Written by AR. Vijay Kumar
On one hand, Chandigarh’s planning and layout engage with important tenets of climate responsiveness, on the other, Chandigarh owes its climate responsiveness also to its architectural character and individual building treatment. At the city level, Le Corbusier and his team worked on urban morphology parameters, such as urban envelope, corridor width, building height, urban surface materials, sky view factor (SVF), placement of green belts and water bodies and vegetation typology, that help to improve urban environment quality of the city. But while considering the architectural typology of the built mass, Chandigarh was challenged by the need to use time and cost-effective materials and construction techniques. Therefore, keeping concrete and brick as the main material palette, the team endeavoured to retain the emphasis on climatic responsive principles. This was achieved by working on building orientation, plan form, creation of unique envelope design elements, roof form, fenestration arrangement and landscaping to enhance the man-made environment in terms of occupied comfort and well-being.
Chandigarh’s architectural vocabulary is representative of Modern Architecture that was created with due understanding of the vernacular architectural typology, climatic conditions and community’s lifestyle. At a building level, the climate responsiveness is catered to in different ways depending on the scale and use of the building.
The Capitol complex, designed by Le Corbusier, contains the High Court building, the Secretariat and the Assembly building. All three buildings respond to the climate through different experiments in architecture. A space from where the government has to function throughout the year, omitting the annual summer sun through deep sun shading devices, enabling light and ventilation through strategically placed fenestrations and controlling monsoon rain water spills by providing massive horizontal devices, were laid focus on. The campus as a whole was designed as a great pedestrian plaza with motor traffic separated into sunken trenches leading to parking areas. But one of the critical low points remains the vast open plaza between the buildings with concrete hardscaping as it becomes a heat sink where the prevailing atmospheric temperature goes up and leads to urban heat island. A similar dilemma is faced in the Sector 17 City Center Plaza. The plaza has been offering the advantages of an urban public space but the footfall in the plaza reduces drastically in summers, especially during the day time. The major reason behind this is the massive expanse of concrete hard paved surfaces with comparatively low quantity of trees. The amount of heat and glare makes the daytime experience in harsh summers uncomfortable even though the architects have made sure that a continuous shaded veranda runs along the shopfronts.
Architectural experiments in response to the climate in educational institutions were quite different from the large public spaces. It is observed that educational buildings in Chandigarh have been designed as per sun path. The material used is brick and concrete. A continuous shade veranda along the classrooms and the tapping of ample amount of north light for all classrooms are common features seen in most of the educational institutions. Some other design features also dominate the school designs. For example, the school building in Sector-22 by Pierre Jeanneret and two higher schools by Jane Drew (one in Sector-23 and the other in Sector-18) have south side external corridors shaded by louvered sun breakers. A variety of surface texture was given by the use of stone with rubble walls, courtyards were used for light and ventilation and trees were strategically planted in the campuses. In 1958, university construction came under the joint direction of Pierre Jeanneret and Ar. BP Mathur who headed the University Architecture Office. Two new house types were developed by BP Mathur – a group of peon houses and a Type-E terrace house carrying a second-floor veranda masked by brick jalis. The scheme produced by Mathur and Jeanneret for the Science Building has a row of external columns with concrete slab extended to form overhangs. In addition, a few structures have been developed as focal points, for example library building combines concrete with walls of sandstone paneling with concrete brise-soleil shading the main reading rooms. Gandhi Bhawan is centrally located in the campus surrounded by a water body to create a microclimate. Similarly, other educational buildings incorporate architectural features such as sunshades, fenestrations, and parasols, louvers and brick jails, all aimed at natural climate control at micro level.
Within the sector, the design of residences was approached differently. The architects avoided facing the dwellings south-west and opted for a few and small windows on the exposed fronts or no openings of any size if not protected by overhanging verandas. Additionally, Maxwell Fry housing and Jane Drew housing observed frame control restrictions where roof lines are slightly irregular and balcony and window frame of house extend beyond frame. Jeanneret’s architecture further plays with the use of brick jalis, color contrasts with use of stone, brick and white plastered surfaces and projecting window trim.
As the architecture of Chandigarh is evolving, where there are efforts to retain the Modern Movement’s architectural typology, there is also a Chandigarh Contemporary vocabulary being created by the present architects of the city. This is especially noticeable in the private housing of the city. At this point it seems important to state that while evolution is important one must evolve keeping in mind the changing climatic conditions and the need to retain the value of climate responsiveness in the city’s architecture. With time as the usage of the buildings has evolved manifold and due to the changing temperature levels, even though the form and attitude of the buildings are determined by the favorable orientation for sun and dominant winds, the concrete buildings tend leading to trap heat inside to mandatory installation of air conditioning systems. Extensive use of concrete affects the local climatic conditions leading to the urban morphology impacting the outdoor thermal comfort and urban energy usage. Solar passive techniques can be incorporated while keeping intact the architectural features designed by Le Corbusier and his team. For instance, insulation spaces can be incorporated when using RCC walls. Buildings should be fabricated with the latest technology to deal with thermal comfort inside the buildings without compromising the architectural vocabulary of Chandigarh.
Ar. Vijay Kumar is Assistant Professor in Chandigarh College of Architecture. This article is a part of the series of fortnightly articles by students and faculty of CCA on the Making of Chandigarh for the LCPJ forum edited by Ar Saumya Sharma, Assistant Professor in Chandigarh College of Architecture.