Monday, February 4, 2013

Design, Place and Value: Converge or Collide?

Photos by Pat McGann
A friend returned from a trip to India recently and shared some fascinating photos. Previously unfamiliar to me, there were images of gloriously designed buildings in decay which prompted me to research the story.

In the mid twentieth century, a unique opportunity to translate modern architectural and urban planning concepts on a grand scale, emerged with the design and construction of a new state capital in India. Chandigarh, set 180 miles north of Delhi and the first planned city on the sub-continent, implemented universal planning in a specific location. American architect and urban planner Albert Mayer, co-founder of the Housing Study Guild (a group of design professionals that explored rapid urbanization in the first decades of the 20th century) spent his time in WWII as an army engineer in India. Mayer befriended and convinced Nehru and other Indian government and business leaders to embrace his belief that planned cities could meet all of the social needs of a postwar Indian generation. From 1949 to 1963, Chandigarh manifested this adopted philosophy of democratized place and form.

While Mayer and architect Matthew Nowicki developed the initial master plan, Chandigarh is more often associated with Le Corbusier, who succeeded the duo as master architect and planner in 1950. Le Corbusier's plan for the capitol consisted of four “edifices” and six monuments arranged on a single site, loosely conceptualized as three interlocking squares. Designed to represent the major functions of democracy, three of these four buildings were built, using horizontal concrete slabs and ‘beton brut’ (rough-cast concrete). The Secretariat was specifically designed as an early “healthy building” with careful attention paid to natural lighting, ventilation, and organizational efficiency. Various projections, recesses, circulation elements, and multi-level interior spaces acted as sun-breaks (‘brise-soleils’) to mitigate solar gain. The Punjab and Haryana state governments occupied this capitol. Corbusier received further commissions in northern India.

Inevitably time passes. Nehru died and Indian politics and society evolved, while the natural climate in the foothills of the Himalayas remained. Sixty years hence, many of Chandigarh’s finest buildings, globally recognized as modernist masterpieces, have been abandoned or neglected. Plants, trees and animals have made homes in empty building shells. International art dealers however, have realized substantial income selling quantities of furniture, carvings and prints designed by Le Corbusier and assistants, obtained at knockdown prices from officials “often unaware of their value.”
Value can mean monetary or material worth; worth in usefulness or importance to the possessor; and a principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable. I believe value is strongly related to culture and fluctuates with current perspective and economy. I wonder about Chandigarh: convergence with, collision into or merely a victim of time?



About the Author:
Carolyn Clark Beedle, Architectural Products Specialist, is our Corporate Creative. She is constantly exploring, researching, and conquering. Carolyn has held numerous leadership roles within the industry as well as a number of non-profit organizations. In addition to her knowledge of the workplace, Carolyn holds both a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts from the University of San Diego. Not to mention, she truly is the perfect dinner guest. To contact CCB, email her at

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