Bridges across forever

We take you across some unique bridges around the globe, designed over the centuries, and which still continue to fascinate visitors.

By Niharika Joshi

While the design of bridges lies in the realm of engineering, with factors of structure, stability and construction in focus, a bridge is as much a piece of architecture and art as a product of engineering.

For centuries, man has sought to link landscapes, cross rivers, span gorges and make a statement with the design of bridges. There are instances of great symbolic connection and folk tales associated with timeless bridges such as the Caravan in Turkey and the Rakotzbrücke in Germany. Sometimes, beautiful landscapes are further enhanced by a breathtaking span of steel such as the Millau Viaduct, France. There are also great feats of engineering and planning, such as the Akashi Kaikyo (or Pearl) bridge, Japan and the Danyang-Kunshan Grand bridge, China. Bridges not only lead to great destinations, but have become places of interest.

This list of magical, incredible and inspiring structures invites you to take the first step on the bridges of the world, the planet’s ‘Bridges across Forever’.


Perhaps the first image that comes to mind when we talk of bridges is the Golden Gate bridge in California, United States. This is because it is said to be the Most Photographed bridge in the world.The ‘international orange’ paint and a striking presence on the city’s skyline make it impossible to miss. The bridge, built in 1937, has attracted millions of tourists and become an important icon for the city.



The width of a bridge is as important as its length or span. The widest bridge is the steel arch above the Sydney Harbor,Australia, measuring 160 feet across. This bridge accommodates 8 lanes of traffic, 2 rail road tracks, a pedestrian walkway and a bicycle path. A recent creation, which took 8 years to build, this massive structure opened to public in 1932. Undoubtedly, this is one of Australia’s most well-known landmarks.


Of the two types of bridges, suspension and cantilever, suspension bridges are known for their delicate and tensile nature, with the ability to cover long spans. Some well-designed suspension bridges such as the longest one in Japan, the Akashi Kaikyo are spectacular and enormous feats of technology. With three connected spans — two at 3,150 feet and one at 6,532 feet — the Pearl stretches a total of 12,831 feet across the Akashi Strait. It took 12 years to build and opened to traffic in 1998; the bridge stands tall even in the most extreme weather and seismic conditions of Japan.


MILLAU VIADUCT, FRANCE (tallest vehicular bridge)

Well-designed bridges have the potential to transform provincial, forgotten towns into major tourist attractions. The Millau Viaduct, France, does just that. The enormous cable-stayed road-bridge spans the valley of the river Tarn, in north France, and is the tallest vehicular bridge in the world, with the highest pylon’s summit at 343 m (1,125 ft) — slightly taller than the Eiffel Tower. From its conception in 1987 to finishing touches in 2004, the Millau Viaduct is not just statistically impressive but the visual effect makes the experience real. White, ultra sleek steel cables, suspended on pylons stand tall and almost inseparable now from the lush green valley below and cloudy blue skies above.

THE DANYANG-KUNSHAN, CHINA (longest moto-rail bridge)

China is definitely at the cutting edge when it comes to bridges, being home to 11 of the world’s 15 longest bridges. The Danyang-Kunshan, which opened to public in 2011 ranks as the world’s longest, at 164.8 km. The bridge hosts a rail road, with a high speed train which reduces what used to be a 10 hour journey to half the time. The bridge runs through a mountainous region, with several tunnels on the way.



As technology and innovation continue to push the boundaries to create new possibilities in bridges, some old structures have survived over two millennia, and continue to inspire and impress. The arched stone Caravan bridge, running over the river Meles, in Izmir, Turkey was supposedly built in 850 BC, and is over 2,800 years old. The structure is simplistic and the physical aspects of the bridge are not as significant as its age and the people associated with it. Legends like Saint Paul and poet Homer have reportedly crossed the bridge, which still stands today.

CHAPEL BRIDGE, LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND (oldest covered bridge in Europe)

The Chapel bridge,crossing the Reuss river in Lucerne, Switzerland is the oldest covered bridge in Europe. It was constructed in 1333, and said to have been designed to protect the city from attacks. Inside the bridge are panels of paintings from the 17th century, showing historic events. Most of the bridge was destroyed by an unfortunate fire in 1993, but was quickly restored. An important part of the image of the bridge is the octagonal brick water tower (Wasserturm), adjacent to it. This tower was once a prison, watch tower and treasury, and is now a club room for the city’s association. The saints depicted in the paintings have blessed the bridge, which has now become a tourist attraction and symbol of the city.



