india design forum: save chandigarh
india design forum: save chandigarh india design forum: save chandigarh
feb 05, 2012

india design forum: save chandigarh

india design forum: save chandigarh – the open hand monument by le corbusier image courtesy of arjun goel and tawish tayal




designboom will be speaking at the india design forum (IDF) held on march 9-10 in new delhi, india, organized by the colmbatore centre for contemporary art (CoCCA). it is the country’s first and most influential international design platform that poses the question:

what is the future of design and what role will india play in it?


designboom has been asked to participate in a roundtable discussion with other academics of the field, which brings awareness to the current situation in chandigarh, india. we will be preparing a video which documents our recent trip to india which features interviews by mrs. deepika gandhi, professor from the chandigarh college of architecture and mr. manmohan nath sharma, former chief architect of the city of chandigarh, who collaborated directly with le corbusier.

for a sneak peak at our video we have prepared a short teaser below.

save chandigarh teaser video © designboom




the indian city of chandigarh is one of the world’s greatest architectural treasures. considered to be le corbusier’s ‘crowning work’ the city was built in a pivotal and exceptional moment in indian history. it is one of the world’s only examples of a city constructed entirely on a plan and realized on an empty site. 60 years ago, the city was to not only serve as an urban center but also to represent india as a liberated, democratic, and forward-looking state. chandigarh, le corbusier’s largest single project, is now a city of a quarter of a million people, and is coming under pressure with regards to maintenance, growth and further densification. on all scales – its architectural buildings and detailed furnishings by pierre jeanneret, over the years, have been suffering from neglect and controversy.

designboom collaborator, the young indian architect shweta sethi talks with manmohan nath sharma image © designboom





a group of local architects, art historians and officials are hoping to mobilize international help to prevent further damage to le corbusier’s unique indian legacy. designboom visited the former collaborator of le corbusier and, despite his deteriorating health, the 90-year old sharma speaks with us about his ‘master’ and the privilege of working together on a great piece of creative art.


‘this matter is being taken very lightly by the authorities so now we need international help,’- he says.

manmohan nath sharma and massimo mini, CEO of designboom image © designboom




the video which we will show in chandigarh will have a duration of 15 minutes. still a lot of work to do … we will publish it on designboom in mid-march, please stay tuned. we invite our indian readers to join us in the delhi conference for a preview.

images of the secretariat building in chandigarh image © designboom


mr. sharma owns a collection of le corbusier drawings and paintings image © designboom


original sketch by le corbusier on a personal letter to mr. sharma image © designboom




chandigarh is also seeking the protection of a UNESCO world heritage site designation. in 2006, the ‘urban and architectural work of le corbusier in chandigarh’ was placed on UNESCO’s tentative list by the city’s tourism authority. so far it has been a quite fruitless process. before a proposal is elevated from tentative to official world heritage site nominee, the applicant must convincingly document the site’s cultural assets and a suitable plan for preservation. from local inspectors we were told that the indian government missed the deadline… we invite our readers to comment. your opinion, and strong statements of international concern may succeed where local outcry has not.


in march 2011, the italian magazines domus and abitare helped to promote international herald tribune design critic alice rawsthorn’s petition to save the city from plunder. the initiative closed in august 2011, 3386 people have signed rawsthorn’s document, unfortunately it was not enough to lobby the indian government. see a few more articles in the news, all around that time, march 2011:

the guardian, ‘le corbusier’s indian masterpiece chandigarh is stripped for parts’ by jason burke the australian, ‘plunderers ruin india’s dream city of chandigarh’ by amanda hodge the indian express ‘UT gets notice in response to PIL on le corbusier heritage’ the times of india ‘UT tells its depts to catalogue heritage items’


— india’s first international design event is held in march 2-10, 2012 in new delhi, india. the india design forum (IDF) is the country’s first and most influential international design platform. created by colmbatore centre for contemporary art (CoCCA), IDF brings the stars of the global design world together in nine exciting days dedicated to modern design. it starts with design week (2-8 march 2012) which features movie screenings, exhibitions and workshops around new delhi. the trail ends with a design forum, two days of talks by design virtuosos (march 9-10 2012) at the le méridien.

  • [url=] Chandigarh [/url] is a nice, clean and green city. But we all know that a city cannot stop growing. New buildings are needed and preservation of green spaces. Le Corbusier’s idea is that of a MODERN CITY.

    Rashid says:
  • I agree. It’s a scandal. The current state of many buildings is terrible. Preserving historic buildings is essential to understanding a nation’s heritage. I’ve been to Chandigarh and saw facades that are ruined by advertising and other signage. Le Corbusier would not understand why the Indian government is not protecting the city.

    Sebastien Lavergne says:
  • le corbusier`schandigarh never was an indian city, neither worked properly for the indian society, if you only preserve it without change it to liveable city it`s dead allready

    charly walter-styleconception says:
  • Chandigarh is falling to bits because it was designed as a system that is fundamentally opposed to the Indian way of life. I too have been to Chandigarh and toured the Secretariat, Assembly, and Law court buildings (with an armed guard) and most of the city with a friend who is from Chandigarh.

