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Modernism, modernization and post‐colonial India: a reflective essay

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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. 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.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: History, City College of New York, 137th Street & Convent Avenue, New York, NY 10031, USA

Publication date: 01 April 2006

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