Almost 60 years since its inception, Shaun Fynn takes his lens deep into the streets of Chandigarh capturing how Le Corbusier’s experiment dwells today in the urban context, in his book Chandigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s city today.

A view through an aperture on the upper level of the High Court with the Legislative Assembly building in the distance. © Shaun Fynn

The book narrates a history of the city. When the rest of the world was ending a long war, India was on the brink of a new epoch. Having lost Punjab’s then capital Lahore to the partition, Nehru’s vision for an India undeterred by its past manifested in the form of Chandigarh. In a span of ten years, Le Corbusier and his team set out to create this “ideal city” that now stands majestically against the hills of Punjab.

A view across the plaza of the Capitol Complex toward the Assembly, with the Martyrs’ Monument in the foreground.

Presented mainly through photographs, most of Chandigarh’s story is written here. With just a brief introduction of every building typology, double-page spreads of images showing the structures make one marvel at the eminence the city holds today. While the Capitol Complex, that consists of the secretariat, assembly, high court, open hand monument and tower of shadows, was conceptualised by Corbusier, the book does not forget to include the works of the chief architects like Pierre Jeanneret, whose design of Gandhi Bhavan and residences in Sector 5 still follows the same language of Corbusier’s design, though at a much smaller scale. It also covers the works of the Indian architects who trained under Corbusier, with photos of the fountain sculpture in sector 17 designed by MN Sharma.

Details of the entrance portal, with its massive and brightly coloured concrete columns. © Shaun Fynn
The enamelled door at the entrance of the Assembly.© Shaun Fynn

Fynn has explored every angle of the city, from the enamelled door that displays signature caricatures of the architects involved in the project to the detail of the parasol roof structure of the assembly, allows the readers to pause at every image and interpret it in their own way.

The colour palette in these frames is reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s palette. Details of access ramps with a red wall at background and photos of men sporting red and yellow turbans against the concrete highlight the incidence of bright colours against the grey walls. Splashes of yellow and orange with the architect’s quotes are laid out in the book, giving breaks to the photo-montage.

Shaun Fynn in conversation with M. N. Sharma at the Sharma residence, Chandigarh 2013. According to Sharma, this was Le Corbusier’s reply when the associates working with him on the Chandigarh project asked what was behind his ideas. © Shaun Fynn

“There is a sense in the images of the past and the ageing infrastructure.”
Vikramaditya Prakash, Chandigarh Revealed

Photographs of residents living in houses designed by Pierre Jeanneret and government officers working inside the Secretariat and Assembly give an honest portrayal of the buildings’ usage. By featuring diverse perspectives of the sectors 17 and 22, one can notice the effect of globalisation where many blocks are either abandoned or modified by signs. A stark contrast to Corbusier’s philosophy of public spaces can clearly be seen in an image of a deserted commercial block in sector 17.

The Open Hand Monument and the Trench of Consideration. © Shaun Fynn

“The Chandigarh’s Capitol Complex has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Capitol Complex’s UNESCO inscription recognises it as a work authored by Le Corbusier, and not an achievement of the Nehruvian nation-state…In fact, most of the judges, legislators, administrators and bureaucrats act as if they are- or indeed are-blithely ignorant of the historic nature buildings they occupy. I am sure many are likely stunned by the World Heritage status.”
Vikramaditya Prakash, Chandigarh Revealed

On the facade, an elaborate pattern of brise-soleils, sculptural elements, and the double height cavities indicating ministerial offices. © Shaun Fynn

The book shows us how the buildings are utilized today, instead of going into the technical aspects of the designs. This point of view is helpful to architects because the photographs propose to observe the usage by the public. Though the Capitol Complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, facades with “brise soleil”, now have air conditioner units and plumbing lines juxtaposed. Shaun Fynn points at the state of some sectors of the city and reminds us of their historic relevance. He humanises Corbusier’s Chandigarh through his lens♦

Title: Chandigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today
Photographs and Text by Shaun Fynn
Publisher: Mapin Publishing
ISBN: 978-93-85360-13-8
Year of Publication: 2017
Reviewed by: Raksha VH
Reproduced with permission from Chandigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today by Shaun Fynn, published by Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad.
All images © Shaun Fynn

To Order
Mapin Publishing,
706, Kaivanna, Panchvati
Ellisbridge, Ahmedabad 380006
Telephone: +91 7940228228
Amazon: Chandigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today

Bas-relief of the Open Hand Monument in the wall at Chandigarh College of Architecture.

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