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Celebrating Chandigarh: ‘Le Corbusier’s architecture is timeless’

Celebrating Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh is a tribute to the legendry architect on his 50th death anniversary. Prof Rajnish Wattas, talks about the need to make people aware of city’s unique heritage.

Written by Parul | Chandigarh |
Updated: August 24, 2015 10:00:26 am
 Le Corbusier, Architect Le Corbusier, Le Corbusier death anniversary, Le Corbusier projects, Le Corbusier Chandigarh, Le Corbusier Centre, Le Corbusier Centre Chandigarh, Chandigarh news Professor Rajnish Wattas

Celebrating Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh is a tribute to the legendry architect on his 50th death anniversary. Professor Rajnish Wattas, former principal, Chandigarh College of Architecture, in an interview with Parul, talks about the need to make people aware of Chandigarh’s unique heritage

Commemorating the legacy of Le Corbusier, 50 years after the world renowned urban planner and architect, must be a moment of reflection, a time to look back and look ahead. What is the philosophy of the various events planned for the 50th death anniversary (August 27, 1887-1965) of the legendary architect?
The entire architectural world is planning events, commemorating the 50th death anniversary of Le Corbusier. His works are all across the world and his biggest work is in Chandigarh. Corbusier’s  impact on the world of architecture is unparallel, as he was a multifaceted personality— a theorist, thinker, trained artist, painter. He created new urban theories, and was among the first to use concrete in a novel way in his buildings, defining the material as the molten rock of the 20th century.

Corbusier ushered in modernism in India, and his buildings have no Colonial hangover, and nowhere in the world has anyone made a city like Chandigarh. Yes, this is an opportunity for us to look at the heritage of Chandigarh, which is a world and living heritage. So, the Department of Tourism, Chandigarh; Chandigarh College of Architecture; and Department of Urban Planning, Chandigarh, have planned a series of events, with international appeal, to celebrate his legacy with a series of lectures, seminars and other events. The aim is to showcase the heritage of Chandigarh and the contribution of Le Corbusier to the development of a modern way of living in India. The target group is not just the architectural fraternity, but the citizens of Chandigarh, who need to be made aware of the uniqueness of this modern heritage and why it needs to be protected.


What are the various changes that the citizens look forward to in the coming weeks, as part of the commemoration?
The Heritage Conservation Committee is an apex body chaired by the UT Adviser. It’s a watch dog, concerned with every heritage project, by the order of the Government of India. I can proudly state that the administration and other departments are in complete sync with each other, direction-oriented and strongly supporting each other to make this event a complete success, also keeping in mind that we are seeking UNESCO transnational inscription for the city.

Quick and informed decisions have led to the complete cleaning and sprucing up of the Capitol Complex. The wild plantation has been cut, and the barbed wires and barricades, between the High Court and Assembly Building, which were a huge eyesore, have been removed. Corbusier had made complete drawings for depicting the solar hours in the form of an S, as he was deeply interested in how the path of the sun affects human life. This was meant to depict day and night and the engineering department has completed making it, which people can now view on the geometric hill.

Also, the mobile tower in UT, which was disrupting the view of the mountains, has been removed, and all this has been done without any tampering with the authenticity of the property. Incomplete and long-pending tasks have been taken care of.

The citizens of Chandigarh will be treated to many creative, intellectual and spectacular events as part of plans of celebrating Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh. The emphasis is on getting the public involved in every way. What is the philosophy?
Heritage conservation is a failure if people don’t understand the heritage and value of the city they are living in. I have become the Raju guide of Chandigarh architecture, by taking people from all walks of life for heritage walks, starting with the Capitol Complex, and the response has been tremendous. Corbusier has not been understood by people, as no one has explained to the layman his philosophy and the architecture of Chandigarh. His architecture is timeless, and aspects such as play of light and shadow, angles of the sun in creating buildings, scale of forms and space, and hills as settings make him a legend.

People can appreciate and value their city  only if they know and love its essence. Sensitisation of people and making them aware of their heritage is the need of the hour. So, all events, be it photography and painting competitions, quiz, exhibitions, cultural programmes, lectures, exhibitions, or Chandigarh Samvaad, are focused on involving the people of Chandigarh, and making them an integral part of each plan, with entry to all events being open and free of cost.

We hear that one building that Corbusier planned as the crowning glory of the Capitol Complex, the Governor’s Palace, will also be introduced to the people of Chandigarh.
On October 9, in the trench, under the Open Hand, people can look forward to the lighting of the Open Hand, Assembly and High Court buildings. This spectacular event has been planned after interactions with foremost experts in the field. We expect people from across the world to be in Chandigarh, so optics are very important. From twilight to sunset, people can come to the piazza meant for the public, enjoy a photography exhibition, and also a slide show about the Capitol Complex, and yes, a view of the full-scale façade of the Governor’s palace to show people how it would look. We won’t be creating all the four sides, but it will give a perfect idea to what Corbusier had in mind when he designed it, though it could not take shape, for many reasons.

An international symposium will be the culminating event of the series of activities to go on to celebrate Corbusier’s birth anniversary falling on October 6, as well as Chandigarh’s official inauguration on October 7, 1953. Tell us about the mega four-day event.
International and national Le Corbusier scholars and experts such as William Curtis, Michael Richard, Rahul Malhotra, B V Doshi, Raj Rawal and S D Sharma will be here to enhance awareness on Le Corbusier’s architecture and urban planning in Chandigarh. It’s a world-class event, for which extensive research and planning was required, and I have designed the sessions keeping in mind that the public of Chandigarh will be part of the event at Tagore Theatre, and many experts I emotionally blackmailed to be here.

The brief objectives of the symposium are to explore broadly Le Corbusier’s global contribution to modernism, the synthesis of his myriad talents, reflected through his work, especially in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. This will weave the creative thread running through his inspirations, influences; his inventive, bold and imaginative responses to the varied cultural, geographical milieus that he worked in, and the adaptations made to meet those challenges.

It will also be a forum to seek expert advice regarding the multiple challenges/issues that Chandigarh faces today, in conserving its precious modern architectural heritage on one hand and to balance the same, with its burgeoning, vibrant growth as a ‘smart city’ of the future.

How do look at Chandigarh now and in the coming years? What is needed to preserve its heritage?
The city was designed for five lakh people, and we are almost 12 lakh now, but the city is holding on well. I am optimistic about its future. It’s vibrant and growing. Chandigarh will become like central Paris, its safety walls will be settlements around, which will take pressure of its growth. What we need to look at urgently is the traffic situation, we need mass public transportation so that the pressure of cars on the roads is eased and we also need to make it a pedestrian-friendly city. A proactive administration and people who are custodians of the city and value it can keep its heritage intact, and this is one moment in the history of Chandigarh that we can understand what we’re sitting on. The city is a synergy of many elements, and I have faith in the younger generation of the city, which is both responsible and responsive. I have grown in the city; I came here in ‘67 to study architecture, and now, for me, the most fulfilling task is to spread the message of Chandigarh and Corbusier to audiences and forums around the world. The city is a source of constant joy and happiness.

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