Why Le Corbusier’s Capitol Complex deserves to be a UNESCO World Heritage site

AUG 29, 2016 | By Noor Dasmesh Singh
The 40th session of World Heritage Committee, recently held at Istanbul, has accepted the transnational serial nomination of 17 sites designed by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Seen as first of its kind global nomination submitted from seven countries spread over three continents, the dossier features sites that were implemented over half a century ago. The Capitol Complex in Chandigarh is now part of this prestigious list, sharing space with the likes of Taj Mahal and the Stonehenge in the UK.
The iconic Capitol Complex includes three buildings: The Punjab and Haryana High Court, the Palace of Assembly and the Secretariat. The Open Hand Monument, also part of the ensemble, is interspersed with water bodies and few other smaller structures. The Capitol considered as one of the most significant pieces of the architect’s realised body of works, was commissioned in the course of what Le Corbusier referred to as “patient research”. It demonstrates Corbu sahib’s “five points” as well as the ideas of the Athens Charter and Ville Radieuse that encapsulate his practice ideology.
The coveted UNESCO title will expectedly bring with it a renewed energy for Chandigarh and help conserve and preserve its exposed concrete edifices – the city’s grey breath that defines its spaces. This will also expand and evolve the narrative of its modernist legacy, to resonate with the idea of contemporary India.
The other Corbu-designed sites of the nomination include the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo; the Curutchet House in La Plata, Argentina; and Marseille’s Unité d’habitation, arguably one of the most influential Brutalist buildings of all time. Other included sites are in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. “These masterpieces of creative genius also attest to the internationalisation of architectural practice across the planet,” stated UNESCO.
Last few years has seen prints, artifacts and furniture pieces designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret that have illegally made their way to International auction houses. The heritage tag and UNESCO’s assistance on this matter can prove crucial in reversing this trend. Earlier attempts by Chandigarh’s practicing architects and the local Administration have proven futile but the prestigious inscription is a ray of hope!
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