Chandigarh and Le Corbusier will continue to fascinate and excite the future generation of architects and planners, just as the present crop wants to keep intact the mystique of the city and the allure of its builder. That is what a master is all about: always challenging, prodding and even infuriating the disciples and the critics.
Le Corbusier was a master. No doubt about it. A kind of cult has effortlessly and naturally developed about him.
Rajnish Wattas, one of the most sensitive souls in Chandigarh, has done his bit to add to this Le Corbusier aura. He has joined forces with Deepika Gandhi to edit and produce a very handsome coffee-table book, Le Corbusier Rediscovered — Chandigarh and Beyond.
But it is much more than a coffee-table book. It is meant to be read — and it does make a rewarding read.
It is about an architect by other architects. That makes it a fascinating affair. And, the reason is simple.
With the possible exception of poets and painters, the architects make the most creative — as also, a cantankerous — community. And, a good architect is not just creative in the sense of being technically sound or just being good with his drawings but also his creativity is pretty much anchored in an understanding of the social context, cultural values and economic prejudices.
And, Le Corbusier was a very evolved personality. As PL Verma puts it, he “lived a serious life, unfettered by the superficial pleasures of present-day society.” That is why, perhaps, he could conceive “a new civilization, with a new architecture, new idioms of space and building relationships, all integrated with nature.”
Le Corbusier was not a plasticky professional; he was a personality and a profoundly individualistic character. That is why he could think differently in a fundamental sense. As BV Doshi points out, he had made a ‘Pact with Nature’: “Perhaps, the large plain at the Shivalik foothills was such a sacred site, that the hills, though far away, would yet provide wiser counsel, eternity and reverence for the citizens of the city from everyday political intrigue.”
This Wattas-Gandhi collection has reflections by some of the finest practitioners and teachers on the philosophy and practices of architecture.
It is gratifying, for instance, to read Raj Rewal talk insightfully of the 1991 economic liberalisation and its mostly deleterious effects on the planning for cities and towns: “Private capital chooses to build environments that are insulated from their context, without the burdens of facilitating citizenship or place-making necessary in a real city.”
And then, there is a captivating essay by Rahul Mehrotra, provocatively meditating on the “impatient capital” and its imperious demands on the architect, who is called upon to readjust his aesthetics and manners, by way of homage to the nouveau riche’s new prosperity. The results are a mindless and disastrous aping of Dubai or Shanghai or Singapore.
This collection brings together some of the finest practitioners of the craft who are uncharacteristically generous in acknowledging Le Corbusier’s genius. But again, that is a master for you.