• The expose of the missing Le Corbusier tapestries from the High Court reveals apathy towards heritage. Kiran Joshi weaves the story behind the artefacts.

The recent coverage in The Tribune on the plight of Le Corbusier’s tapestries has shown that the situation of the 12 tapestries in Chandigarh is highly critical. The responsibility for their plight, however, cannot be attributed to any one event or individual but to a complex interplay of multiple factors over the past several years.

The foremost among these is a general lack of awareness and a resultant lack of appreciation, of the cultural value of modern heritage among various stakeholders – users and custodians alike. In addition are the factors of complete absence of an appropriate mechanism for legal protection and scientific conservation of these artifacts. Had all these enabling mechanisms been in place, it is unlikely that the tapestry in the custody of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha would have been lost to oblivion, or, that the ones in the Punjab and Haryana High Court mercilessly mutilated for inserting unsightly air-conditioning ducts.

The earliest tapestries to be designed for Chandigarh comprised a set of nine large pieces for the courtrooms of the new high court building. The one for the court of the Chief Justice (now Court 1) covered an area of 1300 sq. ft and the other eight (for Courts 2 – 9) measured about 600 sq. ft each. Though the tapestries were ostensibly created for acoustical purposes "a beautiful opportunity to place in accord the architect of the reinforced concrete (resonant) and the craftsman of wool (noise-absorbent)" — they would also serve "by the sweep of their polychromy and the intellectual and poetical presence of their symbols" as a "psycho-physiological stimulant".


Vision unrealised

  • There is apathy for Corbusier’s incomplete projects and indifference towards existing ones, writes M.N. Sharma

A legacy of the Nehruvian era, Chandigarh, perhaps the best-known modern city, reflects the spirit of resurgent India. Corbusier believed that citizens are true guardians of the city. For the guidance of the people as well as future administrators (law-makers), he enunciated the Statute of Land which is prominently displayed in the City Museum, Sector 10.

Due to a lack of enforcement of the building laws, people show an utter disregard for building codes. Carefully designed commercial buildings are being defaced with unlawful advertisements and hoardings in ever-increasing numbers. This needs to be rectified to save Chandigarh’s image.

Retaining villages in the second phase of development was a grave mistake as the building codes could not be applied to the existing villages. If at all, they should have been developed into model villages. Colonies and super-structures are being built in violation of the Periphery Control Act, thereby depleting the green-belt and burdening Chandigarh. The ever-increasing inflow of migrants unlawfully occuping public land in and around the city is a problem. One-third of the population living in unhygienic conditions in slums needs attention. It is a challenge as well as an opportunity to settle those who provide essential services to the city. We are not conscious of our sacred heritage and historic works of Corbusier. These works of great architectural significance have to be protected and preserved for posterity.


Art in daily life

  • Aditya Prakash

To hire Le Corbusier, a world-renowned architect and urbanist, to plan Chandigarh and design the Capitol Complex in the shadow of the Shivalik Hills was by itself an act of courage. Often, Jawaharlal Nehru had to use his charisma to pacify legal luminaries to bear with the creations of a genius because they were unconventional. Corbusier’s designs established the roots of modern architecture in India and put Chandigarh on the international map. For a common man, the court is a grim place with overbearing period furniture, dark panelled walls and profiles of judges and advocates silhouetted in a stiff atmosphere. Here was Corbusier creating an ambience of art within the requirements of magnanimity and awe. The whole wall tapestries designed by him for each chamber of the High Court serve an accoustic function but that could not have been the only reason. That could have been done by the use of ordinary accoustic tiles or other such material. To an artist, a problem is also an opportunity for self expression. This is what Corbusier did when he decided each chamber were to have a whole wall tapestry with a different design. To have them woven and embellished by our own tapestry makers of Amritsar and to see them mounted on walls under his own supervision was an extraordinary gift to the City Beautiful. To appreciate a work of art requires tuning of one’s own sensibilities to the vibrations generated by its creator. It is understandable that some people do not appreciate the artistic value of the tapestries of the High Court but if they allow themselves to be influenced, they are bound to be moved. Such is the promise of a work of art.