Recent explorations in pedestrian covered bridges have led to innovative designs, such as the Helix Bridge at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. This bridge is significant because it is the world’s first ‘double helix’ pedestrian bridge, comprising spiraling steel members and is 280 m long. The steel members are held together by inter-connecting struts to create a tubular structure, within which pedestrians walk. This architectural marvel was assembled over 2 years, with 2,250 meters of steel used in total. The dynamic night lights in the bridge create interesting moods at different times for the visitors.

RAKOTZBRÜCKE, KROMLAU, GERMANY – (a circular optical illusion)

This bridge is not as well-known as the others, but unique and enigmatic due to its history. This medieval looking bridge dates back to the 1860s. It arches delicately over the waters of the Rokotzsee and creates an unusual and miraculous optical illusion of a full stone circle, with its reflection in the water. The usability of the bridge is in question, for the aesthetics and the magnificence are more important here. The stone arch bridge, set in a beautiful nature park is prohibited for people to cross, so as to keep it intact for future generations to admire.



Some bridges are crossed by accident, and sometimes reached without planning, but are important nevertheless. Rialto bridge in the city of canals, Venice, Italy was one of the first bridges over the Grand Canal, around the 1850s. This single span bridge is supported by wooden piles at the end, and surmounted by arched shops, with a larger arch crowning the centre, allowing pedestrians to pass. Today the bridge is a backdrop for many films and is a mark of the city of Venice. The bridge is best enjoyed from a gondola, escaping the crowded streets to pass under it, in the bright Italian sun.

Architectural wonders of the world

Man is inventive and creative by nature. That is the one saving grace that illuminates humanity- these architectural wonders capture the inventive, creative spirit of man over the ages.

By NishkaRathi

Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo) in Florence, Italy

Florence was the birthplace of Renaissance architecture, and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore—also known as the Duomo, or cathedral—is the style’s culmination.
Clad in polychrome marble and topped with its iconic brick dome by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1436 the Duomo has lived through history with the grace of Renaissance.


Habitat 67 in Montreal, Canada

Habitat 67 was a revolutionary housing concept designed for the Montreal Expo ‘67 by Israeli–Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. It comprises 354 identical concrete units arranged on top of each other- each dwelling has outdoor space, fresh air and privacy- an idea that today’s pint sized dingy apartments desperately need.


The TajMahal in Agra, India

No picture of India is ever complete without this architectural wonder. ShahJahan got this mausoleum built in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal and helped create a magnificent example of Mughal architecture that stands out even today.


Burj Khalifa in United Arab Emirates

Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest man-made structure in the world. Its height is 829.8 m (2,722 ft). Seen from the sky it looks nothing less than a futuristic planet’s tower. Good architecture on large scale should not only create beauty but also inspire its surrounding and Burj Kahifa does both with its towering height.


Angkor Wat, Angkor, Cambodia

Constructed in the early 12th century by the Khmer King Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. In the late 13th century, the temple gradually moved from Hindu to Buddhist use, as it is still used to this day.


Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey

As the former capital of the Byzantine Empire, Istanbul contains many awe-inspiring creations of the medieval period.
Of them, the Basilica Cistern—a cathedral-like underground structure, propped up by hundreds of re purposed Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns—is one of the most fascinating examples.

The cistern provided water to Sultanahmet through Ottoman rule right into modern times.


Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau, Germany

It is a glorious homage to the composer Wagner, and obedient to the architectural fashion of castle romanticism. If it looks familiar, it is- castle Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for Disney’s iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle, and is immortalised in their logo.


Beijing National Stadium in Beijing, China

It is also known as the Bird’s Nest and you can see why. The stadium was designed for the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The smooth, sleek curves of Beijing’s Giant Egg are beautifully reflected in the glass-like surface of the man-made lake that surrounds it. It looks as if it’s floating on the lake and contains an opera house, concert hall and theatre, all of which are accessed via a hallway underneath the water.

Borobudur in Java, Indonesia

The world’s largest Buddhist temple was built over a thousand years ago in the Kedu Valley, Java. It was designed to take pilgrims on a journey through kamadhatu (the world of desires), represented by the temple’s base, rupadhatu (the world of forms), represented by the five square terraces and arupadhatu (the formless world), represented by the three circular platforms and stupa.


The Alhambra in Granada,Spain

Towering out of an elm-wooded hillside above Granada, the ochre-tinted enclave of the Alhambra is an iconic image of Spain. Over five thousand visitors wander through the restored complex every day. The Palacios Nazaríes, the best preserved palace of the Nasrid dynasty, is a wonder to admire and an indescribable memory for anyone who visits.


