Chandigarh is known all over the world for being a modern master plan that envisioned something more than a city – a vision and a sign of a new, hopeful tomorrow. The fascination and deep love people have for this city is hard to ignore. This exceptional model city was a crucial pit-stop last month for the Jaquar Design Confab series that has been touring cities across India since 2018. Organised in association with ITP Media with the Jaquar Group, Design Confab has become a must-attend event for the architecture and design fraternity.
In his welcome address, Mohit Hajela, group head, Business Development, Jaquar Group, perfectly summed up what makes the series so attractive. “Design Confab essentially celebrates the spirit of design, creating an interactive space where celebrated designers share their design philosophy and contribute towards enhanced education and learning.”
Mohit Hajela talks about his impression of Chandigarh.
The gathering at Chandigarh was as much to acknowledge excellence in design as it was to create a knowledge platform and like-minded synergies with the design fraternity. Discussion, presentation and exclusive one-on-one conversations were held to confront and address issues that impact not just regions – but the country, and brainstorm unique design sensibilities from the most creative minds in the industry. Hajela stated, “For the Jaquar Group, the meeting of minds is the finest enrichment where we seek to understand from you and gather your valued inputs.”
At the Chandigarh edition, the deliberations were to revolve around building new cities with unique Indian inspirations. The keynote address ‘Indian Smart Sustainable Habitat’ by ‘airport king’ Prof. Charanjit Singh Shah, principal, Creative Group, was just the positive start needed for the exchange of ideas and knowledge. “God has been very generous, he made nature and we are part of nature… we as architects also create, we are godly,” Shah began. He compared the design process to nurturing human life and giving birth – a creation one is proud of. Design often involves “igniting minds, taking dreams into thoughts and thoughts into vision and vision into reality.” He warned, however, that while we need to design new cities, we do not need a new Dubai or Hong Kong or Singapore. “We need Indian, Sustainable, Smart cities of tomorrow. We must have a sense of belonging to the place, people and heritage.”
LEARNINGS FROM A MODEL CITY
The spirit of Chandigarh was alive and pumping in the panel discussion that followed soon after, in a friendly banter with a good mix of humour and personal quips – a pleasant sight that made this event personal and lighthearted while still professional. The discussion around ‘Chandigarh The City of Beauty: Is the model city a joy forever?’ reflected the love and passion people have towards the city. Moderator Bibhor Srivastava directed the conversation by asking the panelists about their personal connection to the city and what makes it special, replicating similar city planning initiatives and the possible growth of the city in the near future.
For architect, preservationist and city councillor Surinder Bahga, the fact that Chandigarh has 35% green spaces – “which is uncommon in many cities” – is a matter of great pride. Countries like Singapore boast about having 250 parks, but Chandigarh as a city alone has 1,700 parks, he mentioned. When asked about expansion of the city and its growth, his opinion was that being landlocked offered it no scope for such plans. “It was designed for half a million people and it already accommodates more than one million – that’s more than a success story.” Bahga also recounted his interaction with an Aga Khan Foundation representative from Switzerland, who said that the greatest contribution to India has been by Corbusier. Mainly because the architect could convince the client about what was right and wrong (elsewhere, architects are known to bend over backwards for their client). “We should maintain this legacy,” insisted the architect in his final remarks.
“Chandigarh, unlike other cities, has no history; it only has a future,” began Sangeet Sharma, explaining how the city was built “out of chaos, out of pathos, out of separation loss. It has an emotional content.” The city’s ability to grow baffles him – “60 years hence, we are still absorbing,” he admitted, adding that the future growth can only be vertical. Even the satellite cities depend on Chandigarh. That absorption power has to do with the emotional quotient of the city, explained Sharma, because it was built for the people who were displaced and by an architect who lived in posterity as opposed to an aristocrat.
