History and Structure of Capitol Complex’s World Heritage Site

Capitol Complex

The Capitol Complex sits at the top of Chandigarh’s city grid, with the mountains and an existing village (Konsai) further North, the landscaped Rajendra Park to the West and the sculptural Rock Garden and the artificially made Sukhna Lake to the East. This Capitol is as much a landscape project as an architectural one, as the gigantic concrete sculptural buildings sit in the flat land, hundreds of meters from one another as Curtis describes, “a colossal, grave, and dignified ruin”. The Capitol Complex continues to be used by the Union Government of India that governs the two states Punjab and Haryana that Chandigarh is neighbored to but not a part of, due to being a Union Territory.

Capitol Complex’s World Heritage Site includes the 66 hectare land area, as well as these structures in the site:

  • Punjab and Haryana High Court,
  • Legislative Assembly,
  • Punjab and Haryana Civil Secretariat,
  • Open Hand monument,
  • Tower of Shadows,
  • Geometric Hill.

Development History

In the early stage of the development, Le Corbusier planned the capitol to dominate the city, by being the head that anyone could see from anywhere in the city. The Secretariat was to have the biggest impact by being a tall skyscraper with mountains as the backdrop, however the governing officials didn’t want tall buildings for the city, so the building was turned on its side to become its now long low-rise building, though it is still 8 stories. Up until 1951 the capitol had an uninterrupted view of the city as Le Corbusier decided to create artificial dunes on the south of the capitol to, as people surmise, ‘turn his back on the city and architects’ or ‘hide behind walls to create his own universe’. This in sense decapitated the “head” from the “body” as views from street level to Capitol were blocked. The view to the North of the little Kensai Village and the Himalayas Mountains was something he admired.

In his next move, Le Corbusier focused heavily on the location of the buildings so that they would appear as a “magical bucolic symphony” which was meant to fit into the landscape in a visual harmonic relationship. He determined positions by “a question of optics”, a notion written in his sketches that describe the mathematics of his idealized plan. By the use of modular composition in plan; the use of a 800m length square with a 400m length square inside and another 400m square outside on the right, the buildings began to line up to a grid. And then through an overlay of the golden section, the buildings begin to align more. It is still questionable as Corbusier decided it through “a battle of space fought in the mind” thus many still speculate his unconveyable reasons of position. The golden section becomes a recurring influence that was informs proportions based off his “Modular Man” diagram. This method is what the main modernist artists delve into, Le Corbusier showing the series become something of a symphony by a “sculpture of the intellect”, like an architectural Picasso.

The landscape of the Capitol is no less psychological, as Farooq Ameen explains Le Corbusier pursues the Indian spiritual quest as the “plaza has no trees so to stand under a sun without shadows” which meant to embrace the Indian spiritual nature of belief in the Sun. This gave the Plaza an emotive power for the viewer while they journey through the Capitol Complex in the dry hot Indian climate. In this surreal landscape the Capitol space feels limitless because it’s hard to comprehend a sense of enclosure to the scale of the human body. Le Corbusier achieved this by measuring the space against the mountains, the result being a 650m gap between buildings.

Description of Building Components

The Monuments and Buildings compliment the arid land with their sculptural elements, use of deep concrete and sharp rectilinear facades. Concrete was the primary choice for the Capitol Complex and Chandigarh due to it being an abundant resource and for the material for modernity as Corbusier describes, has “clarity of spirit”. Le Corbusier started designing the buildings with elevation drawings to juxtapose the structures against the silhouette of the Himalayan mountains, the first drawings showing the buildings as specks on the horizon line. The aim had the Secretariat (vertical mass) and Governor’s Palace (sweeping up parasol roof) as upward thrusting counterpoints to the horizontality and the High Court and Assembly would act as flanking twins by similar gigantic façades with arches. These would undergo various changes.

The High Court was the first to be completed, a rectangular plan, a façade of an upturned parasol roof with an overextending parapet wall on the side elevation so to not visually compete with the governor’s palace. This buildings elevation and plan are informed by Le Corbusier’s old purist memories and cubic visual thinking as the two mirror each other as if the facade rotates around the central horizontal axis. This is further emphasized by the 2 front reflective pools that are divided by a bridge path entrance from the esplanade. The effect the water’s reflection creates a sense of weightlessness by horizontal symmetry that neutralizes the concrete density for a fascinating and magical experience. The Secretariat, once changed to a horizontal long low-rise form, gained a form that resembled a cruise liner ploughing through a sea of green from a South view. It’s two long facades comprise grid holes into the rectilinear concrete brutalist form. The Legislative Assembly’s form was to similarly mirror the High Court. It was a ‘revelation’ that the superstitious Le Corbusier received when he happened to rotate one of his purist paintings that resembled a bull, a shape he became obsessed with and the Taureaux series especially when he was in India and living “under the sign of a bull”. With that he changed the front parasol roof and building’s side profile to resemble shape of the Bull’s back and horns. A year after the bull discovery he noticed the hyperbolic paraboloid cooling tower of a new thermal power station and eagerly tested its acoustic properties, and as such used for the larger of the Assembly’s two chambers. The second chamber had a pyramid roof. Protruding volcano like shape bursts from the roof of the building, no longer horizontal, now a vertical composition that is uncanny to the aesthetic of the High Court. The reflective pools don’t serve to the same effect of the former twin. Le Corbusier interestingly used the new roof to create a sundial that uses shapes derived from cosmic symbols. At the entrance he designed a huge door with panels of symbols. He asked Nehru for Indian symbols, however, Nehru once again dismisses Indian traditions, and asks Le Corbusier to draw up his own new symbols. The outcome is a symbolism of the Sun and Indian animals. At completion of the Assembly in 1952, it became the center of the capitol, and so the Governor’s Palace wasn’t built, replaced by the boxy Museum of Knowledge, so that it wouldn’t compete with the new dominance of the assembly.

The Open Hand Monument is a sculpture that waited 30 years to be built due to its meaning at the time which Le Corbusier drew up being obsolete. It is now used as Chandigarh’s symbol, as the non-alignment stance of the Government, representing an open and welcoming hand to all people.

03 December 2019
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