The symposium, organised under the aegis of the Chandigarh Administration, Departments of Tourism and Planning and Chandigarh College of Architecture was an integral step in drafting a visible direction. While recognising Le Corbusier’s contribution globally, the symposium seeked to ‘explore Chandigarh 50 years after the Master’. Held in Le Corbusier’s Capitol Complex, the venue was a far cry from its recently disconnected, barricaded, inaccessible appearance and unkempt landscaping, having been restored to its former glory and stunningly lit up for the symposium. The lighting is supposedly a permanent feature, with the city administration having kept aside a whopping budget of Rs 8 crore to keep it running.
Amid this exquisite set-up, which included a mock-up of the Governor’s Palace (Corbusier’s unbuilt project), and the geometric hill (with its completion of the solar hours depiction), the inaugural function was held in this ‘newly discovered’ arena, that seemed to be in direct line with Corbusier’s vision of the ‘citizens owning the Capitol Complex as well as the city’. (Curtis’s question to the authorities remains unanswered: ‘Were any changes done to the callous interventions inside these monuments?’)
Fascinating anecdotes came to light – how a ‘small mock-up Modulor Man’ fell out of Le Corbusier’s pocket once, embedding itself somewhere in the Chandigarh soil (architectural historian William JR Curtis); Corbusier’s constant engagement with behaviour and human psychology, and how deep inside, he had his own theory which no one spoke about (BV Doshi), his reverence for the sun and his belief in sacredness that led to the Tower of Shadows (architect Shiv Datt Sharma) and his desire of having a ‘vertical’ Secretariat that was opposed (Rajnish Wattas, Academic Convenor of the Conference). The irony that the legalities of Corbusier’s Foundation in Paris were completed just a few months before his death (architect Rahul Mehrotra), and how he came to the Chandigarh site in a plane from where he looked down and proudly said, ‘This is where I will plant my city’ (Jagan Shah, Director of National Institute of Urban Affairs, India) were interesting notes too.
Announcing that UNESCO World Heritage status would be declared on 16 July, Le Corbusier Foundation Director Michel Richard underlined the need for preservation when he said, ‘The Le Corbusier Foundation doesn’t plan to treat Corbusier’s buildings as Museums, at best we can guarantee their permanence.’
In the build-up to this event, monthly talks with citizens were held, thus including them in the city’s decision and urging them to safeguard the heritage. Heritage walks, competitions, quizzes, lectures, cultural programmes, media coverage, treasure hunts like those for the ‘precious’ manhole cover, encapsulated everyone in the flavour of Chandigarh and Corbusier. Thus, the organisers ensured that the need to find and implement answers rang loud and clear in everyone’s ears. In fact, a record number of 1,500 visitors actually visited the illuminated Capitol Complex during the four days of the symposium. The final session was held with the city’s citizens, which was well-thought of, but a little messy. The citizens’ woes regarding lack of solutions for traffic, parking, housing seemed to subdue the genuine offer made by the panellists and organisers to find solutions. An interpreter for this session that was conducted in Hindi, the ‘official language of the nation’, was missed!
Unexpectedly, the 2031 Chandigarh Master Plan (Kaur & Setia) that was discussed, seemed ‘more on history than solutions’, as Rewal observed.