Chandigarh is one of the early planned cities in post-independence India and is internationally known for its architecture and urban design. The master plan of the city was prepared by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier who also designed most of the government buildings and housing in the city. However, it is said that the city wouldn’t have been what it is today but for a plane crash in 1950. Do you know why?
In fact, Le Corbusier was not the first choice to design the master plan but it was American architect Albert Mayer, along with his Polish associate Matthew Nowicki. Nowicki was head of the Department of Architecture at North Carolina State University School of Design when he was commissioned for this project in India. Nowicki created a design that in terms of architectural and urban planning contents was a groundbreaking one with fantastic structural ingenuity. Nowicki being a great follower of Frank Lloyd Wright worked on a combination of Modern architecture and the organic tradition.
However, most of Nowicki’s works remained only on paper because on his way back to the United States in August 1950, Nowicki was killed in a plane crash near Cairo. This forced the government of India to commission somebody else in Nowicki’s place and thus Le Corbusier came into picture. Indeed, there was a difference between Nowicki and Corbusier – their approach and style both were different. According to Dr. Marta A. Urbańska, architect, architectural historian and critic who wrote her doctorate on Nowicki in 2000, “He (Nowicki) wasn’t a doctrinaire modernist like Le Corbusier. As early as 1945, he was lucidly criticizing the Modern movement and its functionalist doctrine.” That notwithstanding, Corbusier decided to retain certain key features of Mayer-Nowicki vision.
The location of Capitol Complex had to be slightly changed as Sukhna Lake was added to the layout at a later stage. The industrial area too was planned at the present location. At the same time, contrary to a bigger city planned by Mayer-Nowicki, which was spread over 21,000 acres, Corbusier decided to have a more economical model, shrunk to 14,000 acres only.
“..had those plans (of Nowicki) been realised, we could talk of a real breakthrough in urban planning, and I imagine that the history of world architecture would not be confined and petrified in the form of huge pre-fabricated slabs, as it was for many decades to come. Le Corbusier did utilise a few of Nowicki’s ideas. However, the plan conceived by Nowicki and Mayer was much more human, much more intricate and much closer to life than the epic Cubist monuments of concrete as built by Le Corbusier,” says Urbańska.