La Compania de Jesus in Cusco, Peru

Its elaborate façade with twin bell-towers and soaring dome makes this 17th-century Peruvian Jesuit church timeless and even outdoes the neighbouring cathedral. Inside, it’s just as ornate, with the altar covered entirely in gold leaf.


Kogod Courtyard in Washington D.C, USA.

This has won its place in the list just because of its ceiling. Designed by Norman Foster, this elegant glass canopy was built as an addition to the museum and houses part of the Smithsonian’s art gallery. The wonderful design gives an impression of a floating ceiling.


The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Basque Country, Spain

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a museum of modern and contemporary art.It is mainly built with glass, titanium and limestone and is a swirling modernistic rhapsody in metal.


The Masjid I-Imam, Iran

Someone once said to me:“If you visit all the mosques in Iran, you should visit the Masjid i-Imam last, as its beauty will erase others from your memory.”Built over 26 years, the Safavid-era mosque sits on the southern edge of the MaydanNaqsh i-Jahan, a massive fountained square in central Isfahan. All around the outside isa collection of diverse motifs, colours and calligraphic designs that adorn the various portals, walls and vaults. In the centre of it all is a stunning, 54m-high bulbous dome.


Atomium in Brussels, Belgium

It stands 102m high and with nine connected stainless steel spheres, the Atomium forms the shape of a cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Created to symbolise peace among nations, a faith in scientific progress and a positive vision of the future, it is a wonder to behold.


Clock Towers – Running out of time?

In an age when people prefer checking time on mobile phones rather than wristwatches, clock towers seem an anomaly. Nishka Rathi turns back the time to re-live the glorious past of world clock towers.

THE earliest clock tower in human history was the Tower of the Winds in Athens. It is said to have had eight sundials and a clock driven by water coming down from the Acropolis. It is said to have been built as early as around 50 BC, though some believe it was constructed in the 2nd century BC.

Interestingly, the first clocks didn’t have faces, but were solely striking clocks placed in towers. They sounded bells to call the surrounding community to work or for prayer. Then came clocks with dials that showed the time to the townspeople. The majestic heights at which they were located made them landmarks in their cities and it became inevitable that clock towers became the common place for rendezvous for people.

We take you on a nostalgic journey to some of the world’s most famous clock towers.



Big Ben is the most prominent of them all. It is the nickname for the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London. The tower is now re-named Elizabeth Tower as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II on her Diamond Jubilee year.

The clock tower was part of Charles Barry’s design for a new palace, after the old Palace of Westminster was destroyed in a fire in 1834. Its designer, Augustus Pugin, is said to have remarked: “I never worked so hard in my life for Mr Barry; tomorrow I render all the designs for finishing his bell tower and it is beautiful.” It surely was and is.

By the way, this was the last design by Pugin, for soon after, his brilliant mind descended into madness. The tower is designed in the Gothic Revival style and is known for its reliability. During World War II it kept on chiming even after bombing destroyed the House of Commons nearby.

Interesting fact:The clock’s pendulum rate is adjusted by simply adding small pennies on the shoulder of the pendulum.


Built in the early 13th century, the Zytlogge is a beautifully ornate work of art. This medieval tower has also played many roles: a guard tower of Bern’s western fortifications, then a prison, and later a clock tower. In the 15th century, an astronomical clock was added to predict the position of planets and determine the day of the week.

When the great bell rings out every full hour you can see a gilded figure of Chronos the Greek personification of time in full harness moving its arm to strike it.

Interesting fact: The two clock faces on the eastern and western sides of the tower are quite different.



The Spasskaya Tower was built in 1491 and vague historic data concludes that the clock was constructed between 1491 and 1585. It is also known as the Kremlin chimes. The face of the clock was divided into 12 hours from the earlier 24 hours under Peter the Great.

Interesting fact: The tower is crested by a five-pointed star that rotates like a weathervane.


It was designed in 1892. At that time, the Ferry building was a primary point of transit to San Francisco by ferry, hence the name. The construction of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges in the late 1930s took away its prominence and removed the need for ferries. It now houses shops and restaurants.

Interesting fact: The Ferry Building still has its original clock that was made in 1898. It is the largest wind-up, mechanical dial clock in the world.



It is also known as the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower and is the tallest clock tower in the world and its clock has the world’s largest clock face. The building complex is near the world’s largest mosque and one of Islam’s most sacred site, the Masjid al-Haram.

Interesting fact: It is the fourth tallest freestanding structure in the world.



