Luberoff, David, Alan Altshuler, and Christie Baxter. 1994. Mega-Project: A Political History of Boston’s Multi-Billion Dollar Artery/Tunnel Project. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Chandigarh

Punjab, India

When India won independence from the British in 1947, Pakistan and India were partitioned. The Punjab was divided and its capital, Lahore, was lost to Pakistan. Soon, East Punjab’s population was quickly doubled by the flood of refugees from Pakistan. In March 1948 the provincial government, in consultation with the Indian central government and the enthusiastic support of Prime Minister Pandit Nehru, approved a new 45-square-mile (114-square-kilometer) capital site on a sloping plain near the Shivalik foothills. Designed by an international team under the leadership of Le Corbusier—it was his only realized urban planning scheme—the new city introduced India to a modern architectural and urbanistic idiom. Named for one of the two dozen existing villages in the area, Chandigarh, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of New Delhi, has been called “one of the most significant urban planning experiments of the twentieth century” and a “symbol of planned urbanism.”

The Punjab government, on the crest of a wave of nationalism, probably would have preferred to commission Indian professionals, but none was suitably qualified. In December 1949 it approached the New York architect-planner Albert Mayer, who was then engaged on master plans for Greater Bombay and Kanpur. He accepted the Chandigarh brief: a master plan for a city of 500,000, detailed designs for selected buildings, and planning controls for adjacent areas. He assembled an expert consultancy team and involved Matthew Nowicki as codesigner. Their fan-shaped plan sat between two seasonal riverbeds that crossed the site. The seat of the state government was at its head, and the city center was located at its heart. Two linear parklands ran from the northeast head of the plan to its southwest tip, and a curving road network defined “superblock” neighborhood units like those of Brasília. The Americans also provided concept sketches for the capitol, the city center, and a typical superblock. But when Nowicki died in a plane crash in August 1950, Mayer withdrew from the project.

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Chandigarh, Punjab/India; Le Corbusier, architect, 1951–1965. The building in the foreground is the Palace of Justice; the Secretariat is in the background.

The Punjab government then engaged the Swiss architect and urban theorist Le Corbusier, whose ideas were quite different from the Americans’. His team comprised the European modernists Pierre Jeanneret (his cousin), Maxwell Fry, and Jane Drew, as well as several Indian professionals. In four days of February 1951 Le Corbusier and his colleagues redesigned the city, covering approximately the same site but exchanging Mayer and Nowicki's garden city–influenced plan for an orthogonal grid. Nevertheless, many of their ideas, including the basic framework and such elements as the capitol, city center, university, industrial area, and a linear parkland known as Leisure Valley, were retained, in most cases in or at