The city has a pre-historic past. The gently sloping plains on which modern Chandigarh exists, was in the ancient past, a wide lake ringed by a marsh. The fossil remains found at the site indicate a large variety of aquatic and amphibian life, which was supported by that environment. About 8000 years ago the area was also known to be a home to the Harappans.
Chandigarh derives its name from the temple of "Chandi Mandir" located in the vicinity of the site selected for the city. The deity 'Chandi', the goddess of power and a fort of 'garh' laying beyond the temple gave the city its name "Chandigarh-The City Beautiful".
After the partition of British India into India and Pakistan in 1947, the former British province of Punjab was also split between India and Pakistan. The Indian state of Punjab required a new capital city to replace Lahore, which became part of Pakistan during the partition.After several plans to make additions to existing cities were found to be unfeasible for various reasons, the decision to construct a new and planned city was undertaken. It was decided to built a new Capital city called Chandigarh about 240 kms. north of New Delhi on a gently sloping terrain with foothills of the Himalayas the Shivalik range of the North and two Seasonal rivulets flowing on its two sides approximately 7-8 kms apart. The geographical location of the city is 30 degree 50' N latitude and 76 degree 48' longitude and it lies at an altitude varying from 304.8 to 365.76 meters above sea level.
Of all the new town schemes in independent India, the Chandigarh project quickly assumed prime significance, because of the city's strategic location as well as the personal interest of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India. Commissioned by Nehru to reflect the new nation's modern, progressive outlook, Chandigarh was designed by the French (born Swiss) architect and urban planner, Le Corbusier, in the 1950s. Le Corbusier was in fact the second architect of the city, after the initial master plan was prepared by the American architect-planner Albert Mayer (planner) who was working with the Polish-born architect Matthew Nowicki.
To select a suitable site, the Govt. of Punjab appointed a Committee in 1948 under the Chairmanship of P.L Verma, Chief Engineer to assess and evaluate the existing towns in the State for setting up the proposed capital of Punjab. However, none was found suitable on the basis of several reasons, such as military vulnerability, shortage of drinking water, inaccessibility, inability to cope in flux of large number of refugees etc. The present site was selected in 1948 taking into account various attributes such as its Central location in the state, proximity to the national capital & availability of sufficient water supply, fertile of soil, gradient of land for natural drainage, beautiful site with the panorama of blue hills as backdrop & moderate climate.
An American Firm, M/s. Mayer, Whittlessay and Glass was commissioned in 1950 to prepare the Master Plan for the new City. Albert Mayer and Mathew Novicki evolved a fan shaped Master Plan and worked out conceptual sketches of the super block. The super block was designed as a self –sufficient neighborhood units placed along the curvilinear roads and comprised of cluster type housing, markets and centrally located open spaces. Novicki was tragically killed in an air accident and Mayer decided to discontinue. Thereafter, the work was assigned to a team of architects led by Charles Eduard Jeanneret better known as Le Corbusier in 1951.
He was assisted by three senior architects, Maxwell Fry, his wife Jane B Drew and Corbusier’s cousin, Pierre Jeanneret. These senior architects were supported by a team of young Indian architect and planner consisting of M.N. Sharma, A. R. Prabhawalkar, U.E. Chowdhary, J.S. Dethe, B.P. Mathur, Aditya Prakash, N.S. Lanbha and others.
The Master Plan was developed by Le Corbusier who also designed the Capital Complex and established the architectural control & design of the main building of the city. The design of housing for Govt. employees, schools, shopping centers, hospitals were disturbed among the three senior architects.
Maxwell Fry and Jane B. Drew worked for about three years on the project and then left due to their engagements elsewhere. Pierre Jeanneret who ultimately became the Chief Architect and Town Planning Adviser to Govt. of Punjab returned to Switzerland in 1965. M.N. Sharma took over from Pierre Jeanneret as the first Indian Chief Architect of the Project and after the reorganization of the State of Punjab in 1966 and the establishment of Union Territory, Chandigarh, he was appointed as Administrative Secretary of the Department of Architecture in the Chandigarh Administration. The major buildings designed by these architects are the important landmarks in the city.The reorganization of the State pf Punjab in 1966 resulted in Chandigarh being declared a Union Territory besides serving as Capital of Punjab and the newly created State of Haryana. In the process, Chandigarh became the seat of three governments & gained in size and stature since it already had a central location in the region and a sublime environment complementing its growth. Dr. M. S. Randhawa took over as the first Chief Commissioner of the new Union Territory and was chiefly instrumental in realization of the IInd phase in 1968 when M. N. Sharma was the chief architect. This phase of development comprised of 17 Nos. sectors extending from 31 to 47. The feedback which was gained from the development of Phase-I was wisely invested into the planning of this phase and certain fundamental improvements were envisaged in the Sector layout, housing and commercial environment. This phase was planned for a population of 3.5 lacs with an average density of 60 persons per acre as compared to 17 persons per acres in Phase-I and comprised of an area of 27 sq. km. The first phase was developed in 43 sq. km. of area.