The Wrigley Building is a skyscraper built to house the corporate headquarters of Wrigley, the leading American confectioner. It has two towers. The clock with faces pointing in all four directions is on the south tower. The building is clad in glazed terra-cotta which provides its gleaming white façade.

Interesting fact: At times the entire building is hand washed to preserve the terra cotta.



It is located in the Fort campus of the University of Mumbai and was modeled on the Big Ben. The construction was completed in November 1878. Premchand Roychand, a prosperous broker who founded the Bombay Stock Exchange paid for it on the express condition that the tower be named after his mother Rajabai.

Interesting fact: During the British Raj, the clock chimed in 16 different tunes that changed four times a day. The tunes were Rule Britannia, God Save the King, Home! Sweet Home! and a Handel symphony.


Also known as the Torre dell’Orologio, it is on the Piazza San Marco in Venice. It comprises a tower, which contains the clock, and lower buildings on each side. Next to the clockwork there are two bronze statues and a lion statue beneath it. The lion is the symbol of Venice. The Torre dell’Orologio has a blue clock-face with Roman numerals around it and signs of the zodiac and phases of the moon.

Interesting fact: According to tradition, the clock’s keepers and their families have lived in the tower ever since the first master clock engineer was made its caretaker.


This 82-foot-tall tower in Izmir, Turkey’s third most populous city was among several landmarks erected in the early 1900s to honor 25 years of rule by Sultan Abdulhamid II. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany gifted him this particular clock face as a gesture of goodwill and alliance. It is decorated in the elaborate Ottoman architecture style and also features four fountains around its base.

Interesting fact: The clock tower was depicted on the reverse of the Turkish 500 lira banknotes of 1983-1989.


Affectionately called Old Joe, the clock tower is located in Chancellor’s court at the University of Birmingham in England. It is the tallest free-standing clock tower in the world. The tower was built to commemorate Joseph Chamberlain, the first Chancellor of the University and was constructed between 1900 and 1908. It is modeled on the Torre del Mangia in Siena.

Interesting fact: The Chamberlain’s great admiration for the Italian campanile (a tower that contains one or more bells) ensured that the original tower designs were amended to create the final version.



The symbol of America

The White House, the official residence of the President of USA, symbolises the power of the world’s sole superpower. Nishka Rathi writes about this great mansion by the Potomac.

THE White House is a historical monument that has been housing the most prominent and influential world leaders – the Presidents of the US. It was conceived as a palace and though it was finally built on a smaller scale its influence on world history has always been significant.

The White House is more than just a residence for the President of USA. Through the last century, the high strobe limelight of world power shifted from Great Britain to the United States of America. On the world stage the voice of USA is heard and White House seems to have come equipped with a sound box – news reports stating “the White House said…..” have endowed it with a voice of its own.

White House started off as a residence for the head of a newly-independent country and has witnessed innumerable changes, not only in its power, but its architectural history as well.

The starting point

Washington, DC, is one of the world’s few planned cities. It started out as a sleepy little village with only a few buildings. But it was fated to become the capital of the newly-independent country and the seat of its government.

George Washington, the first American President, lived in three houses at that time. The first two were in New York City and the third was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Finally, Washington decided on a patch of land on the Potomac River. The land was on the border of the North and the South and so would please both sides without disappointing either. Incredible as it sounds but in 1790, there were no western states.

George Washington named the land the District of Columbia, in honour of Christopher Columbus.

Benjamin Banneker and Andrew Ellicott made maps of the land and Pierre Charles L’Enfant decided where to put the roads. The architect of the White House was chosen in a design competition. Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson submitted one proposal anonymously – it was not approved. James Hoban, an Irish American, was named as the architect.

L’Enfant’s 1791 plan had a grandiose scheme for the President’s House. He envisioned a vast palace, a house five times the size of the one that would eventually be built.

Hoban’s design was not quite as spectacular as Washington wanted it so the first President specified some changes. He widened the windows from a nine-bay facade to an 11-bay façade. He further added a grand reception room, elegant pilasters (rectangular columns that are attached to a wall and that is used for decoration or support), window hoods, and stone swags of oak leaves and flowers.

Despite being the moving force behind the place, George Washington, never lived in the White House. In 1800, when the White House was almost finished, America’s second president, John Adams moved in. His wife Abigail never liked the cold rooms and the unfinished feel. She also insisted that the laundry be dried inside the house as it ‘was not seemly’ that it be aired in public.

Why is it called the White House?

White House was formerly known as the Executive Mansion or the President’s House. The building was not white earlier; it was first made so with lime-based whitewash in 1798 to protect the porous stone from freezing. As the practice continued it earned the nickname the White House till 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt made it official.

