It’s a book, 243 pages in all, in a size that goes into a handbag, each page a brief description of the city’s most significant buildings, with a photograph, an architect’s drawing and little nuggets about each building.
The title, CHD, short for Chandigarh, was chosen not because it sounds cool, which it does, but because the full name would not have fitted on the cover in the right size. CHD is an architectural travel guide, literally a brick-and-mortar history of the city, and it was published by a Spanish architect who made Chandigarh her home five years ago. Ariadna Garetta runs her own publishing house called Altrim, and collaborated with Vikramaditya Prakash, a US-based Indian architect, teacher and urban historian for the book. Prakash, who has written the book, grew up in Chandigarh. He is the son of Aditya Prakash, who worked with Corbusier on the School of Art, and was later the principal of the Chandigarh College of Architecture.
“Vikram was already working on an idea that was very similar to mine. He understood exactly what I was trying to do. It was most wonderful to work with him,” said Garetta, when I finally met her last month one hot afternoon over lassi at noisy Gopal’s, just before she flew off to Spain for a break. Adriana says she felt the need for a book like this when she first visited the city as an architecture tourist. “As a professional architect, I was looking for information about the buildings in a compact book, but there wasn’t one. And I thought, why not I do something to provide this information,” she said.
Prakash’s two-to-three paragraph descriptions focus on the pure architectural aspects of each building, with a brief comment. For instance, he describes the Carmel Convent complex, the way it is now, as “schizophrenic”, with the “austere old modernist bloc at its core complemented by a massive gymnasium block added by [architect] Shivdutt Sharma in the 90s. The old block is almost prosaic, a clear volume with alternately projecting and receding parapets.The gymnasium is by contrast an overscaled brick volume with an ambitious steel truss roof.”
Included also are the older Prakash’s Corbu House hostel building on the PEC Campus, with its zigzag corridor, sun protected sleeping balconies and rooms with direct access to daylight, his College of Architecture, J K Chaudhary’s PEC building, and the Panjab University buildings, all designed by a galaxy of modernists. A lay reader may not understand all the architectural terms. But it’s a user-friendly guide of the city, even for the uninitiated. Most of Chandigarh’s main “tourist attractions” are, after all, architectural – even Sukhna is an architect’s fantasy made real — and this book brings them all together.