The development and the character of the IInd phase of Chandigarh that emerged gradually in the three decades of its materialization was largely influenced by the following attributes:The city recorded the highest growth rate (140%) during the decade 1961-71. The ensuring increase in the administrative workforce that brought more families created a market for supporting jobs initiating a population boom. In order to tae advantage of the development potential, the State of Punjab and Haryana set up new capital city. Migration trends also showed a preference for settlement in the peripheries of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali, who in turn depended on Chandigarh for infrastructural facilities. The first phase of the city was sparsely populated with residential plots ranging from 5 marla to 6 kanals. With the immense increase in the population, this trend was reversed and smaller plots, catering to more number of people were planned. The highest category of plot in this phase in 2 kanals. The frame controls that governed the Marla type houses in Phase-I had second floor as Barsati, which was meant for outdoor sleeping and other activities only. In the new phase, this frame control was redesigned and provided changed use of space. Open to sky sleeping terraces, so much part of the Indian life, were provided in the control design. Realizing its social obligation to provide economical housing to all strata of the society, the administration decided to provide multistoreyed housing/flats in the city. During this phase, housing clusters were created depending on the income levels of its citizens, viz. Lower Income Group (LIG), Middle Income Group (MIG), and so on. This move enabled the Planners to attain desired results; namely, denser development of strong community based living. The layout & the Architectural character of commercial spaces in the new sectors was very different from that of the initial phase shopping centers. The 'Market Square' concept was introduced for the first time and the facades had more glass in place of vernacular elements such as louvers & brick jails. Mixed land-use pattern has always been adopted through ages in most of the ancient cities & towns in the country. This is indicative of the inherent Indian Psyche of closer proximity of living & working space to save on space, time & ensure security with economic austerity. Accordingly, the first phase sectors had adopted shop-cum-flat (S.C.F.) pattern of shopping concept. These were small brick structures with shop on ground floor, residential facility portion on the 1st floor, and a low height barsati on 2nd floor. No basements were, proposed, keeping in view limited business environment. However, this concept under estimated the mindset of the affluent inhabitants who were used to living in constrained environment and more importantly, it didn't gauge the tremendous business potential of the city in the days to come. Thus, the concept of Shop-cum-Office (S.C.O.) was born in the new phase and provided relief to corporate magnates who favoured to locate their regional head offices in this city due to a high degree of livability and high quality of urban infrastructure. If the 1st phase can be called a period of controlled growth and economic austerity due to its emphasis on creating Govt. infrastructure and housing, the new phase could easily be termed as a period of affluence, consolidation and prosperity. The size of the dwelling unit may have come down due to scarcity of land, the area under commercial usage grew leaps & bounds, with special emphasis on service industries such as hotels, banks, private nursing homes & shopping centres in the new sectors. To provide world class shopping environment for the Southern Sectors, a Sub City Centre in Sector 34 was planned with high rise commercial establishments. This upmarket area provides the best of commercial facilities to Phase-II Sectors and compensates for their distance from the main City Centre. The key to a City's success lies in its ability to adapt according to changing conditions. It must continue to grow and change in response to its people's needs. The influx of people due to accelerated economic activities has led to scarcity of housing resources in the city. Keeping this in view, IIIrd phase of the city comprising sectors south of 'Vikas Marg' has come into existence. Sectors 48 & 49 are primarily meant for multistoreyed Cooperative Group Housing Schemes, whereas large rehabilitation schemes have been implemented in Sectors 55 & 56 (Palsora), Kajheri for settlement of migratory population mainly service people, which provide important support in maintaining the City. In all, nine new Sectors have been planned in this phase bordering the boundary with Punjab.
Many Punjabi parties including Akali Dal have argued that Chandigarh should become solely the capital of Punjab. As part of 1985 Rajiv-longowal accord Indian Government agreed to the transfer of the capital Chandigarh to Punjab and simultaneous transfer of territory in lieu to the state of Haryana on January 26, 1986 . But due to later political developments and differences over other provisions of accord the accord was never implemented