Chandigarh - A World Heritage City?


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In the Journal of Indian Institute of Architects, (April-May 1994), there appears Mr. Peter Blake’s letter and an appeal to declareChandigarh as a “World Heritage City”. It is touching to the extent of being melodramatic in fashion. Indirectly it speaks of ‘control’, which is a characteristic of superior races.


According to Mr. Blake, the state of city’s growth of present day andigarh is damaging the image of the ‘form-giver’, Le Corbusier, because of the growing number of inhabitants in the city. So Blakesahib is out to auction Chandigarh, as I interpret it, in the international market; the proposed manager to the auction is UNESCO. One should not be surprised, that if UNESCO fails, then there would be others GATT, IMF, WB for the nobler work.


This is not something new. Le Corbusier too had suggested keeping the ‘old’ Moscow in 1945 as a museum piece. This a European legacy received by Blakesahib and Corbusahib. Where is Portugal and where is England on the world map! Yet one gave the islands of Bombay to the other in dowry in royal marriage.


No wonder Paul and Percieval Goodman described “Le Corbusier was a poor social critic and a bad prophet. …  Le Corbusier is committed, by perfecting status quo, to maximum inflexibility” (Communitas: ‘Means of Livelihood and Way of Life’, Vintage Books, NY, 1960, p. 48).


Corbusier then and his biographer now, failed to see Chandigarh is not an artefact owned by a corporation or a connoisseur, but it belongs to the people of democratic India. A city being a symbol and seat of power is a magnet. 


Back in nineteen sixties we witnessed Corbusier’s Mill Owner’s building in Ahemedabad was perpetually covered with the droppings of birds; in Chandigarh people moved their ‘chulahs’ – hearths – out in the open verandas from the designated areas of kitchens. This observation is not to judge or to undermine his greatness and influence on modern architecture though.


It is known that the western world of industrial civilisation is moving at a faster speed, from Olympics to electronics, from growth to decay and deterioration… of course with global effect! So within 40 years Chandigarh deserves to be classified as antique!! A monument up to whom!!!


      The appeal by Mr. Blake is a reminder of Mohammed Tughlaq, one of the Sultans (1326 – 1351 A.D.) in India, who wanted to shift his capital with its people. He failed. 20th Century A.D. and its masters have succeeded in reversing the ‘Tughlaq Process’ resulting in worldwide phenomena, a tidal wave of urban explosion. Which city in the world is an exception to this situation? Is it now frightening Mr Blake?


      Civilisations and cultures have buried in in the past or butchered by the militarily powerful societies; but people have not vanished. They are growing in numbers. It will be too simplistic to assume that the ‘Industrial Civilisation’ is bound to, will, last forever, to take care of the vested interests of a few. It will also pass away, but faster than its predecessors, due to its own strength and power, expedited by the alter ego of its masters – the Post-historic Man – by no lesser men than Le Corbusier, even if we ignore, or fail to see and read the signs. The mighty communist regime in Soviet Russia failed. Earlier the sun started setting on the British Empire… Was Marx wrong? Were the Newton, the Aristotle, and the host of them other wrong?


 Time is greater judge of the great, not only the famous and the popular, better than any consortium of ad-persons, journalists and intellectuals, or commissions of art. Chandigarh and Tughlaque have given us good examples to learn this lesson. How do we compare Varanasi with Chandigarh and Fatehpur Sikri, another monument and a museum piece?  As Lewis Mumford puts it, “A perfect city was the result o time, and I am afraid no planner can make it so without the help of time” (‘The Work of Mathew Nowicki in India’ DESIGN, Vol.2, No. 5, May 1958, Bombay). Let Chandigarh face the test of time along with its designer. Better leave the monuments for the posterity. Right now it is time to build up and strengthen the ‘Community’. But the community cannt be built at a global level and certainly by external ‘control’. Perhaps ‘market’ and market economy’ are possible to be built at global level with external force.


We also remember Mathew Nowicki who was originally appointed to design Chandigarh in collaboration with Mayer and Whittlesay. He had designed the master plan, super blocks to the last details, smallest houses… Only after his tragic death in plane crash in 1951, on his way back to New York after his visit to India, Le Corbusier was brought in on the project of capital city of Panjab. What happened to Nowicki’s plans of Chandigarh? Perhaps what is lost in his death could be guessed in the words of Lewis Momford, “Nowcki added the missing term – Man. Not Le Corbusier’s lay figure, but the creature of flesh, and blood and mind and spirit: the whole man … the man Nowocki was had no place for the childish vanities, flatulent egotism, that even the highest genius sometimes displays” (Ibid.).


We also remember Sir Patrick Geddes with great reverence who advocated that “planning is not to coerce people”. India should pay homage to Nowicki and Geddes and their work and teachings.


India with her living traditions of 7000 or more years has wealth of rich heritage to look after and take care – the heritage that is in the people, if taken up, it would certainly generate work and employment, sustenance and self-respect for the multitude – the millions of them, and much more to offer to the world.¢


Remigius de Souza  

69/243 S B MARG MUMBAI 400028 INDIA

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