The White House reflects classical inspiration sources especially from the Palladian style. Hoban is said to have been inspired by the upper floors of Leinster House in Dublin, which later became the seat of the Oireachtas (the Irish parliament). Several other Georgian-era Irish country houses have been suggested as sources of inspiration for the overall floor plan and the bow-fronted south front. These are cited in the official White House guide, and in White House Historical Association publications.

The principal façade of the White House, the north front, is of three floors and eleven bays. The ground floor is hidden by a raised carriage ramp and parapet, and gives the appearance of two floors.

The windows of the four bays flanking the portico, at first-floor level, have alternating pointed and segmented pediments, while at second-floor level the pediments are flat.


The mansion’s southern façade is a combination of the Palladian and neoclassical styles of architecture. It is of three floors. The ground floor is in the Palladian fashion. At the centre of the façade is a neoclassical projecting bow of three bays. The more modern third floor is hidden by a balustraded parapet.

The War of 1812 between the US and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland saw the burning of the White House.

President James Madison’s personal server, the slave Paul Jennings, was an eyewitness to it. He later purchased his freedom from the widow Dolley Madison. He published his memoir in 1865, wherein he described how he saved certain paintings and valuables from being destroyed in the fire. In 2009, President Barack Obama held a ceremony at the White House to honour Jennings.

Extensions and alterations

There have been many alterations and extensions to the original plan of the White House. Due to crowding within the executive mansion, President Theodore Roosevelt moved all the offices to the West Wing in 1901. Then President William Howard Taft expanded the West Wing and created the first Oval Office. The third-floor attic was converted to living quarters in 1927.

Under President Harry S. Truman the interior rooms were completely dismantled and a new internal load-bearing steel frame constructed inside the walls.

Today, the White House Complex includes the Executive Residence, West Wing, East Wing, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building—the former State Department, which now houses offices for the President’s staff and the Vice President—and Blair House, a guest residence.

The White House is at least two centuries old and in the tradition of all old houses has collected a fair dusting of spirits along with antiques. Even Winston Churchill was not spared the sight of the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. He refused to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom ever again. Well, his reaction was considerably better than that of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. She fell into a dead faint when she heard a knock on the door and opened it to find Lincoln standing there.

The ghost of Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison, also appears in the Rose Garden, which she planted. There is a ghost of President Andrew Jackson too.


Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of President John F. Kennedy oversaw the last major extensive and historic redecoration of the house. Different periods of the early republic and world history were selected as a theme for each room: the Federal style for the Green Room, French Empire for the Blue Room, American Empire for the Red Room, Louis XVI for the Yellow Oval Room, and Victorian for the president’s study, renamed the Treaty Room.

Since the Kennedy restoration, every presidential family has made some changes to the private quarters of the White House, provided the changes are approved by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House.

The White House is not only a residence it houses the memories and aspirations of a nation. Its design and façade are now as much a symbol of USA as the star spangled banner.

The majestic – Aga Khan Palace

Pune’s Aga Khan Palace, where Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba, secretary Mahadev Desai and even Sarojini Desai were jailed by the British rulers, is a beautiful monument where one can experience the struggles undergone by our leaders just before they won the country its Independence.

IN the 19th century, two prominent structures came up in Pune (then known as Poona). One was the Yerwada central jail, built by the British colonial rulers in 1871 on a sprawling, 500-acre campus, and the other the Aga Khan Palace, built 20 years later on a 20-acre plot, less than two km from the jail.

For a while though in the 20th century, the Aga Khan Palace, also served as a jail, where the British rulers imprisoned Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba, secretary Mahadev Desai and Sarojini Naidu. After Independence, the Aga Khan palace became a historic monument, while Yerwada jail continues to house over 3,500 prisoners – making it one of the largest jails in South Asia – including celebrities such as Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt.

The Aga Khan Palace was built by Sultan Mohammed Shah Aga Khan III, the 48th spiritual head of the Khoja Ismaili sect, in 1871, primarily to provide relief for the poor who were badly hit by a famine. He hired a thousand workers to build the palace at a cost of Rs1.2 million.

The high-security Yerwada jail, however, gained notoriety after the colonial rulers sent Mahatma Gandhi to its barracks during the 1930s.

Later, they also imprisoned Jawaharlal Nehru, Netaji Subhash Bose and Bal Gangadhar Tilak at Yerwada central jail. Interestingly, about 45 years later, when former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency, she despatched many of the then opposition leaders – including BJP leader and former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee – to Yerwada.