“There is something inherently conscious, sustainable, beautiful, full of EQ in the city. There is less glass (architecture), no sense of opulence (in the city). We go to Dubai you see opulence; in Chandigarh, it’s austerity and still people flock to the city.” It is MIVA that brings people to Chandigarh, quipped Sharma, explaining it as “Memories, Inspirations, Visions and Aspirations.” Growing up in the city, the lessons he has learned and the one he would like to pass on, are that hard work, perseverance, principles of nature and the human person as the base of planning, are the fundamentals we cannot ignore.
Another passionate resident as well as principal of the beloved Chandigarh College of Architecture (CCA), Dr.Sangeeta Bagga Mehta highlighted what makes Chandigarh a model modern city – planning and the political role behind it. “In order to make many more such models, there have to be very important political decisions. Because cities need money, they need vision, and they need visionaries. Politics and architecture have a great role to play with each other,” Dr.Mehta explained, later adding that “pride of place” is important if we want to build contextual cities.
Sabeena Khanna could definitely resonate with that sentiment, for she calls her once hometown “her heart and soul.” There’s a lot to learn about city planning from this “happy, green and open city,” Khanna believes, even though the city isn’t culturally rich in history like Delhi, her current place of residence. When Srivastava enquired if we could still build more Chandigarhs, Khanna responded, “We don’t necessarily have to replicate Chandigarh, but we can take certain learnings from it.” She pointed out that the city’s futuristic planning, intrinsic green open spaces and sizeable sectors where each sector is a self-contained unit, are all ideas one could extract and transport to new city planning models.
“Chandigarh was a smart city 40 years back,” was the unbiased opinion of Vivek Gupta, who was mesmerised by how well planned the city was when he came to CCA in 1979 from an organic city like Bikaner in Rajasthan. He mentioned how studying in Chandigarh gave him an identity as an architect, which he is extremely proud of till date. It’s his passionate opinion that, for cities like Chandigarh to continue being a planned city, a legislative rule is imperative. He cited Amsterdam as an example, where the local governing body issues car licenses based on parking availability in the area. “If we were well governed and legislated, we would have replicated the city with the extension of Chandigarh like Noida,” he maintained.
Joining the conversation from the audience side, Kohli enquired what the panelists felt about Corbusier negating everything that was vernacular in architecture. Gupta answered that the architecture vocabulary here was indeed different, but nevertheless still contextual. “You always design for context, climate and client. The client, in this case, was Nehru – and he had given the brief to design a modern city. Modern is a relative word, but in the cacophony of organic growth that every other Indian city was in, there had to be… a new beginning for city planning.” He explained how the structures were contextual to the climate, traditional elements like jalis were interpreted in brick, material were used consciously, and concrete was the symbol of new material – leaving a mark for other cities and the construction industry to follow.
Dr.Mehta, too, provided interesting insights to the question. Corbusier never designed individual houses, but Pierre Jeanneret’s team was responsible for it. She reminded the audience that the city was meant to be for “a socialist democratic egalitarian republic,” for people suffering from the trajectory of the partition with little money to invest. “All the idioms were borrowed from the surroundings,” she observed, adding that in his free time Jeanneret visited villages and surrounding areas in the hills to look for motifs – like jalis – that were seemingly lost, which could be brought back into the city. “It’s a modernist vocabulary, an East-West dialogue, and not really ‘isms’ from the past,” she concluded.
As facilitators of this discussion, Hajela summarised the discussion by recalling the old adage ‘we shape cities... and then cities shape us’. As a Delhi resident who appreciates the fresh air of Chandigarh, he agreed that well-planned cities leave a good impression – but most of all, it is the inhabitants who maintain and celebrate the city that truly need to be lauded for their fervour and effort.
Before the event transitioned into an evening of networking, Jaquar took the opportunity to celebrate their ‘60 years of Manufacturing Excellence’ with the Chandigarh audience. Rajesh Mehra, director, Jaquar Group, announced that as a brand they were “proudly made in India for the world” and are poised to make this cherished Indian brand a reputed global name.
In the end, Design Confab at Chandigarh was a celebration of excellence on many fronts.