The Hidden Garden – A City Within A City
While the city of Chandigarh was being built as the new capital for the Indian state of Punjab, the area was seeing another undertaking in the early 1960s. As the country was preparing to celebrate the post-colonial “new” city designed by Le Corbusier, a local artist had started creating his hidden rock garden in parallel.
An architectural wonder that encompassed 18 acres of forest land and consisted of rock sculptures and structures, the Rock Garden was made entirely from the waste produced in the city’s construction. Situated near the Capitol complex in Chandigarh, this “outsider-art” made of concrete, broken ceramic tiles, glass bangles, rocks, clay pots, etc. is a haphazardly shaped, illegally constructed juxtaposition of Chandigarh’s grid system and Le Corbusier’s monumental governmental buildings. This space displays an array of sculptures and sculpted cascades, waterfalls, and other artistic installations that were single-handedly carried out by Nek Chand. The rock garden, protected by a wall made of concrete and tar drums, was kept secret for almost ten years, despite its proximity to the Capitol Complex. In 1975, the city inspectors recognised this illegal construction, and the Chandigarh bureaucracy wanted it eliminated as Nek Chand’s creation occupied government land that had been set aside as green space between the government buildings of Le Corbusier and the city proper. After much debate, the Chandigarh Landscape Advisory Committee relented and allowed Chand to open his creation to the public. It is now recognized as one of the most visited tourist spots in the world, after the Taj Mahal.1
Here, his organic-planning approach appears as a political goal that seems to be fighting against Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh, which was intended as a prototype for city-planning and architecture in post-colonial India.2 It seems as though Chand maintained a sense of local identity, constructing an antithesis within a city built by an outsider, although ironically, the Rock Garden has often been referred to as the “Outsider Art.”3
Through related literature and mentions in published articles after its discovery, this paper examines Chand’s motive in building, and thereafter hiding, the parallel “village” at the same time Le Corbusier’s “modern” city was being constructed.
Keywords: Chandigarh, Le Corbusier, Nek Chand, rock garden
1 Iain Jackson, “About Nek Chand,” Retrieved from Nek Chand Foundation: https://nekchand.com/aboutnek-chand.
2 Bhatti, S. S., Rock Garden in Chandigarh: A Critical Evaluation of the Work of Nek Chand, (Queensland: The University of Queensland, 1982).
3 Lucienne Peiry, John Maizels and Philippe Lespinasse, Nek Chand’s Outsider Art: The Rock Garden of Chandigarh, (Montreal: Flammarion, 2005).
SPOORTHI SATHEESH, is a graduate student, pursuing her Master of Science in Architecture at DAAP, University of Cincinnati. Her research concerns lay with the identity of Modern Architecture in India. Her thesis, conducted under Dr. Aarathi Kanekar and Dr. Edson Cabalfin, analyzes the reception of Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh and its aftermath in a post-colonial India, through the lens of the Marg Publication, which was the first of its kind to publish scholarship on Modern Art and Architecture in India. Her career passion lies in becoming a story-teller of the built world through the medium of architectural publications. Additional to her time at the Hamptons Magazine, she is currently completing an internship at NYCXDESIGN.