But when the British authorities arrested Gandhi in 1942 after he launched the Quit India Movement, better sense prevailed on them and they relocated him and the others to the palace. Gandhi spent almost two years at the Aga Khan Palace before the British officials decided to release him, fearing that he too would succumb to illness there.

National monument

In 1969, in Gandhi’s centenary year, Aga Khan IV donated the palace to the people of India as a mark of respect to the Father of the Nation. The Archaeological Survey of India declared it as a national monument, especially as Gandhi’s ashes are also kept there, about 10 years ago.

Both Kasturba Gandhi and Mahadev Desai also died in the palace and their samadhis are located within the complex on the banks of the Mula river.

The sprawling palace complex is located on Ahmednagar road and is a spectacular building with vast open space in the front. It was built in the Italian style – with arches and spacious lawns – though it was also influenced by Islamic architecture.

Featuring five large halls, it has a built-up area of 28,000 sq metres. The ground plus two-storeyed building is surrounded by a 2.5-metre wide corridor. Today, the palace serves as the headquarters of the Gandhi National Memorial Society and features several exhibits, including the personal belongings of the Mahatma.

The Aga Khan Palace, which is also a museum, archives several photographs and portraits relating to Gandhi and major leaders of the freedom movement. Some of the rooms, especially those occupied by Gandhi, are out of bound for visitors, who can,
however, see it from outside.

Though Gandhi was detained at the palace for less than two years, it had a major role during the crucial period leading to Independence. In fact, when the late filmmaker Richard Attenborough decided to make his film Gandhi, he shot large portions of it at the Aga Khan Palace. The shooting was spread over 10 days and Attenborough had to convince the trustees of the Gandhi National Memorial Society about the genuineness of his desire to make a true film on the Indian leader.

While the majestic building and the palace grounds attract a lot of visitors every day, the Aga Khan Palace seems to have been over-shadowed by new developments occurring on Nagar road, one of the most happening places in Pune.

Several office towers, residential colonies, shopping malls, star hotels and other new buildings have come up along the road. Nagar road, which was formerly a narrow, two-lane road, has now been widened and localities along the artery – including Kalyani Nagar and Viman Nagar – have become posh areas.

Property prices have consequently shot up in this area. But the Aga Khan Palace retains its own charm and a visit to the monument is a wonderful experience, which hundreds of visitors continue to enjoy.


Chandigarh, with its straight roads and rectangular blocks, green boulevards and landmark architecture, a modern city that lets you breathe. It stands testimony to Le Corbusier’s preference for light, space and greenery. Almost 62 years after it was built, India’s first planned city tries hard to retain its semblance as a model city.

1947 was a mixed year. India gained independence. It also experienced one of the most traumatic migrations in the modern world. Lahore was lost and a new capital was needed for the state of Punjab.

The idea of building a modern city from scratch took root with Pandit Nehru as its strongest proponent. He declaimed, “Let this new town be symbolic of the freedom of India unfettered by the traditions of the past……an expression of the nation’s faith in the future.”

India’s old cities were beset by problems.


Le Corbusier breathed life into the concept of the city as a living, breathing organism. To create such an organism with Chandigarh, he used the purity of geometric forms and his preference for the classic equilibrium of rectangles is visible.

Chandigarh is rectangular with a cross axis in the middle, reflecting the functional precepts that he envisioned in the Athens Charter. Chandigarh had separate areas for ‘working’, ‘living’ and ‘care for body and spirit’, connected by a well developed road system to ensure ‘circulation’.

The Capitol group was the head, the commercial center was the heart, the industrial areas were the hands. The parklands and museums formed the intellectual center; the city civic center in the central market formed the stomach while the veins and nerves were the roads, the water and the electricity. Corbusier also made allowance for the growth of the ‘organism’.

The plan incorporated his principles of light, space and greenery.

The City Plan


The residential areas were numerically divided into sectors. Covering an area of 800*1200 mts, they were ‘containers of family life’ – self-contained and bound by fast traffic roads. each sector has shops, schools, place of worship and parks. The population of a sector varies between 3000 and 20000, depending upon the sizes of the plots. every sector is introvert in character and permits only 4 vehicular entries into its interior.

everything is inter-connected. The shopping street of each sector is linked to the shopping street of the adjoining sectors. Together, they form one long, continuous ribbon like a shopping street.

“It works,” says resident Ikroop Kacker in answer to a question on the city’s feel, “the city provides the basics of what is convenient for living – structured transportation, water, plumbing, drainage. Yes, people can complain about lack of character but for the people migrating from the villages of Punjab in the 60s and 70s, it provided a clean organized environment, democratic access to public utilities, board avenues and green space. The sectors and the feel is not Indian, but the city functions well.”

