Wednesday, February 21, 2018
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The man, his legacy and more

A new book on Le Corbusier revisits many of his ideas and the relevance of conserving all Corbusian structures in Chandigarh18 Feb 2018 | 1:30 AM

Perhaps most important of all, given Le Corbusier's overall intentions in Chandigarh, was the so-called 'Open Hand' hovering on a mast like a gigantic wind vane, although the irreverent observer cannot help thinking of a base-ball glove.

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Le Corbusier’s Capitol in Chandigarh: As a Cosmic and Political Landscape 

William J.R. Curtis  

Perhaps most important of all, given Le Corbusier's overall intentions in Chandigarh, was the so-called 'Open Hand' hovering on a mast like a gigantic wind vane, although the irreverent observer cannot help thinking of a base-ball glove. 

The 'Open Hand' epitomises Le Corbusier's attempt at combining a public iconography with an abstraction permitting several levels of reading and a formal presence permitting multiple relationships to other 'objects' against the sky, such as those on top of the Parliament or the Governor's Palace. 

... Like the bull, the hand was a recurrent theme in Le Corbusier's own paintings. He initially thought of the 'Open Hand' as a symbol of reconciliation above the messy infighting of mundane politics: 'A symbol very appropriate to the new situation of a liberated and independent earth. A gesture which appeals to fraternal collaboration and solidarity between all men and all nations of the earth.' 

'Modernity', 'Nature', 'Tradition'— this great triad of Olympian notions is ever present in Le Corbusier's Capitol. His basic materials were space, light, water, reinforced concrete, the sky and the ground. The overall theme was the idealization of the institutions of the state. The aim was to establish a set of relationships across space between symbolic forms. 

... Chandigarh represented a new start for many Indians displaced by the traumas of Partition and it was possibly Le Corbusier's intention that the 'Open Hand' also be understood as a universal image of peace. If so, it is hardly surprising that he should have tried to hitch this image to Nehru's notion of a non-aligned movement in world politics. 

The Indian Incarnation

B.V. Doshi 

Chandigarh was conceived to break from the lethargic past. Nehru must have taken the opportunity to take advantage of Punjab's entrepreneurship and spirituality which gave us this most modern contemporary city of Chandigarh. Though the Post-Independent Punjab is a small state in the Indian subcontinent, he saw in it a new state, imparting value giving, not only to India but also the world; a new contemporary magnet which could attract visitors from all over the world comparable to the virtues of Paris, Rome, New York. A new world where one could experience advanced lifestyle, employment, learning and having the spirit of unity of heart, body and soul; where every being will have a place to nourish family, an opportunity to work, a place everyone could learn, grow, enjoy and have good life besides fresh air and breath. A city where there is no strife, no want and a choice where institutions pursue their beliefs, faith and culture.  

To achieve this, he sent his emissaries to hunt for an architect, planner who had vision, skill and reputation and conceive a new way of life for India. It is this search that found Le Corbusier, Maxwell Fry, Jane Drew and Jeanneret. 

... Le Corbusier not only gave us the symbol of a new city complex, the High Court, the Assembly building, the Secretariat and the Governor's Palace (yet unbuilt) with a new revolutionary concept combining our cultural values to fulfill the mandate of the newly acquired independence. He recognized that the only way to create values is through democratic process. Corbusier, in his four major seminal buildings namely the Assembly Hall, High Court, Secretariat and Governor's Palace, eliminated plinths, steps or levels between the citizens and the decision makers; not only did he do this but in his Master Plan he provided a unique, most unusual, and a rare feature of giving a green valley where every individual, poor or rich, busy or idle could spend time in silence amongst trees and parks, where he could not only cultivate his body, but also connect his soul. He devised ways for the citizen to have opportunities to work, exploit his or her skill and also proposes them frugally, judiciously, and designed a habitat and place to forge a community. Today we see this unique plan and how most satisfaction of life can be had. One of the most important ways of planning this city was to devise a transport network and his seven different scale routes have hierarchical values and allow free flow of traffic. Not only did he plan this, but he also gave us the chance to view everyday our unique natural asset, the Shivalik Hills and the distant Himalayas. 

Chandigarh: City in Garden

Rajnish Wattas

Chandigarh is famous for Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier’s architectural and planning genius all over the world. Considered as 20th century Modernism’s greatest experiment in architecture and urban planning, it was recently inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage property. However, what is less widely recognised is that it is also perhaps the world’s largest experiment in building a capital town inspired by the Garden City movement of the 19th century (popularised by Ebenezer Howard in Britain), significant for its planned green spaces and tree plantations. It is probably the only city on such a large scale—planned for half a million population, now holding nearly 1.2 million people—where landscaping was embedded in its core structure and every tree plantation was planned in detail beforehand.  

... Dr M.S. Randhawa, a distinguished senior bureaucrat and a qualified agricultural scientist at that time, too, had an enormous contribution in the landscaping for the city. He exhorted that the new city would urgently require a ‘mantle of greenery’, as the buildings in the city would come up much faster than the time taken by plantations to take root. 

The original team of American architects and planners comprising Albert Mayer and Mathew Nowicki who were initially assigned the Chandigarh project had to be soon replaced by Le Corbusier, owing to the tragic death of Nowicki in a plane crash and Mayer’s inability to continue in his absence. However, the Americans too had shown a strong predilection for weaving in a lot of landscaping components in their conceptual master plan proposed for the city. 

Many of the seed ideas underlined by them in this regard, became precursors of what Corbusier too developed later on; including the alignment of the city plan towards the mountains. The other broad similarities of landscape elements between the layout plans developed both by the American and Corbusier teams comprise of a central linear park running throughout the city fabric and of greens running through the heart of each neighbourhood unit. Detailed study of trees suitable for various categories of road sections was also undertaken by them. 

 Notwithstanding the changes/dilution of the original tree plantation concepts in Chandigarh, there are still significant aspects visible today as envisaged in the original planning. Trees, as initially conceived do hold environmental value, functional value, interrelation with architecture and aesthetic value in Chandigarh. Aesthetically, there is a complete cycle of flowering trees like a symphony of colours that keeps changing round the year in the landscape. 

One of the key aesthetic concepts regarding trees in the city evolved by Corbusier was that every neighbourhood unit called Sector in the inner continuously running, V4 shopping street would have tree species with a distinct colour of blossoms. A scheme of plantation indicated yellow for Sector 16 shopping street with Cassia fistula trees; pink for Sector 27 with Cassia javanica trees and so on. So the idea was that when people moved along this continuous running V4 road, the distinct colour of blossoms gave identity to each respective Sector through a landscape element. 

— Published with permission from the publisher

The man, his legacy and moreFree hand: Le Corbusier initially thought of the 'Open Hand' as a symbol of reconciliation above the messy infighting of mundane politics
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