civilizations which still live in a more primitive age, such as Yemen and India. People do not wish to go back to the past, they simply wish to arrange their living space to suit their convenience and to leave it as their circumstances or interests change. Hence they prefer suburban houses designed by speculative builders, whose aim is to build what people wish to buy, to public housing, architect designed for the common good. Mr. Brolin's criticism is soundly based. His remedy however is dubious. What American (and Australian) architects should study is not Yemenite houses, but "Specbuilders suburban'' to find out why so many people prefer it to architect designed housing".(15)

By the same token shouldn't the architects of the third world stop looking at what have been the proven failures of the architects of the West? People in New York might have no alternatives to modern architecture, than what the 'Spec builder’s subarban' have to offer. However people of the third world have enough of their rich traditions still surviving to provide sufficient inspiration to evolve an enduring alternative to modern architecture.

In recent years signs of such rebellion are beginning to appear and there are indications that the people of the Third World are rediscovering the value of using their traditional architecture and local skills. In 1970s the architect Alain Bertaud in Yemen helped in reacquainting the Yemenis with the technical and aesthetic values of their own architecture and this has begun what has been described as a 'tentative but encouraging renaissance of Yemeni architecture'0. A similar movement in Egypt was initiated by the architect Hassan Fathy who built the Gourna village entirely with sundried mud brick and the whole design of housing and layout was based on traditional concepts. In China the rural housing programme has laid great stress on the use of local resources like wood and mud and the use of local architectural styles10'. Similar experiments are in progress also n several other Third World countries 17-20.

In India, which has had a great architectural tradition for thousands of years, there are as yet no signs of recognition of traditional architectural knowledge or its practioners. A lion's share of all 'development' work is construction work and the government which has thus become the 'chief patron' has an attitude towards Indian architecture that is no different from the British Raj. As early as 1912, Havell wrote.

'Of all the branches of art, that of architecture is the one which gives occasion for the exercise of the highest constructive powers and in the revival of Indian domestic architecture there is a magnificent field open for the energy of the Swadeshi reformers and the very best opportunity for giving a great stimulus to Indian art and craft. Nowhere is it truer than in India that architecture is the mother of all arts and the neglect of Indian architectural traditions by Indian leaders of public opinion has been one of the principal causes for the deterioration of Indian art.

It may be that the English educated Indians find the old Indian style of house irksome and incomputable with their ideals of comfort. But why, instead of showing the Indian traditional builder how to adapt his design to new requirements do they make him a bad imitator of inferior European architecture or employ Europeans to do that for them? If they act thus, with the idea that they are emulating the best traditions of Europe, they deceive themselves entirely, for no European house or palace yet built in this style would be considered first rate architecture in Europe even compared with the best modern buildings. If they do so from a want of faith in Indian artistic capacity, it is a confession of impotence and failure, which is painful evidence of Indian intellectual degeneration, for never at any previous period of Indian history have Indian architects and craftsmen shown such incapacity...European experts like Fergusson who have devoted themselves to the study of Indian architecture acknowledge that the science of building has been developed by Indian architects to a point fully as high as and in some instances higher than the best architects of Europe. If the forms prescribed by old Indian architectural traditions are not suitable they must be altered and you will find that it will be much easier for an Indian builder to adapt his art to India than it is for an European to produce good art for you... Let New India learn all that Old India has to teach, before it attempts to profit from the wisdom of the West'. 14

'Leaders' of India have however chosen a path, in which development and progress are synonymous with modernization and Westernization. Traditional practices not only in' architecture but in all branches of science and technology are seen merely as fetters to be discarded. Today's science and technology not only learns nothing from our traditions, but rejection of traditions is at its very basis. It is no great wonder that in this context its solutions prove to be not merely irrelevant but often serious obstacles to the task of national reconstruction. The recent years have only shown that Havell's prescription is even more valid today and we shall indeed have to learn all that Old India has to teach us in order to build a New India.


1. 'Chandigarh' by Norma Evenson (University of California Press, Berkely, 1966)

2. 'What has India contributed to world welfare’ quoted in 'Anarida Coomaraswamy": A Study' by Moni Bagchee (Bharath Manisha, Varanasi, 1977).

3. 'Lectures on Architecture' by J. Soane, 1929, quoted in 'European Architecture in India: 17501850' by Sten Nilsson, (London 1965).

4. 'History of World Civilization', (Ed.) Edward R. Tannenbaum (John Wiley and Sons, 1973) pp. 1923.

5. 'East and West' by C.N. Parkinson (London 1963) p. 191, quoted by Sten Nilsson op. cit. p. 1623.

6. 'The Failure of Modern Architecture’ by Brent C. Brolin (Cassell and Collier MacMillan, 1976).

7. 'The politics of the open hand' by Stanislaus Von Moos in 'The Open Hand: Essays on Le Corbusier' (Ed.) Russell Walden (M.l.T. Press, 1977).

8. 'Le Corbusier on Chandigarh' by Maxwell Fry in 'The Open Hand' op. cit.

9. 'Le Corbusier as I knew him' by Jane B. Drew in 'The Open Hand', op. cit.

10. 'Chandigarh as a place to live in' by Madhu Sarin, in 'The Open Hand', op. cit.

11. Seminar on Architecture, Govt, of India (New Delhi, 1959).

12. 'Indian Architecture: Its Psychology etc by E.B. Havell (London, 1913)

13. 'Architecture for the Poor by Hassan Fathy (Chicago University Press, 1973).

14. 'Basis for Artistic and Industrial Revival of India' by E.B. Havell (Adyar Library, 1912)

15. Architectural Science Review (1979) 223, pp. 8182.

16. 'Housing the Third World', PPST Bulletin Vol. Ill, No. 1, May 1983.

17. 'Indigenous methods for low Cost housing' by F. Afsher et al., 'International Conference on Low Income Housing Technology and Policy' (Bangkok, Thailand, 1977)

18. 'Indigenous architecture as the basis of house design in developing countries: A case study evaluation of traditional housing in Bhutan', by Donald Watson and Alain Bertaud in 'International Symposium on Housing Problems (1976)' (Ed.) P. F. Rad et al, Vol. II (Clemsen University).

19. 'Indigenous development and housing' by Farokh Afshar et al, in 'Housing Problems in Developing Countries', Vol. I, (Eds.) P. H. Daklul et. al. (1978).

20. 'Modern Architecture since 1900'by W.J.R. Curtis (Phaidon Press, Oxford 1982).

Author: Madras Group

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