The Architects

Albert Mayer an American architect and town planner promised to play his part and he almost did till destiny intervened. Mayer provided the basic master plan and the detailed scheme of one superblock but the sudden death of his assistant, Matthew Nowicki derailed his plans and made it difficult for him to create a city single-handedly.

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier was convinced with great difficulty to come on board as architectural advisor, his cousin Pierre Jeanneret and the husband wife duo of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew were all signed on as senior architects.

Although other architects were involved, it is Le Corbusier whose dominant personality and characteristic boldness shows itself in the planning of Chandigarh.

The Roads

The roads in Chandigarh are wellbehaved. Le Corbusier called them the Les Sept Voies de Circulation, or
the 7Vs. The 7Vs divided the roads into categories like the arterial roads (high-capacity urban roads), major boulevards (large roads, usually running through the city), access roads (provide access to a specific destination, as to a main highway or a major road), pedestrian paths and even cycle tracks.

All this attention to detail ensured that the roads of Chandigarh are neat, clean, unfettered by hawkers and devoid of teeming pedestrians. Some say they lack the flavor of Indian-ness. It begs a question, are chaos and unregulated traffic the stamp of an Indian city? one dour shop assistant replied, “the buildings are big and the roads are wide, the air is clean but it makes me feel alone.” Is the vision too grand for our sensibilities?

Le Corbusier preferred a systematic approach – “the curved path is for the pack animals” he was fond of saying. The paths in the sectors and their uniformity means residents can never get lost. Shreya Kapoor, a former resident says, “ I grew up in this city but as a child these facts remained unknown to me till last year, when I went to visit a friend who had now shifted to a different sector. My father was able to guide me to the right part of the sector just on the basis of the house number – unimaginable in Mumbai where I now reside and almost all Indian cities.”

The Capitol

Genius is rarely modest. ravi Kalia, author of Chandigarh, The Making of a Modern City reveals that Le Corbusier was a dominant personality with an almost egocentric view. And so he dared to boldly demolish old ideas. There is nothing subtle about his architecture, it is modern, strikingly different and absolutely in-your-face!! The Capitol is clearly marked with Le Corbusier’s stamp with its magnificent buildings of the High Court, Legislative Assembly and Secretariat framed by the backdrop of Shivalik mountain range.

Corbusier used the humble, cheap, dun-grey colored rCC (reinforced Cement Concrete) to create his masterpieces – as if to prove that architectural beauty doesn’t depend on the material, but on the architect’s vision. For a developing nation with almost empty coffers at that time, it was a revelation, although it made the buildings drab for many – their harsh geometric shapes heightened the feeling of monoliths.

The High Court

The glorious outward sweep of the upper roof symbolizes protection and justice to the people. The three vertical piers, rising 60 feet from the floor are painted in bright colors. They form the grand entrance to the building. The façade is a gigantic egg-crate screen the building was its own backdrop. It was a staggering display of modern architecture in its time.

The Legislative Assembly

It is aligned on the axis of the Capitol. The most significant aspect of the building is the coverage of the legislative chambers, by a pyramidal prism in the case of the Council Chambers and a sculptural hyperbolic paraboloid on the House of Assembly.

The Secretariat

Its shape resembles Le Corbusier’s Housing Units, called Unités. The façade is a light grid and it has a massive sculptural element at one end, pierced by small windows, that houses a series of internal ramps.

The Open Hand

This is a wind-rotated mobile, which is both a dove and an open hand. It symbolizes the thought- “open to give, open to receive.’. It became the symbol of Chandigarh.

The Capitol Complex was to be the showcase of Le Corbusier’s architectural vision “the Capitol will be a splendid park, with mountains, trees, flowers and architecture. It is dedicated to the pedestrian: man his own master, on foot, walking and living without fear.”

The vision was never fully realized, despite the awe-inspiring buildings. one of the main reasons is that the area is not open to the public and tourists require multiple passes to visit. Neither was Le Corbusier’s vision of creating parks and pathways achieved. So the grand buildings of the complex stand desolately on concrete floors interspersed with weeds and are seen only by government officials. Greenery and movement were the two things that would have made this concrete masterpiece come alive.

Houses of Chandigarh

Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry’s work involved integrating schools, family planning and health clinics, open-air swimming baths and open-air theatres with the housing.

