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Restoring lost heritage: Capitol Complex to be revamped, CBRI Roorkee roped in for help

Corbusier had proposed a design of a 25-storeyed building for the Secretariat.

Written by Khushboo Sandhu | Chandigarh | Updated: October 6, 2014 5:04 pm
The Vidhan Sabha as a part of the Capitol Complex in Chandigarh. (Source:  Express photo) The Vidhan Sabha as a part of the Capitol Complex in Chandigarh. (Source: Express photo)

Considered to be an uneconomical project that earned much criticism from politicians when it was being constructed, the Capitol Complex in Sector 1 has brought the city to the world heritage map. For its creator Le Corbusier, it was a project he was convinced should be set up in the newly created city that was a product of the vision of the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Nehru laid the founding principles of the new city when he said, “Let this be a new town, symbolic of freedom of India unfettered by the traditions of the past… an expressions of the nation’s faith in the future”. The city that was envisioned just after partition was to serve as the new capital of erstwhile Punjab.

It was a unique design with which the city  was created. The Capitol Complex was the head of the city, the seat of power. The plaza was to be its heart, green spaces its lungs and industrial area to be the viscera.

The recent approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs for Capitol Complex to be a part of the transnational dossier of six countries for according the UNESCO heritage status is likely to get more recognition for this renowned creation.

The Complex

The Capitol Complex comprises three buildings – Secretariat, Assembly and the High Court. The fourth building planned by Corbusier was the Governor’s Palace which has not been built till now. Apart from the buildings, six monuments had been planned. Of these two, including the Geometric Hill and the Martyrs’ Memorial, have been completed only partially.
Senior architect S D Sharma says, “The High Court was the first to be inaugurated in 1953 followed by the Secretariat and the Assembly. Some politicians at that time felt that too much money is being spent on it. However, Corbusier was convinced of what he was doing and was adamant.”

Sharma adds, “The Capitol Complex is a profound expression of Corbusier’s genius.  Versatile use of concrete has been made. At present, the buildings are being tinkered around with which needs to be stopped. There is a need to preserve these buildings.”

Corbusier had proposed a design of a 25-storeyed building for the Secretariat. However, with the lack of resources and technology at that time, a decision was made to reduce the height. The Secretariat now comprises six eight-storeyed blocks.
Meanwhile, the proposal for Governor’s Palace is hanging fire even six decades after the project was envisioned. Several proposals have been mooted over the years. It was decided that instead of the Governor’s Palace, Museum of Knowledge would be made. However, even this has to see the light of day.

M N Sharma, the first Indian Chief Architect of the city says, “The Governor’s Palace was to be a place for a variety of activities. The three top storeys were to be the residence of the governor. However, due to its name, it was felt that this would be an extravagance. Later, we held discussions that the Museum of Knowledge should be constructed instead. However, the project has not seen much movement till now.”

The monuments also continue to be incomplete. The piazza was to have fountains and landscaping which have also not been done.

Violations and Security

The Secretariat and Assembly are currently occupied by the governments of Punjab and Haryana. This has made access to the buildings difficult for visitors. Though to facilitate the tourists, an information centre has been set up near the Capitol Complex, the presence of layers of security is a deterrent.

Over the years, numerous violations have crept into the building. The state governments made alterations in the buildings that suited their needs. Even the facade has been changed with the installation of air-conditioners. The buildings were constructed keeping in mind the concept of ventilation and adequate light. The balconies have now been covered, in some cases to make additional rooms.  Following inspection of the Capitol Complex, the fire department had pointed out numerous violations.

A report on the damage to the complex was also prepared by a sub-committee for ‘Identification, Conservation, Management and Maintenance of Chandigarh Heritage’.

The report stated that though Le Corbusier’s edifice retains some of its pristine majesty, it is under constant threat of abusive tinkering by its insensitive users who are altering its facade with impunity. It further says that since they are the tenants of Chandigarh Administration, they should act fast and firm to stem the rot.

According to the report, the poor condition of roof-terracing in the Assembly has resulted in seepage and leakage which has damaged large parts of the ceiling. External changes like painting of the pyramid and weathering of shuttered concrete plague the building. Meanwhile, massive new construction has taken place at the High Court.

Steps Initiated

UT Chief Architect Sumit Kaur says that a management plan has been prepared and has been made part of the dossier for the UNESCO status for Capitol Complex. “There is a need for opening up the plaza for the public. Majority of the city residents do not know about the buildings. It is only those who work here visit these every day. With the top brass of both Punjab and Haryana being here, there are security issues that need to be addressed. With new technology in place, security can be maintained without physical barriers in place,” she says.

She added that as per the edict of Chandigarh, no construction should be allowed one kilometre north of the Capitol Complex. Kaur says that a buffer zone would be created around the complex to restrict the activities that are undertaken.
Work has started for restoring the concrete that the buildings are made of.  UT Advisor K K Sharma says, “The Capitol Complex should be seen in its glory. The administration is making efforts to ensure that the visitors can access the complex unhindered. The piazza would be restored. Visitors would be able to walk from the Assembly to the High Court complex. For restoring the buildings, CBRI Roorkee has been roped in and around Rs 70 lakh been given for engaging experts for 18 months.”

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