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The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘Nehru, Le Corbusier and the Mapping of Modern or (Urban) India’ , 6th August, 2014


As a result of political changes stemming from independence and partition, India was forced to build new state capitals and add extensions to existing cities to provide homes to refugees, house state governments, and deal with urban congestion. That raised the old question that has vexed the Indian mind on the nature of Indian city vis-à-vis architecture and urbanism. Although the British had built New Delhi as the new capital of the Raj at the beginning of the twentieth century, there were hardly any trained Indians to undertake the task of planning and architecture. While British India had done a remarkable job in educating Indians in liberal arts and law, it had done very little to promote disciplines such as engineering, architecture and technical education. The development of Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar and Gandhinagar, between 1949 and 1982, represents a fascinating study of practical politics, personal ambitions of politicians and Western planners, and the high ideals of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The architect‐planner Le Corbusier, together with Nehru, provided the new planning model and architectural design that would overshadow imperial New Delhi. Chandigarh was to serve as a training school for Indian planners, who could then duplicate their experience in other cities to improve urban India, and also influence rural India. The story of Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar and Gandhinagar is not one of success or failure or even of comparative satisfaction with the quality of life in a new city. It is, rather, a chronicle of a period during which India made a bold attempt to make a break with her past within the confines of a socio‐urban experiment that included, along with an innovative master plan, modernist buildings, new land‐use patterns, provisions for education, recreation, medical and social services, the careful and deliberate inclusion of ideas that had their origin in a culture far removed from her own. Between the ideas of the planners and hopes of the government officials there lies a narrative of planned cities and the people who inhabit them, and the influence of modernism on India generally. This paper reflects on the impact of modernist architecture on India.


Prof. Ravi Kalia is a Fulbright Scholar and Professor of History at the City College of the City University of New York (CUNY). He was educated at Hindu College, Delhi University and University of California, Los Angeles. His writings include three major books on the creation and design of each of India’s new post‐independence state capitals: Chandigarh: The Making of an Indian City, (2nd edn., New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999); Bhubaneswar: From a Temple Town to a Capital City (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press/New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994) and Gandhinagar: Building National Identity in Postcolonial India (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004). In addition he has produced Pakistan: From the Rhetoric of Democracy to the Rise of Militancy (2011) and Pakistan Labyrinths (forthcoming, 2014). He has also published widely in journals, including Journal of Urban History, Habitat International, Planning Perspectives and Technology and Science Journal, American Historical Review, as well as contributed opinion pieces to The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, The Oregonian, The Wilmington Star News, The Hindustan Times, The Statesman, and other publications. He is currently completing a volume on the making of New Delhi.

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