A date with history: From today, step into Jeanneret’s restored canteenhttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/chandigarh-history-le-corbusier-architect-jeannerets-restored-canteen-5691547/

A date with history: From today, step into Jeanneret’s restored canteen

Deepika Gandhi, director of the Centre, says the process of restoration was challenging as the place was in utter neglect, and there were no original drawings available for reference.

New canteen at Le Corbusier centre. (Express Photo by Jasbir Malhi)

THIS IS a space from where Chandigarh was designed, the work place of Le Corbusier and his team. Originally known as the Old Architects’ Office, the Le Corbusier Centre in Sector 19 is one of the earliest buildings constructed in Chandigarh. Here’s your chance to walk down memory lane, as the Canteen Block at the Centre, designed by Swiss architect Pierre Jeanneret, has now been restored and re-constructed and will open its doors to the public on April 24 at 12 noon.

Deepika Gandhi, director of the Centre, says the process of restoration was challenging as the place was in utter neglect, and there were no original drawings available for reference. The idea and philosophy was to keep the original structure intact, and make changes so that the canteen block could once again be a hub of creative and artistic activity, a space for discussions and debates over a cup of tea and also a place for people from the city and tourists to view the history of the first modern city of India. “We had many discussions with architects S D Sharma and Sumit Kaur, for the final renovation plan, with two people who had worked in this building before, helping us to understand the finer nuances of the structure,” Gandhi says.

S D Sharma, who was part of the Capitol Project team, and has many fond memories of the time he spent at the Centre, recounts, “This is the place where the initial team of Chandigarh would have lunch together over serious discussions about the plans for the city. It was here that they would share their ideas and concerns over a cup of tea in the evening. This structure was an experiment by Jeanneret, who was then, in the early 1950s, working on low-cost housing models, ones that you see in Sector 20. It was decided that the structure, self-sustaining and economical, would not be broken, but adapted as a canteen space, which was needed then. Now, with it restored, it would give people a peep into the past, and be a tourist attraction as well. It is important that we preserve and protect our history, with the buildings and monuments an integral part of our past.”

The structure, Gandhi says, is not concrete, as they had originally thought, but made of a series of three brick vaults. The structure was equipped with shelves, sinks, almirahs, benches, cement tables which are all intact and have not been changed. The doorway is an arch, with ample seating both in and outside the structure, a canopy of trees providing a green cover. The menu will include snacks, tea, coffee and later simple meals.

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As part of the inauguration programme, there will be a colouring competition for students, followed by inauguration of an exhibition on M S Randhawa, the first Chief Commissioner of Chandigarh, whose contributions to art, administration, landscape and the promotion of Punjabi culture are universally recognised. The exhibition, in association with the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi, is a tribute to Randhawa, whose efforts resulted in the conception of the Chandigarh Museum, Punjab Arts Council and Museum of Cultural Heritage of Punjab in Ludhiana, apart from several other institutions.

“This is a key structure which reflects the innovative spirit of Chandigarh. This was a space which was a laboratory for many experiments and explorations, one of the fist samples or pilot projects of low-cost brick vault structures, which the great architects worked on, against all odds and limitations, and so this is of immense value to the city,” believes Rajnish Wattas, former principal, Chandigarh College of Architecture.