International treasure: Chandigarh’s Capitol Complex joins the UNESCO World Heritage list
The World Heritage Committee – in its 40th session, held at Istanbul, Turkey, earlier this month – has accepted the transnational serial nomination of 17 sites designed by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. A first of its kind global nomination from seven countries spread over three continents, the dossier features sites that were implemented over a period of 50 years.
The Capitol Complex in Chandigarh, India, is considered as one of the most significant pieces of the architect’s realised body of works, commissioned in the course of what Le Corbusier referred to as ‘patient research’. It demonstrates Corbu’s ‘five points’ as well as the ideas of the Ville Radieuse and Athens Charter that encapsulate his practice ideology. The Capitol Complex includes three buildings – the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the Palace of Assembly, and the Secretariat, as well as the Open Hand Monument, interspersed with water bodies and few other smaller structures.
Chandigarh was conceived in 1951 as the new capital of the state of Punjab, after the 1947 partition that led to the creation of Pakistan. The coveted UNESCO status should bring with it a renewed energy for the city, to conserve its exposed concrete edifices, as well as to 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. There are also sites in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. ‘These masterpieces of creative genius also attest to the internationalisation of architectural practice across the planet,’ states UNESCO.