Making of Chandigarh: Plan climate protection and prevent urban heat islands

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Climate compatibility was one of the most important aspects that the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier considered when planning and designing the city of Chandigarh. The decision on the city’s exact location and orientation went through several considerations, based on the idea of ​​creating a natural microclimate for a region that experiences a hot and dry climate for much of the year.

Chandigarh was therefore designed on the foothills of the Shivaliks, bordered by two riverbeds some five miles apart – the Patiala ki Rao to the west and the Sukhna Choe to the east – and incorporating the natural green belts into the planning. In addition, rows of mango trees were planted as a green belt to curb the unhindered expansion of large residential areas and create an efficient buffer between the city and the industrial area. Hence, conditions such as topography, natural vegetation and water availability have determined the nuances of Chandigarh. Corbusier emphasized understanding the role of natural elements such as sun, space and greenery in not only enhancing the man-made environment but also fulfilling climate friendly principles for a city.

An example of climate-responsive architecture vocabulary designed for Chandigarh.

The architectural team also observed the region’s indigenous architecture before creating their models for climate-responsive architecture. The mud houses of the existing villages showed them how the strategic location and the size of the openings helped the residents create a comfortable living environment in their homes. These inspirations were taken and further developed in the form of various shading devices and window typologies specially designed for Chandigarh. For example, Pierre Jeanerette, Maxwell Fry, and Jane Drew designed frame control constraints that specified types and sizes of window frames, porches, courtyards, brick jalis, and so on. The team wanted to control the sun’s effect on all four sides of a building to reduce internal temperatures.

Due to budget and time constraints, the new capital had to consider modern building materials and techniques. The city is mostly built of brick, stone and concrete with shuttered windows. To understand the climate impact of these materials, all building elements were tested and refined prior to execution at the current Le Corbusier Center (Sector 19) to determine a sustainable form and attitude of the building.

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Le Corbusier also designed a “Tower of Shadows” in the Capitol Complex, precisely aligned on the north-south axis, with the north side being completely open and the other three sides being brise-soleil (sunbreakers) like vertical shading devices at different angles and had horizontal sunshades of varying depths. Where the bulkheads provide shelter when the sun is low on the horizon, the wing walls block the sun’s rays.

The ‘Tower of Shadow’ was a demonstration to trace the path of the sun by casting shadows on either side of the tower. It therefore defines the architectural vocabulary of Chandigarh through details of parasols, windows (arrangement of windows), parasols, venetian blinds (venetian blinds with horizontal slats), porches, masonry jalis and courtyards, all aiming at natural micro-level climate control. For example, each sector’s shopping street has shops on the south side with deep corridors so that pedestrians can walk in the shade during the day, and brick jalis on the facade that act as sunshades. The buildings along Madhya Marg feature dead facades that minimize heat gain inside the building.

The thermal comfort of users in outdoor spaces is also an important aspect to be considered in Chandigarh. The Sukhna Choe was dammed to create an artificial lake to the east of the city, allowing evaporative cooling to allow the surrounding area to experience a pleasant breeze. Small bodies of water have been added near important places like the Supreme Court, Assembly, Gandhi Bhawan, etc. for the same reason. Effectiveness is enhanced by careful placement of these water bodies according to prevailing wind movement and minimal runoff from the site during monsoons.

The Tower of Shadow was designed by Le Corbusier to study the movement of the sun and explain the theory that sunlight can be controlled within the four sides of a building.

The planned parks in all sectors, tree plantations on both sides of all major connecting roads and reserved forest areas also help to reduce the negative impact of an urban heat island that is emerging in Chandigarh. For example, the plantation along Jan Marg consists primarily of Chukrasia trees that have been planted so that the trees’ foliage cuts the evening sun’s rays and helps employees commute easily from the Capitol Complex and government offices to the residential areas.

As Chandigarh completes its nearly 70 years of existence, it is witnessing rapid urbanization and the problems that come with it. Factors such as traffic congestion, urban heat islands, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change are causes for concern. Mainly, concrete has been used as a building material and hardscape material for landscaping. Concrete retains a lot of heat and makes it uncomfortable to walk during the day in summer. The climate is changing and temperatures are rising. Since the buildings are made of reinforced concrete and lack thermal insulation, they cannot maintain thermal comfort inside buildings.

We have to rely heavily on the refrigeration equipment, which cools down the indoor environment, but greatly affects the outdoor environment, ultimately leading to climate change in some way. In a leafy city like Chandigarh, it is disheartening that the city, designed to accommodate both pedestrian and vehicular traffic, is now heavily vehicular. This trend of increase of automobiles in the city compared to the population is one of the reasons for the rise in temperature. If we ignore these facts, city dwellers will truly face greater consequences in the coming days.

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In conclusion, it is suggested that residents consider solar passive architecture techniques when building, encourage greenery in their surroundings, and make the city pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, at least for shorter commutes. As a climate-conscious city, Chandigarh must learn from the past and adopt new technologies to cope with climate change in the future without compromising Le Corbusier’s design philosophy.

(The authors: Ar Vijay Kumar is an Assistant Professor at Chandigarh College of Architecture (CCA) and Gautam Jha is a second year M.Arch student. This article, edited by Ar Saumya Sharma, Assistant Professor at Chandigarh College of Architecture, is part of a fortnight Series by CCA students and faculty on the making of Chandigarh for the Le Corbusier Pierre Jeanneret Forum.)

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