All the houses had sanitary facilities and good water supply. The cheaper housing was all of the terrace type. It allowed the occupants to have larger rooms. Public open space was provided for all low-income housing. House rentals were graded so that no more than a tenth of the man’s income went on rent. The keeping of buffaloes and cows was banned in the houses. Flat roofs kept in mind the Indian custom of sleeping on roofs in hot, summer months. For lovers of a certain kind of India, these uniform row houses seem boring and almost bleak, but they provided a new population of many refugees with an ease of living in a minimal budget. Modern India needed new thought for its houses.

The problems in old cities:

• Open drains
• Electricity and water shortage
• Chaotic roads
• Lack of open spaces

Chandigarh’s modern promise:

• Closed drainage
• Running water, electricity in all houses
• Wide open and planned roads created for cars
• Sector layout
• Landscaped green areas and roundabouts
• Planned areas for work, play and living


Chandigarh also takes care of its residents’ body and spirit. It is also a Garden City and boasts of myriad landscaped leisure spaces.

Leisure VaLLey: A sprawling, green space extending North-east to SouthWest, it was conceived by Le Corbusier as the lungs of the city.

rose Garden, Botanical Garden, Smriti Upvan, Habiscus Garden, Topiary Park, Terrace garden, Fitness Trails and Shanti Kunj are among the 12 parks that make up Leisure valley.

The rose Garden has a large variety of roses and a large fountain to relax the soul.

sukhna Lake: It is a large man-made water body conceived by Le Corbusier on the North-east face of the city and a major recreation spot. It is fed by water from the catchment area of the seasonal rivulets on the foothills of the Shivaliks. Mrs. Yashdeep Sharma, a city resident, loves Chandigarh for the feel these places provide, “Nothing can compare to this city’s impeccable cleanliness, well laid infrastructure, luscious parks and gardens, the serenity of the Sukha Lake, the amazing sculpturing of the rock Garden……The city is welcoming to anyone from anywhere. I just love being here.”

The rock Garden: It is one of the early creations of rebellion in this staid, planned city. Nek Chand, a government official started the garden secretly in 1957. Chand collected materials from demolition sites around the city and recycled them into his own vision of the divine kingdom of Sukrani. He chose a gorge in a forest near Sukhna Lake for his work. The gorge had been designated as a land conservancy, hence Chand’s work was illegal, but he was able to hide it for eighteen years, extending it into a 12-acre complex of interlinked courtyards. Public intervention saved it from being demolished and in 1976 the park was inaugurated as a public space.

It is full of surprises and winding passages that twist into amazing spaces- beautiful-colored walls made of broken plates, tree monsters lined up against a wall, high up on the terrace, stands a mysterious looking dwelling or maybe it’s a temple to some obscure deity, giant sculptures of wondrous beasts and people. All made of broken bangles, ceramic plates, electrical fittings and anything he could get his hand on!


Le Corbusier’s plan was for a city of 1,50,000, but the population now is close to 10,00,000. In the recent past, two satellite townships of Panchkula and Ajitsingh Nagar have come up and also suburbs like Zirakpur, Mullanpur and Pinjore. With a vast surge in population, the city is now stretched to its limits. Vehicular traffic has increased, so have traffic jams in this once traffic-perfect city. Many of its loved roundabouts that marked the motorways have now been depleted into more sensible traffic signals.

Unauthorized rehri (hawker) market colonies and squatter colonies have also encroached upon spaces.

Maj. Gen. Grewal, a city resident views the changes thus, “it is still one of the best organized cities in the country. However, things are changing rapidly. Traffic conditions are increasingly becoming chaotic. Chandigarh is not geared for expansion in terms of space and facilities.” realizing the problems, an expert heritage committee was formed to preserve Chandigarh and a Chandigarh Master Plan 2031 was created. Mrs. Sumit Kaur, former Chief Architect, Chandigarh explains, “going by current trends, by 2031 the population would be around 21 lakh, but the city would accommodate only 16 lakhs the rest would be accommodated by the interstate regions. Heritage status of grade 1,2 and 3 will be accorded to certain areas with grade 1 being the most stringent with heritage rules. The Capitol Complex will be grade 1. Sectors 1-30 would retain the look of Corbusier Chandigarh while the sectors beyond would allow high rise apartments and more.”

Chandigarh is trying to find a way out of an age-old problem- the living together of old values and new ideas.

A disappointment

Chandigarh boasts of good architecture but to people who view it first from the airport will be forgiven if they think that they have landed in a small village with basic facilities. The architecture of the airport leaves a lot to be desired. A new international airport is under construction and one hopes that it evokes the glory of Chandigarh’s open spaces and organization.