Dezeen Magazine

Le Corbusier's Chandigarh government buildings captured in new images by Benjamin Hosking

World Heritage Corb: for the next instalment in our series on the 17 Le Corbusier buildings added to UNESCO's World Heritage list, Australian photographer Benjamin Hosking shares new images of Capitol Complex in Chandigarh – the Indian city that gave the architect a chance to test his Modernist theories on a grand scale (+ slideshow).

The Capitol Complex is made up of three concrete buildings: the Palace of Assembly or Legislative Assembly, the Secretariat and the High Court.

"Given the years of neglect and northern India's weather extremities they are in reasonable shape," Hosking told Dezeen. "Small sheds are scattered across the complex and makeshift tents full of Army personnel make for an interesting atmosphere whilst walking around."

Le Corbusier's Capitol Complex by Benajmin Hosking
The Palace of Assembly is one of three concrete buildings designed by Corbusier that make up the Capitol Complex in Chandigarh

Hosking visited the complex earlier this year to document it as part of an ongoing project, but found it difficult to access some of the interiors due to increased security.

"From speaking to staff I'm led to believe there has been many significant changes and interventions throughout sections of the complex, most notably the High Court," said Hosking.

Le Corbusier's Capitol Complex by Benajmin Hosking
Le Corbusier's Tower of Shadows is another one of the monuments within the complex

"Irrespective of the unsolicited modifications made over the years, the soul remains the same. The scale when entering the High Court is immense and a poignant reminder that imagery alone can never take the place of experience."

Chandigarh was one of India's first planned cities, and was Le Corbusier's largest project.

He was commissioned to design the masterplan in the early 1950s, after being approved by Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister. The city was to serve as the new independent Indian government's regional capital in Punjab, after the previous capital, Lahore, became part of Pakistan.

"The general feeling seems to be that he [Le Corbusier] took on the task primarily as a way of justifying his theories," wrote the New Yorker in 1955. "He is almost 70, it is pointed out, and thus far most of those theories have been tried only on paper."

Le Corbusier's Capitol Complex by Benajmin Hosking
The Secretariat is the largest of the buildings

Arranged in a grid, the city's districts are connected by boulevards and are dotted with parks, public spaces and streets planted with trees.

But it is the group of buildings that form the government's administration complex – known as the Capitol Complex – that have become symbolic of the architect's work in India.

Le Corbusier saw the city like a human body, with these buildings functioning as its "head".

As with many of his best-known projects, he collaborated with his cousin, architect and designer Pierre Jeanerret, to build and furnish the Capitol Complex as a complete work – creating everything from the facades down to the door handles.

The Secretariat is the largest of the structures, and houses the headquarters of both the Punjab and Haryana governments.

Le Corbusier's Capitol Complex by Benajmin Hosking
The Secretariat houses the ministerial chambers and all ministerial agencies

The massive building is almost 250 metres long and comprises eight storeys of rough-cast concrete, demonstrating similarities to Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation housing in Marseille – arguably the most influential Brutalist building of all time.

The concrete was moulded into different forms to create complex geometry and patterns, which are highlighted in the paintwork. Ramps at either end allow for vertical circulation through every storey.

The Palace of Assembly was designed to have an open-plan interior, framed by a grid of reinforced concrete columns, offering a view of the nearby Himalayan mountains.

The building has a free facade – a feature that became integral to many of Le Corbusier's designs – meaning it does not serve a structural purpose. This allows it to host large sections of glazing covered in brise-soleils or sun-breaks.

Le Corbusier's Capitol Complex by Benajmin Hosking
Le Corbusier also designed the Open Hand, which is a symbol of the government of Chandigarh

The High Court has a double roof that provides shade to the rest of the building and its columns and portico walls are painted in bright, contrasting colours, reminiscent of many of Le Corbusier's other buildings, like the La Tourette convent and Maison La Roche-Jeannerret in France.

The upper roof cantilevers out over the lower roof and a gap between the two allows for air to circulate around the building.

Two monuments were also planned, but were not completed before Le Corbusier's death in 1965.

Le Corbusier's Capitol Complex by Benajmin Hosking
Public spaces and parks break up each district of Chandigarh

In recent years, pieces of furniture originally designed by Le Corbusier and Jeanerret for the Capitol Complex have found their way onto the international auction circuit.

"A considerable amount of prints, artefacts and furniture have been flogged off to opportunistic art dealers in Europe for small amounts of money with a general air of nonchalance from state government," said Hosking. "Everyone that I spoke to regarding this was surprisingly very open."

Le Corbusier's Capitol Complex by Benajmin Hosking
"Given the years of neglect and northern India's weather extremities the buildings are in reasonable shape," photographer Benjamin Hosking told Dezeen

"Although most locals are aware of Le Corbusier's involvement in Chandigarh there seems to be little awareness of the cultural and heritage value of said objects or even buildings. Interest in his legacy from foreigners is often met with curiosity and mild surprise."

The Capitol Complex is one of 17 Le Corbusier buildings in being recognised as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, along with Ronchamp Chapel, one of the 20th century's most important buildings and the architect's only building in the Far East: the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo.

"No doubt preservation efforts will be stepped up, and the decision can only be beneficial," said Hosking.