However, what was badly missing till now was a critical and
insightful work on the alchemy of various cultural and
architectural fusions that sketched the city's blue-prints.
Vikramaditya Prakash's Chandigarh's Le Corbusier is thus
an excellent work that fills this huge void. His primary stance
is that in the creation of Chandigarh, "contradictory
conceptions of the modern and Indian civilization clashed and
coalesced in a process that highlights the fact that
architecture and aesthetics cannot be separated from ideological
claims and political implications."
hawk's eye of a critic with the fluidity of excellent prose,
Parkash makes the book almost an unputdownable architectural
'thriller' where you keep awaiting the next scene in the theatre
of decolonisation. It questions the very tenets of 'modernism'
as touted routinely by historians. Prakash contends, "if
Orientalism was a discourse of the Orient, by and for the
Occident; nationalism was its stepsister, a mimicry of the
Occident, by and for the post-colony."
The book is
structured in an innovative way comprising six major chapters
titled: Introduction, The Master Plan, The Capitol Complex, the
Capitol buildings, With Open Hands, and an Afterword. Each
chapter is preceded by a warm, personal memoir of the author
being a child of Chandigarh; viewing the city of his birth as a
detached dissector of its body and soul.
Prakash looks at
the birthing of Chandigarh neither as a celebration of Nehru nor
of Corbusier — but an exploration of the architect's aesthetic
process, along with the hidden desires of all those involved
with the project.
fascination in the book is the interpretation of the impact of
the Capitol Complex of the city and its comparison with Lutyen's
Central Vista in New Delhi. While both the complexes aimed at
being the 'heads' of their respective cities, Corbusier's
complex is a parody of its avowed objective, tucked away from
the city, camouflaged by artificial mounds and hills designed by
him. Thus, the symbolic 'head' relates more to the bucolic
surroundings of the adjoining villages than the grid-iron city
that it commands.
Much to the
chagrin of 'Corbu' devotees that the city abounds with, Prakash
writes, "In the visible distance, the Capitol by contrast
remains unvisited, save by architects on pilgrimage. Vast and
abstract, daunting and puzzling, completely open yet
spectacularly opaque to comprehension, the Capitol, compared to
the bustling Rock Garden, has the appearance, in Curtis's
memorable words, "of a colossal, grave, and dignified
on the evolution of the beautiful, sculptural form of the
Assembly might be equally disturbing. "In the sequential
development of the Assembly, the incorporation of the hyperbolic
paraboloid is sudden, almost violent and somewhat hilarious ...
The perverse humour lies in the sense that they grow like a
pregnancy that suddenly erupts through the stomach when it can
no longer be denied."
Besides tracing in
great detail the inspirations, theories and influences that lie
behind the architectural concepts of the Assembly and the High
Court buildings, Prakash also unravels the ideology behind
Corbusier's famous painting on the Enamelled Door of the
Assembly - cryptic in its alien abstractions to most viewers,
One full chapter
is devoted to the Open Hand which has now been adopted as the
official symbol of the city. It provides superb insights and
research into its historic and political conception; as one of
Corbusier's magnificent obsessions, which only found realization
at last in Chandigarh — and that too as late as 1985.
One may or may not
agree with all of Prakash's assiduously built arguments,
interpretations and conclusions; but no one will dispute his
scholarship and the freshness of analysis as applied to the
laboratory of Chandigarh.
Though a very
comprehensive work; what one finds missing in this book are
details on the Secretariat building in the chapter on the
Capitol and, most glaringly, the Master Plan as it functions
today. An evaluation of the city, as a palpable, human entity
— leaving asides the quandaries of its labels and 'identity
crisis' — is what is required. For, history only gives us
hallowed hindsights. What Chandigarh needs today is the road
meticulously researched with detailed credits and notes, Prakash
keeps referring to the 'City Museum' as "Chandigarh
Museum," which is a different building altogether, housing
art objects. Dr. Vikramaditya Prakash, thank you for
immortalising the city of your parentage; but please house it in
the right museum!
The book elegantly
printed with exquisite illustrations and text, bound in hard
cover has a catchy dust jacket - reproducing the Swiss 10 Franc
note with silhouettes of the Secretariat and a portrait of Corbu
- provoking one to question again, whose city is Chandigarh
anyway- Indian, French or Swiss? Perhaps in its universalism
lies its territory.
Is Chandigarh's Le
Corbuier an academic overkill, spiked with spicy semantics and
memorable metaphors or a hard knock on same harsh truths?
Certainly not the former. In fact, its provocative and
compelling prose, redeems tomes on history of architecture, from
turning into big yawns, read only by the academic elite or