    The city looks the same as when it was originally built – mud and concrete. None of the sectors are being used as they were designed to be used. This is because this system was never embraced or understood by the cities inhabitants. I agree that it would be a tragedy for Chandigarh to fall into ruin, but this is a tragedy that was inherent in the design of the city in the first place.

    If the decision is made to try to preserve Chandigarh, the next biggest problem will be to overcome the widespread and prolific and blatant corruption in India that permeates, the government and all industries. I would be surprised if even half of any money allocated to preservation ever actually made any difference, especially in this region.

    So my question would be, why save Chandigarh? It never worked as a system, was never useful to the people there and is not understood or appreciated by it\’s citizens today. I don\’t see it as a master piece at all, but a catastrophic failure of flawed architectural thinking and arrogance. If you don\’t believe me, go to Chandigarh and see for yourself.

    Simon Lockwood says:
  • chandigarh was never a traditional indian city in the strictest sense of the word, no, but when you are planning a city from scratch, why on earth would you just want to repeat what has already been done and tried (and sometimes failed)?? in my opinion previous commenters are taking an easy and mistaken route out when they say that chandigarh was opposed to indian ways of life and completely wrong for its citizens. how do you explain the fact that many of the sculptures were only built 20 years after le corbusier died, by indian authorities! they were proud of a city that was poised to bring india into the new world after its independence.

    i admit that i have studied a good bit about le corbusier and wrote also a paper about chandigarh, and so you may call me biased. but my feeling is coming from research and facts. yes, the buildings of chandigarh are imposing and concrete, in other words and ways do not look classically indian. but look deeper and you find many many traditional influences. the very shapes that you see repeated in many of the structures of the city is based on the parasol that is common to much of le corbusier’s work but which follows in a direct lineage to traditional indian and moslem architectural practices and the kind of ambiguous indoor-outdoor delineations common to the region. i would have to pull out some books to get you more specifics (i will look for them and repost) but i also remember a number of other details that really let you see how chandigarh reflects a blend of eastern and western logic. and that is what was needed and wanted in that historical moment.

    maxwell says:
  • Save Chandigarh!

    I had a very different experience from Simon Lockwood when I visited. I was struck by the number of residents that were very proud of their city and really wanted something to be done to protect it. The sad thing for me was that this sentiment was so widespread but still Chandigarh has yet to even be nominated as a world heritage site, from government corruption.

    chichi says:
  • Chandigarh reflects all things modern yet steeped in tradition. It expresses the values of freedom, liberation and forward-thinking. It is a symbol showcasing the possibility of independence and progress.

    L Velasco says:
  • oh… you folks came? would have been great to meet massimo mini here…

    The indigenous population always cares about the feel and heritage, it the densification that has led to the change very hard to revert. It not the new stuff but the authorities and the way the locals have accepted the incoming is a big issue.

    the authorities have recently labelled a few structures as heritage and not to be change… albeit its not enough. the modernization is slowly taking away the vibe and limiting it to a few monuments and structures that ones has to search amidst the jungle.

    one commendable fact being that the trees are being preserved and at no cost are they being cut for modernization.

    Bagga says:
  • Not only is it a Corbusier masterpiece, its also the cleanest and greenest city in India, despite the uncontrolled and massive growth of the nation and its people. I would know, coz im from there. The city is struggling but not defeated, and like the spirit of its people, it is proud and determined to maintain what Courbusier and India\’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said it would be “ a new town , symbolic of the freedom of India , unfettered by the traditions of the past ….as an expression of the nations faith in the future “.

    We have to Save Chandigarh

    rk says:
  • Please might anyone with any information be able to let me know when the round-table discussion on Chandigarh and video screening take place at IDF??!

    Or is the info available once delegates are registered?

    I am an academic and curator in the UK and very keen to see if I can organise an exhibition about Chandigarh as part of the campaign to save the city.

    Any information VERY gratefully received! Many thanks! HMcK

    Harriet says:
  • ‘the chandigarh experience’
    india design forum, le meridien hotel at windsor place, delhi
    friday, march 09, 2012 — presentation from 14:45 to 15:45

    designboom’s video ‘save chandigarh’ looks briefly at the history of the city,
    before turning to focus on its current state and the views regarding preservation
    vs. expansion as well as the important heritage resulting from the collaboration
    between india’s first prime minister nehru and le corbusier.
    it features interviews with professor deepika gandhi (chandigarh college of architecture)
    and mr. manmohan nath sharma (former chief architect of chandigarh).

    while it would be impossible to preserve the entire city as a static monument,
    the video closes by raising questions about the criteria campaigners might use
    to selectively preserve parts of the city while leaving open the possibility
    to build new urban scenarios around them.

    the duration of the video is 15 minutes.
    birgit lohmann, founder and editor-in-chief of designboom, will be present to join the
    discussion regarding the future actions the administrators, citizens and global community
    would need to take to save the city from its deteriorating condition.
    moderator: aman nath
    invited guests are :
    joseph grima, editor-in-chief domus magazine, italy
    justin mc guirk, design critic the guardian, UK
    kunle adeyemi, founder NLE, the netherlands

    on the same day, directly before the chandigarh film screening,
    on march 9th at 13: 45 designboom will present an overview
    of our 13 years of publishing activity — we’re the world’s first
    online design and architecture magazine!
    don’t miss it.

    birgit db says:

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